Sales and Ethics

This is a writing sample from Scripted writer Luke Skinner

Let me preface this post by saying that my personal experience has inspired this writing. My goal in this post is to share what, in my mind, I've conceptually defined and understood as the process of selling as it relates to what I regard as moral, or ethical. A few months ago I was taking a Lyft through the South of Market (SOMA) district in downtown San Francisco, and it was a ride I haven't forgotten. Making polite conversation, I asked the driver if this was her full-time gig or something she does on the side, as is the case with many drivers. For her, driving provides the income she needs to start her business. I don't quite remember what her business was—some form of spiritual therapy—but what I do remember is that I could tell almost immediately what was happening: She was pitching me. As she skirted around the fact that what she really wanted to know was whether I'd be interested in using her practice, I was reminded of how many people are so averse to the profession of sales that—emotionally—they have a difficult time selling even their own product. I don't blame her for this—there was a time when I felt similar about selling. In fact, this was the primary reason I tried my hand at something other than sales years ago when I started working in restaurants. When she asked what it is I do, I explained that I'm in sales. Knowing how she felt, I acknowledged that a lot of people don't like selling. I mentioned that this is because by and large, selling makes people "feel dirty". It was when I said this that her guard came down and she admitted that this is precisely how she feels about selling her own service. As we continued, I did my best to help her understand why she feels this way, and that it's an unjustified source of guilt. I used to think that the reason for this phenomenon is that sometimes selling can feel like some lesser-crude form of prostitution. I would suggest, however, that there's something more deeply rooted at work here. I believe that many people find themselves having, if only subconsciously, a perceived moral dilemma when selling. Selling is a process of two people engaging in conversation so as to come to an understanding of value, and subsequently engage in trade. The role of the salesperson is to communicate value as much as possible with one of two goals in mind: Either to communicate value higher than the price he's asking, or communicate value to the point at which he can negotiate the best price possible. To facilitate trade value for value, a currency is used. Thus, sales is nothing more than the process of exchanging value for value by means of product and dollars, and the role of the salesperson in that process is to demonstrate value in his product to the potential buyer. What then are the moral, or ethical, implications of selling? Simply put, to sell something, you are doing so with your own interest in mind. I believe that this is what makes selling feel uncomfortable, and I believe it was what made my Lyft driver that day feel "dirty" about selling something which she otherwise knows is a quality product. Sales is a profession which requires an overtly self-interested mindset—there is no hiding it. This doesn't mean you're in fact dirty or dishonest. It actually means quite the opposite: In order to sell something you need to well understand your prospect's needs so that you can identify why and how what it is you're selling will be beneficial to them. It holds true that at the end of the day, you need to have walked away knowing that you came out with more money than the product was worth to the company, and yourself. In other words, sales can feel implicitly selfish, and I believe that this is what makes most people uncomfortable about selling. The takeaway here is that in spite of this perceived moral dilemma, it still holds true that both parties are better off for having made that trade. Your client is better off for having traded a sum of money which is worth less to them than the product which they are receiving, and you and your company are better off for having traded a product that is worth less to you than the money you're receiving—it's a win-win. In short, I view the ethical implications of sales as this: If you are selling to someone who you know doesn't need your product at the price offered, that is unethical. If you are selling to someone who you know needs your product at the price offered, and you're merely trying to figure how best to communicate that value, that is ethical selling. Sales doesn't have to "feel dirty". It doesn't need to be some moral dilemma if it is properly understood as a trade for mutual benefit. In fact, it is precisely this kind of trade for mutual benefit that has produced modern civilization. As I explained all this to my Lyft driver she felt much better. In fact, I could see the excitement in her face as she dropped me off at Caltrain, ready and excited to tell her next passenger about her business and whether they needed her services. Moments afterward as I was riding the train to our office, I reflected on our conversation, and was excited myself about having the opportunity to make our customers' lives more productive and effective though using my product. In return for this, I feel no dilemma in asking for a trade—so that I can live to sell another day.

Written by:

Luke Skinner
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My background is diverse. Primarily stemming from sales, I have worked both in Europe and the United States with a heavy focus on software technology and start-ups. I have sold mobile applications to marketing professionals, Sales technology to sales professionals, and currently background checking software to Human Resources professionals. Prior to entering into the technology field nearly 3 years ago, I worked as the Food & Beverage Marketing and Operations Manager for a major hotel. I also have written on philosophy, as this subject is a passion of mine, the subject matter of which is prim
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