The Bright Line of Business Ethics: Are You on the Right Side?

Changing Perceptions

Always conduct yourself ethically and conduct yourself as if someone is always watching, because they are!  Separate yourself  from the rest of the professionals.  Always, always do the right thing! Are You on the right side of this bright line?


A few years ago I received a call from someone selling promotional items.

The call went like this:  “Mr. Parker this is Jim Carr from Midwest Promotional Products (I have changed the name).  When we last spoke, you advised me to call you back this October to discuss our organization providing you with some of your branded items for the upcoming year…”

I will stop here for a moment.  I knew right away that my organization did a great job of providing promotional items, and that was the only source that we used.  The fact is, that the opening line from this sales person was an simple unadulterated lie.

I responded, “Mr. Carr, I don’t remember having talked to you.  I would not have asked you to call me back as we are not in the market for branded material.  We buy from a central source within our organization.” He responded with lie number two, “Maybe it was not you but one of your managers that I talked to that referred me to you.  I just wanted to share with you our line of…”

I quickly dispatched of the call for one simple reason…if this sales ‘professional’ was going to start off this conversation with two lies and misrepresentations, when was the third going to happen?

Sales ethics is lacking overall in many  industries, and you have the ability to make sure that you do your part to make the sale profession ethical and honorable.   If you sell a product or a service, you must recognize the importance of ethics in your ability to not only have longevity in this fine occupation, but also to be successful and prosperous.   In the example above, the rep only needed to say that he wanted to find out my interest in his product.  Sales professionals consistently used that approach with me and got an audience.

The Bright Line of Ethics

Note an important fact: The distinction between ethical and unethical will appear as a ‘bright line’ once you internalize your desire to act ethically in all situations.

This rep did what was akin to attempting to ‘sneak through the back door’.  I would want to start a relationship with someone who would so quickly and comfortably start out with a lie.  This may not seem to be large, but think about it,

Ethics: The principles of conduct governing an individual or group (Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary)

The need for ethics in sales is real, and will set you, as sales professional, apart from those who fail to recognize its importance.  Even more, it will allow you to sleep at night.

You will look to be fair, equitable, and transparent when you work with a customer.   Avoid exaggerations and untruths and communicate well, following up with correspondence.

Once you are there, the ‘smell test’ will become part of your quick review.  Once you internalize ethics, you will become sensitized to how everything affects not just the customer, but also all other parties (your employer included).  At that point you recognize that you work for an organization, but also are an advocate for your customer.  The customer has no other voice.  There is no doubt who pays you, but we need to make sure that your customers are treated ethically. Put yourself in the shoes of the customer, and articulate the situation to your organization.  If you were the customer you would want to be working with professionals who you have credibility, trustworthiness, and a desire to do right even when no one is looking.

Ask yourself these important questions:

These questions are simple but the impact is huge.

Even When No One is Looking!

I was once riding in a company vehicle with a sales rep and the customer to a business lunch in the Chicago area.  We were coming to a toll both and the rep reached into a bag and grabs a coin, which he deposited in the automatic toll basket and we were allowed to proceed.  At that time the toll was 25 cents.  On the way back from the successful lunch, he did the same.  As he did it, I looked at the bag, which must have had 200 or more coins and inquired as to how he got that many quarters.  He indicated that they were not quarters, but after a recent trip to Mexico he had a bag of centavos that were essentially worthless here.

Remember, this is in front of the customer.  Our customer heard him admit to using worthless foreign coins in the toll basket.  If you were the customer, how would you feel about this reps credibility?  What would you think about the organization that you were doing business with as you witnessed him doing it in front of his manager?

We had to terminate the rep (I refuse to call him a sales professional).  Let’s look at it from an employer’s view.  This unethical individual did the following:

  • Sullied his image and the organization’s image in front of the customer creating doubt as to our ethics and credibility
  • Engaged in a civil wrong which might have carried criminal penalties as well
  • Committed expense fraud as he also received reimbursement for fraudulent expenses

I contacted the customer as I introduced the new sales rep.  I apologized for the fact that our representative did what he did, and explained that I had someone who was solid who would take care of him.  The customer said the following to me, “I really wondered about what organization would allow its employee to cheat like that.  I liked [him] but realized that I did not know him well enough to trust him.”  The customer was watching my response as much as he was watching the actions of the rep.

Rise Above It All!

As a Black sales professional you should demonstrate sound solid ethics, and be the advocate of the customer in making sure that your organization is fair with the customer.  With a sound ethics ‘compass’ you will be able to ‘feel’ whether what you are doing meets the ethics tests.

This stance and advocacy will help create the strongest of relationships.  Don’t miss the chance to do it.  It is a responsibility that may test you, but will also strengthen you and your relationship.

Be consistently ethical and you will be the best.

Your comments are welcome. You can reach me at

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