Try to remember the last salesperson that you feel treated you unethically. What do you say about that experience? How many people have you told about it? How likely are you to go back to that person to buy a product or service? How likely are you to recommend that business, product or service to others?
Your answers to these questions probably tell you that whatever the immediate benefits of deceiving, lying to, or being unfair to a customer, that customer’s unhappiness will cost you far more than one lost customer. An unhappy customer tells around 8 people of their experience, and if they also pass on the word, before you know it, your business loses dozens of potential customers.
The fact is that ethics is part of being in business as a salesperson. In time, unethical behaviour will reflect negatively on a businessperson’s reputation, and in turn, can damage the reputation of the company they represent. Responsible business, therefore, relies not only on careful planning and decisions, but it also relies on establishing a philosophy of “service and mutual gain” for all parties involved.
The ethical salesperson is one who understands that it is in their best interest to seek mutual benefit in every sale. Benefits to the salesperson and business are, clearly, income, profit, and good public image. Benefits to the customer can include a quality product, value for money, met needs, and also, positive feelings about the sales experience and its aftermath. The poor reputation of salespeople in many areas, however, shows that many of them do not understand or follow this principle.
Misleading a Customer is Unethical and Not Sustainable
You cannot simply trick consumers into buying a product. Marketing psychology is built on a more subtle form of persuasion. Marketing psychologists have helped businesses to develop techniques to sell their products without forcing customers to buy something they do not really want.
Businesses do not want to sell things customers do not want. On the face of it, it may sound good – they have made a sale. BUT they may have lost a repeat customer. The customer may bad mouth them to other potential customers. They may bad mouth them on online review sites and so on. Selling people things they do not want is not a good marketing idea. So what techniques do marketing psychologists recommend?
Some people consider telephone selling unethical; but others may find it acceptable.
Telephone selling and advertising can be useful for some types of products and services. Charities often use telephone selling as a way to encourage people to give, but other types of businesses may also. Businesses may phone potential customers to tell them about new products and encourage them to buy. Automated telephone adverts are also now being used, where when the person picks up the phone, they then hear an automated message telling them about a product.
Telephone selling can work well for some products and customers, whilst other customers find it annoying. Any business planning to sell in this way will have to carefully consider the message they want to get across. Even existing customers may get annoyed if they receive constant calls.
Cold calling (door knocking) can work well and some customers do respond if the cold call is made in the right way, but it is important to avoid annoying customers or constantly calling them. A balance is needed.
Face to Face
Face to face selling is obviously used in shops and physical premises, but business people may still try to make sales by visiting people face to face and selling on their doorstep. Some customers do not like this. Some homes will have signs on their doors saying they do not buy from door to door sellers. Whilst other people will be more receptive to people coming to their door. Face to face selling has worked well for years for some products. Kitchen products and some make-up products maintain most of their business in this way, so it does work. But again it is about finding the right balance. A person selling fish might come round once a month and try and sell products. People may welcome them coming monthly and decide on a monthly order. If they came more often than that, people may be reluctant or stop ordering. Again, balance is essential.
To do this well, the person selling the product must be respectful and aware of the person’s situation.