Ethics are important in any area. In a sport, we want to know if someone is cheating. In a treatise or scholarly paper, we want to know that the content is original and not plagiarized. In sales, ethics is equally as important.
Why is this such an important subject? When a sense of morality and ethics begins eroding in a society, people start to feel pressure to walk away from principles. These are undoubtedly confusing times, and such pressure certainly exists today.
Ethics in Business and Sales
In such times, a business must have a moral compass of some kind. We know from renowned consultant, educator and author Peter Drucker that “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Simply having a written strategy for something won’t cut it—someone actively must lead the way, and that’s the only way people will follow.
Sales is a whole other level of ethics problems, thanks to the reputation of corruption that fiction, plays, and films have given it. Salespeople are seen as dishonest and “only in it for themselves,” so even honest salespeople are viewed as dishonest.
If we have a situation where there is no moral compass on which to rely, in the long term it becomes a question of, “Where do we draw the line?” A lack of ethics in sales, as it does in business, opens the door for virtually any kind of conduct. Through the years, we’ve seen scandals attached to immoral sales practices, such as Ponzi schemes and the recent scandal with FTX, in which Sam Bankman-Fried sold cryptocurrency not backed by enough reserves to meet customer demand.
Such scandals and reputations lead not only to mistrust in a particular industry, but mistrust in an overall system. If the moral compass is pointing in the wrong direction, and people are no longer following clear principles, then all the compliance regulations in the world won’t correct it.
People then tend to say, “I only went over the line slightly. I invited the person to dinner and told him, ‘If we can have this deal, you’ll have a beautiful trip to Europe and I’ll pay the airfare.’”
If Pipeliner had followed this direction and utilized the slogan “Win Together,” which we announced a year ago, to betray our customers, it would have been disastrous.
From the Top
Unfortunately, the example set by people at the top—namely, the government—is without shame or regret. They’re corrupt. This definitely influences society because people point to it and say, “If they’re doing that, why should I be honest?”
Politicians conduct themselves this way every day, right before our eyes. In the 1980s, when the economy was doing so well, people didn’t examine politicians so closely. But today, politics have become very important, and people are watching closely. We see powerful lobbyists influencing the decision-making process, and hear that a politician can be bought for $10,000.
Similarly, are bigger companies buying customers? Sure they are. It is ruining a free economy and spells the beginning of the end.
Regulations and Protection
It is very clear that we need regulations spelling clear intent for business competition.
In addition, we need to protect the consumer. In America, where the middle class depends on midsize businesses, larger businesses are grabbing up the smaller ones and becoming monopolies. When they become monopolies, they can make their own rules, which are not based on fair competition. It’s a matter of “they’re little and they don’t matter.” In the long run, this practice will ruin the consumer’s trust. When the consumer can no longer trust in business, or even in the dollar, we have a very hurtful situation.
Many people are being naive and neglect the actual reality. If we are ever to change anything, we must face this reality and think it through—otherwise we are betraying ourselves. We cannot be ignorant of this vital topic because it is superior to our worldwide sales force, as sales will never become reliable and trustworthy. With unreliable sales forces, every product being sold will carry doubt about its value and price.
Widespread doubt opens the door to many other problems. People rationalize, “If they lie, we can, too.” Laws become violated, and soon there are lawsuits, even over nothing at all. The consequences are endless, much like an avalanche that begins small and gathers more and more force as it comes down the mountainside. This is what is happening today.
Recently Arrowhead Water, a company that bottles and markets mountain spring water and has made billions from doing so, was ordered to cease and desist from piping water from National forest lands. They were operating on a permit that expired in 1988, and despite numerous complaints from environmental and other groups, had simply carried on until ordered by the State of California to stop.
There have been numerous examples in medicine. Back in the 1950s, we were told that mothers absolutely had to take Contergan (thalidomide), which then resulted in birth defects of these mothers’ babies. We’ve recently seen that Pfizer released its COVID vaccine without proper research, yet it was made mandatory that the public had to take it.
Real Ethics Needed
Real ethics are needed more than ever today. The question is, how will these ethics be rooted? We’ll take up this topic as this series of articles progresses.
The consumer is vulnerable as they don’t possess all the facts, insight and numbers to examine situations in detail. Cases like that of Arrowhead Water need to be found through investigative journalists, and trustworthy investigative journalism seems to be in short supply today. Fraud appears to have become increasingly acceptable.
Through this series of articles, we’re providing not an idealistic, moral philosophy but moral guidance in this critical area.
Stay with me, and let’s see how we can solve this vital issue.