Why Sales Ethics Are Key to Navigating the Post-COVID Downturn

The post-COVID-19 market puts even the most successful businesses, and the sales professionals they employ, in an unenviable position. The negative impact on your sales pipeline health can seriously affect revenue retention and put a business’ ability to survive in jeopardy. On the other hand, the current economic climate has increased the importance of maintaining a positive brand perception. The current market downturn has reduced the scope of available selling as well as the number of outreach techniques that are appropriate to use when stabilizing your pipeline.

To put it another way: We’re going through a time when even the most virtuous sales representatives might be tempted to forfeit sales ethics to secure potential business. But the most valuable assets your company possesses are the trust and good relationships you share with your customers.

To keep your company’s credibility high, here’s how you can ensure your team abides by sales ethics when pursuing business.

What Are Sales Ethics?

Sales ethics is when you use trustworthy sales practices, accurate information, and honest concern for customers’ needs when selling your product. Unlike a “sell-at-all-costs” mentality, ethical selling involves your sales representatives maintaining their professional integrity in every interaction.

SaaS is entirely based around relationships — building them and maintaining them — so that a customer you sell to once stays a customer for the foreseeable future. It takes more than an elite CRM to make the most of customer relationships. Indeed, sales ethics can actually prove to be the X factor behind building and improving them. As a result, prioritizing ethical behavior makes a great deal of financial as well as moral sense.

Due to the COVID-influenced market turbulence, building this trust takes on even more importance. Money is scarcer than before, and consistent value is a primary consideration for your customers when deciding which tools and software to keep in their tech stack. So, if your clients trust you to support them in this time of need, they’ll be more likely to stick with you — and that maintains your MRR and reduces churn.

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Ethical Mistakes to Avoid

These are hard times for companies hoping to keep their conversion rates high and growth plans viable. When quotas seem impossible to satisfy, and the price of failure is high, even upright sales reps can be tempted to cut corners and stray from ethical standards to fudge their performance numbers.

The tricky truth is that reps may act unethically without any malicious intent. Without sufficient coverage of the subject in sales training, your reps may not be aware of the boundaries of ethical behavior when it comes to selling. This can be a particular concern in the heat of a sales call when a high-margin deal is at stake. Twisting a piece of data or making that over-promise can suddenly seem very appealing.

But in almost every instance, an ethical oversight or misstep will come back to haunt you, and, depending on its severity, can dissolve the business relationship and harm the company’s reputation. Benjamin Franklin’s words remain apt: “It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it.”

When it comes to drawing boundaries and enforcing discipline where required, sales managers should make those lines very clear. Establish your sales team’s code of ethics carefully, starting with these easily avoidable mistakes.

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Don’t misuse data

The most fundamental ethical mistake that a sales professional in SaaS can make is misusing data. Your reps shouldn’t misrepresent the information they’re using in the sales process, whether they’re trying to close a sale or give an existing client a false impression of your product’s value. Use data with full transparency and context. This proper use of data should be the lynchpin of your sales team’s code of conduct.

This also includes not misusing or sharing client data. Unless they’ve specifically agreed to allow you to share their data with third parties, your client’s email address, job title, phone number, and the details of their plan are all private. Ensure you abide by your own stated privacy policy and protect your client’s data.

Whether there’s an ethical breach with data use or elsewhere, sometimes standards need to be enforced. This is despite the fact that all sorts of factors — circumstantial, professional, and personal — can make this a hard thing to do. The Harvard Business Review published an excellent case study for dealing with misrepresentations in data that you find have been made by a member of your own team.

Don’t Take Advantage of a customer’s lack of clarity

Selling hard and securing early upgrades is one thing and is ethical behavior. But for this practice to be ethical, your prospect needs a clear idea of what they’re getting into, what they’re paying for, and how much they’re paying for it.

Taking advantage of a client’s misunderstanding — about what features they’re getting or which ones they need — is definitely on the other side of the ethical fence.

Any of the following are unethical sales practices:

  • Misleading your client about what features they’re getting in their plan
  • Misleading your client about what features their circumstances require
  • Failing to present terms of payment clearly and accurately

Some sales personalities may see this kind of approach as a means to a positive end. However, taking advantage of customers who’re misunderstanding their own needs will lead to a loss of credibility and subsequent churn, which no business can currently afford.

Don’t Over-Promise

You may have the best of intentions when you promise your customer an unending list of support features. Of course, you want to do as much as you can to guarantee product performance and support availability. You may even want to provide a generous discount to a stricken customer or prospect.

However benevolent, promising lots of additional features, or fostering unrealistic value expectations, is unethical if you and your product cannot deliver. Ensure that your sales reps are transparent and accurate about the value that prospects can expect from your product, the ramp-up time they can expect, and the extent of support they can rely on.

You can unwittingly incentivize over-promising by not adjusting your quotas to reflect the market slump. Revise your industry benchmarks and cash flow needs to soften obligations for your sales representatives’ performance. As a result, you’ll find fewer instances wherein a rep has pledged just a little too much for the sake of closing an all-important deal.

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Don’t Forget the Fundamentals

In the post-COVID-19 market, with uncertainty all around, ethical conduct is more scrutinized than ever before. As a result, even a rep making a simple mistake during the sales process or a call can lead to raised eyebrows. In these emotionally charged times, these inconsistencies can feel like an ethical breach, despite being unintended.

For that reason, as well as those below, remind your sales team about the fundamentals:

  • Clarify your value proposition clearly when selling. If your product is an inter-office communications tool that also offers time-keeping features on the side, and your prospect is mainly looking for a dedicated time-keeping tool, don’t let them labor under a misapprehension of what your product does.
  • Provide accurate estimations of your competitors’ value and product capabilities. Competition may be fiercer for new business than it was several months ago, but that’s no reason to be unfair to your competitors or to misrepresent how your product performs compared to others on the market.
  • Don’t be over-zealous with follow-up. Automating follow-up can be done fairly easily with low-lift tools like Chorus.ai’s Conversation Intelligence. That said, any given SaaS deal is likely to stretch out from its typical 96-day average since a bear market can slow the process and potentially put the deal in jeopardy. It can be tempting for a sales representative to go all-out with follow-up and reach out across more channels to stop leads from going cold. However, pressurizing your prospects with too much follow-up should be considered a breach of ethical behavior. No good customer relationship is founded on harassment.

DoN’t Skip Your Due Diligence

Ensuring compliance is as fundamental to the sales process as ever. Whether or not you run a dedicated legal ops division within your company, compliance must be carefully accounted for.

Sales professionals won’t be directly involved in handling this aspect of the sales process. But reps with account management or customer success-oriented responsibilities must keep this aspect of the customer relationship in mind and make sure it’s fulfilled. Without due diligence, the terms of your business relationship with this new prospect are not legally binding.

The Essentials of Ethical Selling

Now, let’s cover the ethical techniques your team can implement during the sales process. Happily, the following ethical practices not only constitute an honest, conscientious form of sales, but they’re also primed for getting the best results with your prospects.

Use Data the right way

Ethical selling involves using everything at your disposal to help your prospect make the right choice. Some might go as far as to say that, in SaaS, a sales pro holds the position of a trusted advisor for their customers. In that sense, using data the right way is a key area where your code of ethics combines well with your sales strategy.

Use accurately presented data to help your prospects get a good feel for your product and why it’s right for them. Include social proof and success stories where you empirically show the value of your product. For example, a sales rep selling for us might note that we’ve got a long history of success in helping customers like Zoom, Engagio, and Klaviyo accelerate rep productivity, drive sales, and improve customer engagement.

The right use of data gives your prospect a sure sense of your product’s value and capabilities. It also demonstrates how you value your own product, how you think it will fit in with their needs, and your organization’s values. As such, this is a key way to build trust.

Offer Support

A continuous offer of technical (and non-technical support) is another ethical sales practice with a tremendous practical pay-off for any SaaS company. Continuing to own your product even after the sales process ends reinforces trust between customer and vendor, allowing you to adjust your product’s performance and paving the way for later upsell opportunities.

Moreover, offering support is a central pillar of customer success. Making customer success a priority is key to ethical selling, as it helps ensure that your customer gets the full value you promised. Guiding your customer to succeed with your product is also particularly important during COVID-19, as customer success is also crucial for retention.

UNIFY Your Marketing and Sales approaches

Ethical selling starts before your prospect has even heard of your product. Make sure your marketing and sales teams are aligned on the image of the product you’re promoting. This ensures you’re spreading accurate information to prospects and prevents potential issues from arising, like your marketing team making promises that your sales team or your product can’t deliver.

For example, ensure your marketing team isn’t over-emphasizing or exaggerating the features of your product purely because they’re more popular or better match a customer’s needs. Likewise, if conditions have caused you to alter your product array in any way, ensure that the changes are reflected in marketing content.

To this end, hold marketing/sales team syncs where the teams can come together and align. They also provide good opportunities to share assessments of the public mood about your product and any other information about changes to pain points and customers’ needs.

Lead By Example

Setting standards of ethical sales behavior is one of the most influential roles that sales managers can occupy. Make it clear that commitment to ethical standards is coming from the top-down and that your sales team’s ethics are proceeding directly from wider business ethics.

Leading by example with sales ethics is not just a case of talking the talk. Espouse your ethics in meetings, emails, and incorporate your code of conduct into your sales training.

When delivering presentations, department reports, and meetings to your sales professionals, adopt the same principles that you want to see them exercise.

That means:

  • Be transparent when sharing both wins, losses, and circumstantial, COVID-related problems on the horizon.
  • Use data straightforwardly, whether you’re leading a sales training session, reporting on recent churn, or demonstrating current pipeline health.
  • Don’t sugar-coat things in a superficial bid to maintain morale. Your team will appreciate your honesty in a time of uncertainty.
  • Offer your support as a sales manager; real morale boosts in hard times don’t come from hiding the facts from your team but from showing them that their management structures are there to support them as the going gets tough.

The value of sales ethics can just as easily be communicated by doing as by telling. Provide your team with a role model for the benefit of honest sales practices, and they’ll follow suit.

Selling Right, Now

In times of market turbulence, a “by-any-means-necessary” approach to selling can be seductive in the short-term. However, turning your back on ethical sales behavior all but guarantees your company, and you, as a sales professional, will miss out in the long-term.

A successful SaaS company is devoted to the care and needs of their customers — maintaining relationships over time requires a secure basis of trust and credibility, and only ethical selling can incubate these elements. By using sales ethics as your compass, you can find customers who authentically need your product. These prospects will be more likely to stay with you long-term and give your product glowing reviews to their peers.

Want more cutting edge sales insights to beat the post-pandemic downturn? Tune in to Chorus’ Weekly Briefing series for the freshest and best hot-takes from top industry leaders.

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