Coming to the final article in our series on sales ethics, let’s now cover its most practical aspect: sales ethics characteristics.
Basics of Character
I previously wrote an ebook, Who Are You? The Critical Role of Character in a New Era of Sales explores this subject in depth. I highly recommend you read it. This article will cover some of its essential points.
Who Are You? is primarily built around a proverb that I believe comes from an ancient Jewish verbal tradition called Mishnah:
Watch your thoughts, for they become words.
Watch your words, for they become actions.
Watch your actions, for they become habits.
Watch your habits, for they become your character.
Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.
In that character is one’s destiny, you can see how vital character traits are. They bring wisdom to all aspects of life.
Another proverb, this one from the book of Colossians the New Testament, says:
Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.
This proverb particularly applies to sales, saying, “Make the most of every opportunity.” These words sum up a typical sales call, don’t they? A salesperson should always do something with every opportunity that comes their way.
The following line, “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt,” informs us that a salesperson should not only know the answer but also know how to answer most of a prospect’s questions. When a prospect asks you an important question, it is critical that you know the answer but it is equally important to know how to deliver that answer.
This is how you should communicate with others both inside and outside your company. This is what salespeople do—they communicate. They usually first talk about themselves, then their company, and finally, the product or service they deliver.
Belief in Company and Product
Sometimes, a salesperson doesn’t quite believe in the company they work for or the products they are selling. What such a salesperson doesn’t quite realize is that when they are attempting to sell something they don’t believe in, prospects can always tell.
If you don’t believe in what you are doing, it’s better to stop doing it because it’s counterproductive. You will also find it extremely difficult. While you may be able to perform the job to some degree, you will never truly be successful.
Sales is much more tied to a person’s character than other roles within a company. A salesperson cannot just separate the part of them that is conducting the sale, and be convincing through body language and all other aspects of communication, when they don’t believe in what they’re doing. That “part” is connected to the whole person, and it won’t work.
To be truly successful, a salesperson must be an evangelist for the product or service they are selling. If you cannot successfully evangelize, you will never succeed. People will only ever view your words and actions as authentic when you can successfully evangelize.
The difference between sales and other company jobs is that only a salesperson goes and attempts to persuade another person that their offering is better than their competitors. Therefore, their words and actions are inextricably tied to their character.
It’s Who You Are
When you have evolved the character traits required to be a successful salesperson, you become someone people like and want to know. They want to hang out with you. They don’t see you as just trying to sell them something—they see you as a friend or a confidante helping them solve an issue.
You can see that when a salesperson manifests these traits, they are the diametric opposite of the selfish, money-grubbing “salespeople” portrayed in Hollywood over the years, in movies such as Death of a Salesman and Glengarry Glen Ross.
Other Vital Characteristics
Given that these traits mean that someone would actually like to be friends with you, you can see that kindness is another highly important trait. If you’re not kind to others, they certainly won’t want to hang out with you. Nobody wants to build a relationship with someone who is arrogant and not particularly friendly.
That leads us to another important characteristic: humility. Being humble, in its proper sense, does not mean being meek; but it is, however, the opposite of arrogance. Successful salespeople are humble and genuinely wish to help others.
Another characteristic is patience. You must exercise self-control and be willing to wait. If you are always impatient and “running over people,” you’ll never sell well.
A salesperson must be teachable because we all have to learn—about our products and services, our company, and most importantly, our prospects.
At the core of all of these characteristics is the most important one: integrity. What you say must be true and you must communicate that truth clearly. Integrity means being loyal—to your customers, to your company, and to your colleagues. All characteristics are built upon a foundation of integrity.
Leadership and Trust
When you combine all of these character traits, you embody leadership. It may not be leading a group as that is not everyone’s calling—but if you can learn to lead yourself, you become a role model for others to aspire to.
These characteristics create a real sense of ethics. A person with them knows what is true and not true, what is right and wrong, what is noble and what is ignoble, what is arrogant and what demonstrates humility, and what it means to be loyal or disloyal.
Someone with these characteristics is someone we can trust—and trust is crucially important in these uncertain times. The more chaos surrounds us, the more we seek out strong, loyal people we can trust.
It is part of maritime tradition that when a ship is in distress and is sinking, the captain is the last person to leave the ship. In fact, the captain will go down with the ship, taking the ultimate responsibility for the safety of the crew and passengers. There are stories of captains who did not behave this way, and in such a case, the captain could hardly be called a leader. How could they possibly be trusted?
The same is true of a real salesperson. As I said earlier, in taking advantage of an opportunity, a salesperson must have the right answers for the prospect. But beyond that, the salesperson should also strive for excellence in everything they do so that others can admire and trust them.
These traits sum up how successful salespeople have always behaved in winning deals. They were always trying to make the most of every opportunity, and in doing so orient their conversation to help a prospect also win. They did this because, first of all, one often meets someone twice in life, and second, they were not just being opportunistic but quite the opposite, they are building a relationship of mutual respect.
Obtaining Character Traits
If these traits are so important, how can one obtain them?
Referring back to the ancient proverb in my ebook Who Are You?, the first line says, “Watch your thoughts, for they become words.” We can, therefore, see that everything begins with what we are thinking.
Starting with thinking, we can see that many people have negative thoughts about themselves. Going back to our last article, and back to my book, negative thoughts often circle our minds like croaking ravens. We don’t, however, need to allow them to land and nest.
Therefore, I am providing two exercises that can assist you in changing a negative mindset. The change doesn’t happen overnight, but a mindset can be trained if these exercises are utilized over time.
Changing a mindset is all about losing a negative attitude. The example we’ll use for these exercises is the feeling of “I cannot make it,” which is a frequent self-critical attitude. The salesperson doesn’t feel confident that they can face prospects, which stirs up many emotions.
Bear in mind that while we are using the example of “I cannot make it,” these exercises could be used for any negative attitude or negative self-talk.
In the first exercise, sit down with paper and pen (or a document on a computer) and ask yourself, “What will I lose if I let go of the attitude, ‘I cannot make it?’” Answers will probably immediately appear fear, anger, rage, self-hate, frustration, stress, lack of energy, and many others. These are some of the feelings you might lose if you let go of that negative attitude, but you will find your own.
The second exercise, and the more important of the two, is to ask yourself, “What will I win if I let go of this attitude?” You might win trust in yourself, willpower, energy, self-respect, and commitment. Again, you’ll have your own answers to this question.
The moment you begin these exercises, you have started changing your mindset. You must do them regularly because it is a mindset-building process that requires repetition. In time you will cease indulging in a mindset of what you cannot do or what can’t be done. A negative attitude can be replaced with a positive one—you have this innate power within you.
Watching Those Thoughts
These exercises are designed to help a salesperson change their thoughts. While a salesperson should always remain healthy, which involves physical exercise, watching what they think is equally important. Thoughts become words, and those words are what the salesperson uses to communicate with customers.
In the end, your character becomes your destiny. Therefore, character traits are both critical and indeed foundational to the entire subject of sales ethics.