INSIDE Inside Sales – Ep 11: The Ethics of Sales: Is Lying the New Normal?

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Andrew (Andy) Rudin is one of the foremost authorities on ethics in sales. He works to aid B2B companies identify, assess, and manage a broad spectrum of revenue risks. With the hot-button issue of ethics and integrity becoming increasingly prevalent, Andy discusses maintaining your values through the sales process. He also will tell you how to avoid serious consequences when ethical dilemmas challenge your personal convictions. Where do you draw the line? How do you stay true to your moral compass in the current sales culture climate? In this episode, Andy will help you find proactive plans that won’t corrode your reputation. He will help you to navigate away from discussions that may lead to fatal mistakes and towards a strategy to find an acceptable middle ground.


Not in the mood to listen? No problem, you can read the transcriptions below.

 

Darryl Praill: Thank you Paul. I appreciate that. Welcome folks. It’s another edition of INSIDE Inside Sales. My name is Darryl Praill. I’m your host. The only podcasts out there that talks on the tactics, just the specifics, the downright practical, pragmatic takeaways for today’s sales development professional. We don’t talk strategy, we don’t talk vision, we don’t talk big picture, we just talk practical advice. And I love that because that means every single episode we have another interesting guests, and we have another interesting lesson learned. Today’s episode, it’s an interesting one, folks, and I got to admit, it’s something I’ve not actually heard a lot of anywhere else. But in today’s politically charged climate, where we’re seeing more and more division between, shall we say, a left point of view and a right point of view between a liberal bias or a conservative bias.

Darryl Praill: It’s never been more relevant. What I’m talking about today is ethics. I’m talking about the ethics of sales and get to understand the decisions we make when we engage with a prospect as we try to pursue them through the sales process ultimately close them. It has consequences if your ethics are a little loose, and the consequences fall down upon you. So I thought it was never more relevant as we talk about the day to day activities of being a sales professional. We visit this topic, and to do this, let me introduce you to Andrew or as we like to call him, Andy Rudin. How are you doing Andy?

Andy Rudin: Great. Great, Darryl.

Darryl Praill: Now, a little background on Andy just so you Guys have some context. He is the managing principal of Contrary Domino. Don’t you love the name, Contrary Domino? A Virginia based revenue strategy consulting firm. He has over 30 years of experience marketing, selling IT hardware, software, professional services. He actually develops revenue generation strategies and he advises companies on sales, governance, and risk, and compliance. So what I’m really getting at here is, here’s a sales professional just like you who has a specialty, his expertise is about risk and compliance. And a big part of that is ethics. So we’re having fun.

Darryl Praill: I’m calling this episode is lying the new normal because I think that seems pertinent. But with that, I just want to set the stage. Now Andy, you and I hooked up, and we had a whole conversation on Linkedin as a precursor of this. Then we talked live one on one as we wanted to make sure we frame this conversation because this can be a heavy topic. It can be a controversial topic. It can be an opinionated topic. But talk to me about your experience in this arena and why this is a passion for you.

Andy Rudin: Well, it’s a passion for me because I have been a salesperson for many years, and I understand that there are many conflicts that salespeople encounter in day to day activity. And it’s not necessarily, well, this person is good and that person is bad. It’s really a matter of, how do we bring our values to our selling situations and make sure that we do what we feel is best according to our values? So that’s the first thing I’d like to debunk is when you hear the word ethical, you think, okay, this is a moral play and they’re going to preach to me about what’s right, what’s wrong, What I should do, what Jim or Jennifer do, that they’re so great, but I seem to make bad decisions.

Andy Rudin: Instead, it’s really a matter of taking the values that I bring to work every day and making sure that I hold true to those. And for that reason, it’s a passion for me because I recognized sales organizations often don’t cultivate that type of conversation. We’re very deterministic. We’re focused on revenue, we have singular outcomes, no matter what, make your number, make goal and we don’t allow room for conversations that are a little more nuanced.

Darryl Praill: And it’s true to what you say about, we’re focused on goal and we don’t necessarily know the nuance is because the only nuance we need to know in many environments is, did you hit goal or not? And if not, why not? Combined with, what do you mean you could have closed that deal if you would’ve done this or done that? You should have done this. So sometimes, the conversation starts off, is it about my ethics, or my values? But the reality is, we’re strongly influenced by the environment we sit in, and the leadership that surround us and shall we say, the consequences of our decisions. And if I really truly need this job, maybe I’m a little more flexible on what I deemed to be an ethical conundrum or a moral judgment or not. So how in your experience, when you talk to people about this, how do you address that? Because one person’s ethical dilemma is another person’s, it’s just business.

Andy Rudin: Yeah, exactly. And that’s why there isn’t … When you hear somebody say, oh, we’ll never lie, or salespeople should never lie, or a half truth is the same as a lie, or lying is never acceptable. That is a huge disservice to a sales organization because that’s actually not how things come down. So the real challenge is, how do you keep true to your own sense of ethics and not to just readily assume, oh, well I’m going to do something bad or improper, or that somebody else tends to make better ethical choices, and I need to follow what they say? But rather understanding that anytime you’re in a selling situation, you will encounter issues that will challenge your values. It’s just a given. It’s not unusual and therefore, you shouldn’t be surprised when you encounter it and you should be prepared for what to do.

Anytime you're in a #selling situation, you will encounter issues that will challenge your values. It's just a given...you shouldn't be surprised when you encounter it and you should be prepared for what to do. ~ @Andy_Rudin #Sales Click To Tweet

Andy Rudin: So those situations might be, well, how do you represent your products capabilities, or your company’s capabilities? Well, the job of sales is all about persuasion. So persuasion. You can’t persuade without distorting something. So where do you draw the line? And that’s something that I recommend to people, don’t look for it on a list, or somebody else’s 10 commandments, thou shalt not. And then this long list of things about what you’re not going to say, what you are going to say, what you’re not going to say, but rather, how do you keep true to your own sense of fair play, fairness, values and so forth? And that’s really, I think a much more pragmatic approach than saying, oh, well, I’m probably going to do the wrong thing. So I need to follow what my boss tells me.

Darryl Praill: I was on the drive-in today, I was thinking to myself, what’s a good example that I can use to convey just how ethics permeates our every day buying tendencies as a consumer? Whether it’s a B to B consumer, B to C consumer, as well as the counter which is the agile sales organization that sells the product or the service to the consumer. And this is what I came up with. Tell me what you think.

Darryl Praill: I’ve had this happen numerous times recently and over my life where people say, we’re looking to buy a car. We’re not buying new, we’re going to buy used, can you recommend a dealership? And whenever that conversation takes place, the implication is never about customer service or products. It’s every single time is, is that dealer going to screw me over? Is the car going to be as represented? Will I get a fair price? And I thought to myself, that is my experience every single time. So in the end, what they’re really asking me is, can you refer me to an ethical car dealership? Is that something that resonates with you?

Andy Rudin: Oh, sure. And I think a lot of times the angst is placed on the salesperson, or the blame is placed on the salesperson. So you encounter a situation like that as a customer and something happens and say, you know, I don’t think they’re telling me the full truth. They’re not giving me the best price. They’re not telling me every issue that I might encounter with this car. The deeper issue is, when you look at those kinds of practices, I can almost 100 percent of the time point to an organization that put the salesperson up to those types of tactics and approaches. It’s not to say occasionally there isn’t a rogue person that is going to act completely contrary to what the company asks them to do, or how they want them to represent themselves.

Andy Rudin: But quite often there’s pressure on that salesperson to make a month in the case of a car dealership, it would be to make a monthly number and they’re going to act accordingly. So, that really goes back to the organization and it’s really a question you have to ask is, well, what’s the goal for that salesperson? And are they placed by their job in a conflicted situation? That’s something that is very difficult for a customer to fair it out because, of course we’re not very transparent about how sales people are paid and how they’re motivated and incented.

Darryl Praill: So one of the things with the explosion of social media and cable news 24/7, everybody having real time notifications on their smartwatches, and on their smartphones and everything else. We’re very wired, but let me ask you this, my perception is that I’ve seen a corrosion and ethics, but perhaps I’m just misinformed. The status today is the status that it’s always been, I’m more aware of it now. Are we seeing a corrosion in our ethics?

Andy Rudin: I think ethical problems and value challenges have always been there. I think the news has enabled these issues to be spread much more quickly and for us to learn about them much more quickly. I don’t think Wells Fargo would have been quite as public had there not been social media and televised trials of the congressional inquiry on the CEO of Wells Fargo. But I think these issues have always occurred. They’re timeless. We have a sales goal, and our objective as salespeople is to persuade others to buy. And we are in a position where we have an asymmetry of information. We’ve got more information than our customers do. Contrary to what you hear, what they say, our customers have more power than ever. We have tremendous power, sellers. And that’s always existed. So I think these issues about ethics and when you hear about scams, and customer’s not getting the value that they thought they were getting, or wanted to get, or thought they paid for, those have always existed. But the social media, as you point out, has made that information far more available than it ever was.

Darryl Praill: Do you think we’ve gotten worse? Do you think it’s gotten worse? Is it more allowed, more permissible now to utilize ethical value judgements that are less than sellar?

Andy Rudin: Yeah. I don’t think organizations have really caught up. I think there’s a lot of old school thinking, and I think sales cultures still put salespeople in positions where they are faced, ultimately faced with a conflict. This month, do I make my number, or do I do the right thing for my customer? And that is something that is now, we bring up that issue now on this conversation and we think, well, of course you want to do the right thing for your customer. Why would you ever deceive them? Deliberately deceive them, and yet this is the way sales cultures are still run. No matter what, make your number. I don’t care how you make your number as long as you make it.

Andy Rudin: I heard this, this was done in many sales meetings where I participated and I don’t think organizations have caught up with that. So to your question, I think it probably has expanded and now there’s a greater awareness when you talk about corporate social responsibility and ethical conduct, and especially regulation like the foreign corrupt practices act and so forth. Then when people run afoul of these guidelines, and rules and regulations, laws, then it makes big news.

Darryl Praill: All right, so if you can relate to what Andy references here, is about how perhaps it’s gotten a little worse, and it’s a little more consequential, and you can relate to that firsthand. Then stay tuned because when we come back after this little brief commercial break, we’re going to talking about how to recognize when you are in an ethical challenge, and what you can do about it. Stay tuned. We’ll be right back.

Darryl Praill: All right, so let’s carry on the conversation. We know it’s a real issue. We know it’s always been around, but we know it’s getting worse and we also know it’s absolutely underreported. You talk about how social media has made people having, they’ve disclosed it out because they have to, but it is truly underreported. Is that changing? Are people now coming clean more often, or is it society is forcing us open in another word? And when they do that, I would think that would make us even more vulnerable to the consequences because now the herd wants blood.

Andy Rudin: I think organizations are still very, very restrictive when it comes to ethical conversations and especially being safe for whistleblowers. So you hear about situations like just came up recently with the American Express foreign exchange. It was the salesforce or more precisely, it was specific sales reps who called out that practice that American Express was putting out [inaudible 00:15:28] rates for new prospects, and then raising them without informing them. And it was the salesforce that was bringing that out. It wasn’t safe for them to do that, but they did it. It was a very brave move. I think today, most organizations don’t encourage that type of candor. They don’t want that information to get out and for that reason, companies are extremely at risk, extremely vulnerable to underhanded, or what I would call them, very highly manipulative sales practices because they don’t encourage their salesforce to put any light on them.

I think organizations are still very, very restrictive when it comes to #ethical conversations and especially being safe for #whistleblowers. 😔 ~ @Andy_Rudin #SellingTips Click To Tweet

Darryl Praill: All right. So let’s get into the pragmatic. How do I, as a sales professional recognize when I’m about to enter into an ethical dilemma? What is taking place, what are the different scenarios you can paint for me that might help me recognize when I could be in troubled waters?

Andy Rudin: Yeah. It’s a great question and I think it’s, what you’re asking is fundamental to helping an individual sales rep manage the problem. And the first is, anytime you take a position in a company, it doesn’t matter what the company is, if you’re in a revenue generation role, you will encounter situations that will challenge your sense of values, as I mentioned that before. So preparation. It’s like anything else. Preparation is probably the biggest thing that you can do to head that off. The second thing is to really understand, you’ve got to go in and understand what your own values are, and your personal values are your work values. You shouldn’t compartmentalize them and say, oh, well, I believe in fairness, and respect, and empathy. I believe that at home, but when I get to work, it’s all about making my number. Those values that you have as a human being, as a person, those come with you to work.

Andy Rudin: So you have to have those and you’ve got to be prepared. This happens as you mature or as you extend your sales career, you start to encounter more of an inventory. Okay, my boss asked me to go pick up my competitor’s proposal off the customers, or off my prospects desk. Most people would say, well, that’s not really fair. You have to start compiling inventory of those issues and say, how would I respond in my new company if that was requested of me, for example? Or if I was asked to say, oh yeah, we have this software feature, but it’s actually not fully ready for market. It’s a … What I call a Hollywood set. It’s just a small function, but we want the customer to believe that it’s fully embedded in our product. Then you have to ask yourself, how would I respond? There is a way to respond that conforms to your values, but you’ve got to be prepared to do that.

Darryl Praill: So not everybody is as capable because we’re all human, with our own biases, our own capabilities. So I always say, to put ourselves in the buyer’s shoes, am I perhaps leading the buyer? How would I feel about that if I was misled? So are there other signs? In other words, if my employer came to me and said, “I understand your prospect wants feature A and we don’t really have feature A. Instead sell them feature B, or discredit feature A.” Is that an ethical dilemma? Or if they say, “I know they want feature A, tell them we have feature A, and just show them some vaporware, some smoke and screen and move on to overcome that objection.” At what point do I say this is an ethical challenge?

Andy Rudin: Yeah, sure. I’ve encountered that scenario before as well, we don’t have feature B, but by the time this prospect is ready to buy, it won’t be until Q two. Next year we will have the feature so, you can say that we have it. Well, what has been the track record of your company in delivering that, in delivering updates is, it’s not just a software issue can be extended into other products as well. Physical products, but you have to think about, okay, have they delivered over X percent of the time? Say 95 percent of the time and I can pretty well say that’s good as gold. If they tell me, if engineering tells me it’s going to be delivered to you too, that’ll be delivered to you, to then you might feel comfortable in saying that, but if the track record is spotty, you may have to say time out. I can’t commit to that because that doesn’t conform with how I do business.

Andy Rudin: And the nice part about it is, when you really do exercise your values, you don’t have to necessarily be bulletproof or totally logical. You say it does, this is not the way I do things. That is unassailable, that’s not the way I do things. So you can present it that way rather than just saying, well, I’m not doing it, or I think you’re wrong to ask me that. You don’t want to get into that type of a discussion. I’m right. You’re wrong. Just, this is not how I do it. The other part I just wanted to add about the sales culture is, it’s vital that organizations get out of this, I’m talking sales organizations, get Out of the conversation where they’re telling salespeople, stop whining, just move on.

Andy Rudin: And then a lot of times getting into edicts and say, well, you just never lie. That’s unacceptable. You have to get out of that mindset because that closes off the conversation, and that is really what makes it very dangerous to bring out ethical issues. When you tell a sales rep or when you tell sales reps in a meeting, oh, stop your whining, what’s going to happen? They’re not going to speak up. And that’s really fatal.

Darryl Praill: So what about the sales professionals who sitting out here listening to this podcast right now and saying, but I’m the primary breadwinner for my family. I can’t lose this deal. Does that justify an ethical lapse? Like how do you handle that? How do you respond to that? Because that is the ultimate dilemma. Do I worry about me? Do I worry about the prospect at the expense of me?

Andy Rudin: Yeah. That’s a great question. Like many things in ethics or value discussions, there’s more than one answer and there aren’t easy answers. My recommendation is to recognize it right up front to the extent possible. So for example, in the case of American Express foreign exchange, if you follow that case, I won’t go into all the detail now, but I went online and I looked at their requisition. They’re hiring requisition for that job, and it was quite public that the salesforce was asked to engage in some very underhanded practices. And I looked at the requisition, it was all about revenue. If you look at it, you would say, oh, my gosh, this place is a total pressure cooker.

Andy Rudin: All they want is revenue, revenue, more revenue and more growth. Some jobs actually telegraph that, the hiring manager will telegraph that in the interview. If you sense that, that is what they’re about, revenue over anything else, that’s probably going to be a toxic environment and the idea, or the best thing to do is avoid it. The second thing that the sales rep has some control over is, to have money put away, they call it, in a great book that I just read called, Giving Voice To Values. They call it, go to hell money. So you have to have a certain amount of money.

Andy Rudin: If you think you need three months to find a job, then double it and have six months of ready assets that you can say, you know what? I’ve got to walk away from this because I can’t reconcile what I’m being asked to do versus what my sense of values are. Those are two of the best preventions I can think of for avoiding that situation. Then of course the third one is, as I mentioned, to understand what your values are and to make sure that you know how to rehearse that conversation. You haven’t maybe not encountered a situation, but you should be prepared what to do when something comes up that doesn’t agree with how you do things.

Darryl Praill: So I guess the final question [inaudible 00:24:17] some great advice in how to handle a lot of the challenges of the ethics, which is a lot of it is proactive, in other words, avoid it before it happens in the first place, have a financial plan, have the scrutiny of, understand what you’re getting into and that involves social proof that involves talking to the employer before you take the job. That involves doing some background checks, do the research guys, this is what you do. But what if the boss comes to you and says, “Do this or you’re fired?”

Andy Rudin: Yeah. That’s a great question. And it would be very easy for me to say from where I am now, well, you just quit. What I recommend is, instead of saying, as I mentioned before, I’m right, you’re wrong. You look at it and you say, here are the problems that I recognize with what you’re asking me to do. Here are the potential outcomes. If I do that, not just to me personally, but here’s what it means to the organization. It’s going to upend our brand, it’s going to corrode our reputation, it could get us into illegal issue with this client, and to look at it more as, I guess the term is to triangulate the problem. So you say, we’re all in favor of achieving our strategic goals, we’re all in favor of our company being successful, here are the issues that I see.

Andy Rudin: And so now you’re holding a different conversation instead of saying, I won’t do this, here are the consequences. You’re also demonstrating that you’re taking more of a business view of the challenge, rather than a strictly moral argument where somebody might feel threatened and say, well, he’s just trying to tell me that I’m not being fully upfront with the customer. And people can get very defensive in that situation. So that’s where I say, look at it more as a business challenge, and then bring up what those issues are, and try to find a middle ground.

Darryl Praill: So there you have it guys, Andy as an expert of developing revenue generation strategies as you mentioned, but even more so, he does a lot of work advising companies on sales, governance, risk and compliance, which is sometimes code for ethics. So if you need that help in your organization, if that’s something that your team can benefit from, then give Andy a show. Andy, how can they give you a show, sir?

Andy Rudin: Yeah. There’s many ways to get in touch. I’m on Linkedin, contrarydomino.com is the website that also has my coordinates, and I’m happy to hold a discussion with anybody who wants to cover this topic or anything on sales strategy, marketing strategy, business development, anything. Even sports or dogs.

Darryl Praill: Even sports or dogs. How can you top that? Excellent. I love it. All right, so check him out. Andy Rudin, contrarydomino.com. He’s great on Linkedin, he’s just as good on Twitter. Give him a show, give him a follow and don’t hesitate to engage this man in conversation because he is worth your time. Thank you Andy. I’ve enjoyed having you here today and everybody else, if you enjoyed today’s episode, there’s more on INSIDE Inside Sales by going to insideinsidesales.com. Until the next episode, my name is Darryl Praill. Thank you so much guys. Thank you so much ladies. Have a wonderful day. Happy selling.