Is Ethical Selling Really Possible?

No professional salesperson or retail outfit would admit to being unethical in their sales approach.

If asked, every person in sales will claim to be honest, transparent and 100% ethical.

But if this is truly the case, why is it that salespeople are consistently rated as untrustworthy by the public. A poll conducted by HubSpot found that only 3% of participants rated salespeople as trustworthy in general, and only 1% for the poor stereotyped car salesperson*.


Personally, I don’t think that salespeople are fundamentally dishonest, but I believe the public views them as such because of sales practices that, shall we say, reside in a grey area.

For example, if you’re brutally honest with yourself, have you ever utilised any of the following tactics?

Exaggeration: Making product features, benefits or discounts sound better than they actually are.

Hiding Fees: Avoiding talking about certain costs associated with the purchase and only revealing them when the customer is already deep into the buying process.

Pressure: Creating urgency or using manipulative language to force a quick decision.

False Scarcity: Incorrectly implying that a product is in limited supply or that a special price is going to end soon.

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But all of us, myself included, can’t afford to take this for granted.

It’s all too easy to find sales phrases and techniques that work, and then keep using them for so long that we don’t think too hard about what we’re saying.

It’s well worth reviewing our sales conversations and our collateral and asking ourselves, truthfully, whether we might not be straying into some of the above practices, even in small ways.

And if we find something that we recognise as pulling us away from our goal of being 100% ethical…

Then we should do something about it.

It’s good business sense, and it’s also good for our souls.

Running a sales operation that we are confident has the customers’ best interests at heart is great for our self respect, and in the long run is fantastic for our reputation in the community and among our associates.

But does this mean we also have to accept lower sales targets and smaller profits?

Not at all.

It’s entirely possible to be an entirely ethical seller and still be immensely successful.

In fact, an ethical approach can outperform the market averages.

A study by Ethisphere revealed that ethically-focused companies outperformed comparable companies by 7.1% over a 5-year window**.

Personally, when it comes to ethical selling, my primary recommendation is Robert Cialdini’s “Influence” strategies. Despite misconceptions about what it means to influence someone, Cialdini’s sales methods are widely considered to create a win-win environment in which both salesperson and customer benefit and enjoy desirable outcomes.

It’s true that gaining a deep understanding of human behaviour gives you the opportunity to unfairly manipulate people, but when you approach this with an ethical eye you gain the ability to work with natural human inclinations rather than aiming to deceive them.

As Cialdini himself put it:

“No one wants to be tricked or misled or in some other way moved to do something that they didn't really want to do because they were misguided. If they see that, they never want to return to any [sales person] who tries to move them in that direction.”

When combined with integrity, transparency, and a genuine desire to create positive outcomes for everyone, Cialdini’s influence strategies are the most powerful sales strategies in existence and, virtually by definition, are entirely ethical.

In the coming weeks, through this newsletter, we’re going to take a closer look at Cialdini’s teachings and how they can improve our abilities as salespeople and as leaders of industry.

I’ve studied the great man for many years and I’m looking forward to sharing with you some of his most powerful teachings, along with my own related experiences and insights.

Yes, ethical selling IS possible and in fact it’s the only way to do business.

That’s something we can and should all get behind. In the commercial world, there is no higher calling than to serve our customers honestly and fairly.

Wishing you health, wealth and a joyful life,

Swadeck Taher Signature