About nine months ago during the presidential race, I pulled up at a stop light behind a car that had a saying printed on the back of its trunk. The saying said, “Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.” Being a writer about ethics and honesty in sales, I immediately knew the meaning behind this saying. In fact, I wish I could have been the one to have written it, because it stands for everything I believe in and write about. The owner of this car believed so much in this idea that he had it printed on the car. It was not a sticker and there were no other stickers either political or ideological on the car. That meant a lot because it meant to me that no matter what side of the aisle you sit on, you should always do what is right. Not what is right in the name of higher profit.
The old saying, “there is a sucker born every minute,” is even more true today than decades ago when it was first spoken. Early in the history of selling or running for an office, people learned that it was legal to misrepresent or simply lie about a product or service that they could sell or provide. I personally believe that early man started unethical, deceptive practices as a form of boasting, bragging, or simply telling a little white lie. That grew quickly to bigger and better lies. The ability to tell ignorant listeners a story of just how great they could be helped or saved money was simply easier than telling them the plain truth. What’s worse is that a person that tried to be honest and up front in their selling methods would generally be out sold by the liar. So now the next cliché saying came in: “If you can’t beat-um, join-um.” And why not? Their competitor had already proven that there is little to no recourse to deceptive sales or stump speeches, for that matter. Back in the early days when cheating and deception was being perfected, the really big liars had to get out of town before the buyer learned how badly they had been taken. These people became known as Traveling Salesmen. This type of sales person is not confined in time by this last century. It’s gone on since early man learned to barter or sell. The funny stories of Eve tempting Adam with an apple, Indians taking shiny beads and trinkets for land, buying a pig in a Polk, and even the movies Tin Men, Glen Gary Glen Ross and the various Wall Street movies depict just a small sampling of famous examples of how we today actually get excited and intrigued about learning how to trick and fool unsuspecting Buyers. When I started selling cars and furniture and flooring 33 years ago, it was considered a learned, skilled art form to be mastered by the slickest and smartest sales people. You know to be the “big dog”, “smoothest operator”, “star salesman” was the goal. I remember one of my first sales positions selling Cadillac’s and GMC trucks. The saying the sales managers always repeated was, “The difference between men and boys are the price of their toys.” Not that at the time I was the most honest or ethical person, but cheating people to be the King with all the toys was simply the wrong way to make a living. That was the time in my life that I decided that if I was going to make a living selling that I would see if I could do it ethically. So I left the dealership and took a job selling carpet. I’m sure I know what you’re thinking about that choice. Not much of a step down from the ethics of car sales. Truth be told, it took me about a year in my youth and ignorance to catch on that the methods of selling used by my store / chain were pretty unethical. The positive I had was that this same flooring company actually had a fantastic training system in both product knowledge and estimating. As I learned more about the tricks we used to sell, I also learned that my learned skills in knowledge allowed me to sell around the cheating methods of that store. In a store that had 13 sales people, I was the second highest writer within that first year. The top writer in the store was the biggest thief / liar that I had ever met. In my train of thought, I was pretty happy to be number two. I had less toys, but I could live with myself and sleep well at night.
Modern Day Ethics
In the now 21 years that I’ve been writing about product knowledge and ethics in sales, I’ve observed that things were getting better. Car companies were being more up front, some politicians were honestly trying to help their constituents, and even the majority of us flooring retailers were employing honest methods of presenting our sales. But in the last few years, I’ve seen that trend shift back the other way. It’s like a new generation of retro bad guys have returned and are now on steroids. The attitude of “just say anything” is back. What’s worse is that it’s done so blatantly and in your face. In the old days, the politicians used to at least mask the fact that they were on the hard right or hard left. Now it’s a badge of honor and they take pride in saying, “Let’s take back the days when we were winners.” Even though those days were won by deception and bigotry. In flooring, it used to be “buy one, get the whole house free.” Today, the ignorant are tricked by even more clever methods of deception. You know what these are. In short, let’s keep “Selling Clean.” Being Trusted Sales Advisors means we can keep our ethics and sleep well at night. Just because you can do something does not mean you should. Thanks for reading.