Can selling ever be ethical?: sales ethics and what they are

Lily Ruaah

Posted on: August 4, 2022

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Category: B2B sales

Can selling ever be ethical?: Sales ethics and what they are

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What’s the most important part of selling? Is it making a sale or making a connection? It used to be that (and it seems obvious) that selling was the most important part of selling. But with the rise of relationship selling, the face of sales could be changing.

If the focus is on creating a relationship with your customer then sales ethics becomes even more pertinent – and with new codes of practice and regulations coming into play – sales reps have a whole new set of values to consider. 

What is relationship selling?

Relationship selling focuses on creating a connection with your customers, above all other aspects of the sales process. 

We’re not asking you to wine and dine your clients like you’re in an episode of Mad Men (nor are we saying to “show them a good time”… or drink a whiskey at every work lunch) but creating a strong relationship with your customers makes you more likely to retain those customers for a the long haul, they’ll keep coming back which means you’ll make more sales overall. 

You can create a relationship with your customers by opening up a conversation with them, and developing a rapport. Customers or clients are more likely to engage with you if you listen to their needs and offer a solution to those problems, rather than if you’re just trying to sell them a product or service.

What are sales ethics?

Sales ethics – at its most basic – is simply not stiffing your customers (usually through fraudulent selling). We’re sure you’re not standing on a street corner wearing a trenchcoat, offering your product or service from your inner jacket pocket (“psst kid… wanna buy some automation software?”). But sales ethics goes further than just fradulent or unlawful selling. 

The reality is more nuanced than this.

Sales ethics refers to a culture that always tries to ensure your prospects and customers are treated fairly, respectfully and honestly. 


Ethical sales as a statement of intent. 

“I only want to sell people that need my solution. To do this I must gain their loyalty and trust by acting as an advisor and consultant to them.

In doing this I aim to create longer, stronger partnerships and ensure a higher spend from my customers.


What does ethical sales behaviour look like?

  1. Being honest about the impact your solution (product or service) will have

    This is known as not setting yourself up for a fall.

    Massaged figures will lead to high expectations that you cannot meet and are inevitably followed by the bite of reality and a disgruntled customer.
  1. Not bad-mouthing your competition

    Never take up the invitation to slag off competitors.

    Psychologists warn that inherent bias means that when a listener hears you talking negatively about someone else, they often attribute these traits to you.


Here’s what to do instead:

Show your prospect that you have done your homework by listing the ways your solution stands out in all the areas that are critical to them.

  1. Act as a consultant not a conman

    Most sales experts now argue that the onus is on the seller to find buyers that need them – rather than try to artificially create this need in buyers.

    Often referred to as ‘serve don’t sell’, this way of selling is based on you helping your ideal prospects realise why you are the perfect fit, rather than trying to foist this belief on all opportunities that come your way.  

Creating an ethical sales culture in your organisation

In many ways the most effective way to create an ethical sales culture to start talking about it among your team.

By bringing such matters out into the open you create a focus on and awareness of acceptable and desirable behaviours.

Here are some other things that will help you succeed:

Getting SMART

Ensure there is a SMART plan in place for achieving sales targets. A streamlined sales process for everyone eliminates the risk of sales reps cutting corners, or breaking sales ethics.

Making room

Create a regular open, shared time for concerns and issues to be discussed. You should also make sure that you carve out time to focus on these areas in one-to-ones as well.

Building an ethical team

Recruit sales reps who share your culture. Ask questions in interviews that explore each candidate’s approach to honesty in sales, their attitude to customers and way of working with colleagues.

Training is always important. Try role-play training that explores ethical scenarios and dilemmas. You could also develop call and email templates to showcase best practice.

Creating a code

By putting in place an agreed code of conduct for your sales and marketing teams you are making sure that the conduct and attitudes expected are clearly stated.

Such a code of conduct may include your corporate values and goals, best practice for prospecting, communication expectations, complaint procedures and a detailed (but not exhaustive) list of unacceptable practices.

Ethics and the bottom line

An ethical approach to sales demands that that leads are efficiently qualified and forecasting is based on realistic assessments.

Without best fit leads it is almost impossible to sell ethically – and with an unrealistic target, you’ll either never meet your sales expectations or you’ll have to bend rules to get there.

In the long run a proper ethical approach to sales has many more benefits than bending the rules (or smashing up the woodwork tools).

With customers talking positively about your company you have successfully harnessed the power of referrals and reputation to establish your brand.

Studies conducted by the Journal of Business Ethics found that ethical cultures will benefit the following areas:

  • Commitment and emotional attachment toward the brand that leads to less sensitivity over price rises
  • Enhanced perception of the quality of service delivered
  • Higher customer satisfaction scores
  • Greater loyalty, more repeat purchase and stronger retention
  • Positive word-of-mouth and social sentiment

Maintaining an ethical approach

An ethical approach to sales is not just created once – it needs to be recreated time and time again. It is not just a document outlining your principles – it is a culture, a lived experience.

The best way to create an effective sales culture in your organisation is to make sure that the energy to do so is part of your sales team’s DNA.

Here at Sopro, we put sales ethics at the heart of everything we do. Our B2B sales engagement platform can help you to generate more leads in your pipeline and grow your sales – without bending any rules. 

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