Birmingham Water Works Board (BWWB) of Birmingham, Ala., has consistently achieved the rating of the number-five water system in the United States...
Our industry seems racked with questions about ethics when,
in my opinion, its real problems are problems of selling skills. But many market
areas have seen fast-talking companies come in and turn the public against the
water equipment industry. Let's take a look at the issues and the answers.
Why Our Industry?
Many people wonder why our industry is plagued with
unethical operators. The fact is that it takes very little investment to get
into our industry. Some industries require huge investments in machinery and
facilities to get started. Ours requires only ambition. Even ethical people can
be tempted to bend their ethics when faced with payments they cannot make. Our
industry requires very little capital to enter and under-capitalized companies
sometimes may end up doing unethical things as they have very little to lose.
Until that changes, we will be plagued by our share of unethical practices.
However, realize that all industries from politics to charities and religions
to accountants are plagued by scandal and ethical quagmires. It seems to be
part of our society that many are unethical. The good news is that the public
will seek out and be loyal to companies that do business in an ethical manner.
Our industry also has many 50- and 100-year-old companies that are a testament
What Is Ethical?
Is there a true standard for selling ethics, or is it one
person's opinion against another? I believe there are three tests that will
tell you if a selling technique or situation is ethical.
it true? Make sure that everything you say in selling is absolutely true. Not
opinion but fact. If it is true, it is not unethical. Never lie about delivery,
performance or any other area of your product or company. If you don't know an
answer, say so. Don't fake it. Customers hate salespeople who lie.
no harm. The second test is to ask, "Does it harm the customer?"
If what you are saying or doing may harm the customer, it is
unethical. Also, remember that we owe it to our customers to place their needs
over ours. For example, Bob is two months behind in his car payment. His boss
told him that if he doesn't sell something tonight, he is fired.
He goes out on an appointment. The customer has a broken
softener that could be repaired for $75.00. If Bob sells that client a new
softener instead of telling them it can be repaired, that would be unethical,
as it puts Bob's need ahead of the client's. It is a lie of omission not to
disclose the situation to the customer. It does harm to the client. No one will
ever know what Bob did if he unethically sells that softener, but doing right
when it hurts and when no one will know is the mark of character.
newspaper test. My mother used to say that the test of ethics is to ask
yourself if you would be proud if your actions were published in a newspaper.
Give your actions the newspaper test before you go ahead.
Is the Truth Unethical?
We hear a lot of talk in our industry about "scare
tactics." If you follow the previously mentioned guidelines, I believe it
will be clear what is and is not ethical. For example, is it unethical to tell
a customer that an RO will make them live 10 years longer? Absolutely, as this
is not true. Is it unethical to show them an article from the New England
Journal of Medicine that links aluminum in the water with Alzheimer's disease?
Not if it's true. Is it scary? Yes, but sometimes the truth is scary. If the
client has called on us as experts to tell them the truth, we owe it to them to
tell them the exact and unvarnished truth. For example, if your doctor says you
have clogged arteries and need a $150,000 operation, is that scare tactics to
sell you an operation? Does he just need one more yacht payment or is he
helping you? Is it scare tactics to tell you or would you rather he kept the
truth to himself?
Are Selling Techniques Unethical?
Some people in our industry equate selling techniques with
unethical behavior, and this is unfortunate for them, their employees and their
customers. It is true that selling techniques can be used for harm but so can
any tool. What if you didn't give your technicians power saws because they
could be used for evil? What if you made them walk to service calls because
trucks could be used to harm people? All of man's creations from sales
techniques to chain saws to nuclear power can be used for good or evil. It is
the person holding the tool that decides how it is used. Teaching your staff to
be enthusiastic, give great presentations and help the customer make the right
decision is the best way to have ethical salespeople. In my experience, it is
salespeople who are desperate for money that are most likely to be unethical.
Teach your staff how to sell and your company, customers and staff will
Is Enthusiasm Unethical?
Those of you who have seen me or taken my seminars know that
I am very enthusiastic about products that improve the quality of water. I do
not drink tap water. I believe everyone should own equipment that will make
their life better, easier, safer and more enjoyable. I hope you are enthused
with your company and products, too, and that you feel sorry for anyone that
does not own your equipment. As long as you meet or exceed the criteria I have
discussed in this article, I believe you should be as enthused as possible and
tell as many people as possible about your product and company. Don't let the
unenthused wear you down. Spread the good news to customers, family, friends
and anyone you come in contact with.
Is Anything You Don't Like Unethical?
Ethics is not opinion. Either something is true or it is
not. Either it is in the customer's best interests or it is not. Some people
try to tell us that anything they disagree with is unethical, and this simply
is not true. Last week, I had a salesperson tell me that telemarketing is
unethical and that it should be banned.
As an American, I am a big believer in the free market system. If
telemarketing is offensive to the public, the companies that use it will not
get business and will starve. The fact that it is still around means someone is
making money doing it; and that means the public is supporting it by buying
Try not to judge ethics based on what you like and don't
like. Let's look at the tests we discussed before. Is it true? If everything
said in a telemarketing call is true, then I believe it is ethical. Does it do
harm? Not unless you keep calling the same person after they have asked you not
to. Would you be proud to have a newspaper story saying you do telemarketing?
That one you will have to decide on your own. If you decide that telemarketing
is or is not for you, be careful about how you label those who take the
opposite opinion. In our industry, some companies believe telemarketing, e-mail
prospecting, soap packages, asking for referrals and selling friends all are
unethical. Try giving each of those the tests we discussed.
Is It Wrong to Want to Sell a Lot?
Some people have a problem with success. Some think if you
are richer than them, you must have done something unethical to get that much
money. The fact is that in our industry, those who do a lot of demonstrations
make a lot of money. It has more to do with their work ethic than with ethics.
Make sure you do not dismiss the success of others as a problem with ethics. It
isn't wrong to sell a lot and make a lot if you are telling the truth and
helping your customers—in fact, it is doing the right thing and enjoying
We Don't Need to Lie to be Successful
We are in an industry with a product so great, you don't
need to lie or bend the truth to be successful. People need our products and
services, you don't need to exaggerate what we can do to help them. The
products you sell have tremendous benefits that can be sold without lies or
exaggerations. Be proud of this fact and carefully look at your sales
presentations to make sure that everything you say is true and proven. On the
other hand, don't be so concerned with ethics that you throw away legitimate
facts and sales techniques that assist you to help more people and make more
money. It's great to be in an industry where you can sleep at night, walk down
the street with your head held high and still make all the money you can dream