Looking back at more than three decades of time that I’ve been selling various products, I’ve seen some nice changes in the direction of the ethics and honesty of how sales people are taught to sell.

My first real job in selling was as a photographer for children and family portraits. This was for an outfit that set up in discount big box stores like Kmart, TG&Y and Wal-Mart. As the photographer, I would set up my camera for three to four days to offer customers a really great value of a $9.95 package of photos of mainly younger children. During the child’s photo session, we took about three basic shots and a few special effect shots. The three basic shots would be what the $9.95 package consisted of, while the really cool, special effect shots would be presented when the parent returned after the photos had been developed. Plus, if you were a really great photographer, you usually got the mom to take some extra photos with the child that she could purchase as an extra or paid upgrade when she came to get the $9.95 package. Both the special effect and family photo upgrades were 10 x 13 separate add-ons that ran an additional $10 to $15 each. The incentive for the photographer/sales person was big. You could double your week’s pay with a high average of upgrade ad-on sales. So that $9.95 package would average out at about $35. That’s just how the game worked. The problem I had was that most of our customers were fairly poor or limited-income families. So these poor unsuspecting moms would return to pick up the “great value” package, only to be shown the really great shots of their loved ones and their loved ones with them in the shot as well. As one of those photographer/sales people, I had a choice: go with my ethics that disagreed with method playing on people’s love of family and quit, or just join in and cheat people under the guise of “that’s just how it’s done.” Well, needing to make a living should have led me to just going with the flow, but I soon devised a plan to keep my ethics and still keep my job. When the shoot was over, I would talk to the mom something along the lines of: “Here’s what’s going to happen, we will return in two weeks with your great value package. You can take that and run, but you will also be shown some wonderful add-ons that will be very hard to resist. Do yourself a favor and bring grandma with you or someone else that you would normally give these pictures to. If they are going to receive these pictures you might as well let them pay for them.” So, I’m going to brag here (again): I held the highest average in our group of 15 photographers in our region.

Getting Worse

At one point, I was even given a permanent in-store studio (rather than a traveling studio). But even at this level, the money was still not very good. So I took the opportunity to work where the “big dogs” played, selling new and used cars. But I soon learned that I was now getting deeper into an even less ethical selling environment. The worst part was that the car bosses were top-notch trainers. They trained theories of deception at the highest level, basically telling us young sales people the philosophies that made us feel that deception and poor ethics were how the world works; that we should have a “stick-it-to-them attitude because they would stick-it-to-you attitude; that if they’re moving their lips, they’re lying,” and a phrase I learned in my football days: “hit-um hard hit-um fast and hit-um low.” Once again, I found a way around those tactics and became a pretty good producer selling cars honestly. But the environment around me was so nasty I just had to leave. I just wasn’t cut out to play where the “big thieves” played. After I left, I was told by a friend at the dealership what the big boss said at the next sales meeting: “If any of you wimps can’t handle this business, you can get the hell out and go sell carpet with Kelly Kramer.” That actually brought a smile to my face, because I’d rather be an honest wimp than a big dog thief.

Getting a Little Better

As a new employee/sales person for a mega flooring chain store, I was given excellent product knowledge, measurement and layout training. That was the beginning of what started me out to be the product knowledge and measure trainer that I am today. But once again, this new industry that I was going to sell for had the theory of P.T. Barnum: “There’s a sucker born every minute.” Even though this type of selling was only half as unethical as selling cars, I still had a decision to make: keep my ethics and quit, or figure out a way to keep my values and make sales work that way. That’s where the title of my first training manual, Selling Clean in Retail Flooring, came from. The funny part was that even the sales people I worked with at the store didn’t realize that I was selling clean; not catching the fact that I simply found my customer’s real needs and then used my product knowledge to direct them honestly to the best flooring for their given needs. I’d become a top earner using honesty right under their noses. Most chalked it up to calling me lucky. The installers always said, "Here comes Easy Money." I always used to reply, “It’s not luck, and it’s not easy.”

I’m glad for the strides in better ethics and honesty I’ve seen in the past three decades in all types of sales. But I’m starting to see our world go back the other direction. We are getting back to a say-anything society. Just say anything you want to get the vote or make the sale. Please don’t go backwards and get caught up in that because it’s easier and often more profitable to deceive in sales. I’ll leave you with a saying I saw on a political bumper sticker just before last year’s election. It said, “Just Because You Can Do Something, Doesn’t Mean You Should.”

Thanks for reading.