The first quality that a successful sales leader must possess to be successful in the long term is integrity. Integrity means doing the right thing, even when doing something less than the right thing would be expedient.
Why is integrity so important? It exemplifies trust. If someone loses trust in you, that trust is difficult to reclaim. There are prominent instances of companies whose salespeople were pushed to fulfill ever-increasing sales quotas to meet ever-increasing Wall Street expectations. Unfortunately, deals were made that sacrificed future profits for present sales and the sales had to keep getting larger to fuel the disappearing profits until, like a pyramid scheme, the financial structure collapsed. At that point, the future survival of what had been a highly valued and respected company was thrown into question.
In one sales workshop I facilitated, the salespeople for a company that was a leader in the health care field were asking how they could compete against salespeople from another company who gave away extravagant gifts to customers. Their company did not permit such excessive gifts. I asked the salespeople to write down what they enjoyed most about their jobs and what they believed in. They cited the following as what they enjoyed most:
The look on a patient's face after treatment
Improving human quality of life
Working with people
The recognition that comes from working with the number-one company in the field
They said they believed that they had the product line that most effectively helps people enjoy their lives again.
These responses mirrored their company's mission. When salespeople are this closely aligned with their company's mission, they know they are making valued contributions, and it allows them to sell consistent with their beliefs.
When speaking with a doctor who might look for expensive gifts, this company's salespeople can set themselves apart by providing a copy of their mission and explaining what they believe in (helping people achieve quality of life, for example). They plant a question in the doctor's mind about a company that feels compelled to use lavish gifts to win customer loyalty rather than the quality of their products.
This company's products and services stand on their own. This is positioning. It means placing your company and yourself in customers' minds as people who believe in what they are doing, believe in the quality and benefits of the products and services they offer, and believe in working with customers in the most ethical manner. The salesperson can even use a statement such as, "If that sounds like the way you like to work, we can work together to help your patients and your practice." If the customer says yes, this is the kind of customer the salesperson would want to work with. If the answer is not an unqualified yes, the salesperson should go on to the next customer. This approach is, in effect, a way of testing whether you have a common set of values with customers and whether they would be a good fit with you and your company.
Avoid any possibility of your integrity being questioned. The consequences of a loss of integrity can be severe, such as loss of business or loss of an account, and it can take an incredible amount of resources to try to recover. It was reported that Enron's board suspended their code of ethics for a short time to allow the company to complete certain financial transactions that otherwise would have been in conflict with their policy. The board's unusual action in and of itself threw suspicion onto other business policies, hampering the company's ability to continue to function normally.