Salespeople act on behalf of their companies by doing the following:
- Creating value for their firms’ customers
- Managing relationships
- Relaying customer and market information back to their organizations
In addition to acting on behalf of their firms, sales representatives also act on behalf of their customers. Whenever a salesperson goes back to her company with a customer’s request, be it for quicker delivery, a change in a product feature, or a negotiated price, she is voicing the customer’s needs. Her goal is to help the buyer purchase what serves his or her needs the best. Like Ted Schulte, the salesperson is the expert.
From society’s perspective, selling is wonderful when professional salespeople act on behalf of both buyers and sellers. The salesperson has a fiduciary responsibility (in this case meaning something needs to be sold) to the company and an ethical responsibility to the buyer. At times, however, the two responsibilities conflict with one another. For example, what should a salesperson do if her product meets only most of a buyer’s needs, while a competitor’s product is a perfect fit?
Salespeople also face conflicts within their companies. When a salesperson tells a customer a product will be delivered in three days, she has made a promise that will either be kept or broken by her company’s shipping department. When the salesperson accepts a contract with certain terms, she has made a promise to the customer that will either be kept or broken by her company’s credit department. What if the credit department and shipping department can’t agree on the shipping terms the customer should receive? Which group should the salesperson side with? What if managers want the salesperson to sell a product that’s unreliable and will swamp the company’s customer service representatives with buyers’ complaints? Should she nonetheless work hard to sell the offering?
Situations such as these create role conflict. Role conflict occurs when the expectations people set for you differ from one another. Now couple the situation we just mentioned with the fact that the salesperson has a personal interest in whether the sale is made or not. Perhaps her income or job depends on it. Can you understand how role conflict might result in a person using questionable tactics to sell a product?
So are salespeople dishonest? You might be surprised to learn that one study found that salespeople are less likely to exaggerate in order to get what they want than politicians, preachers, and professors. Another study looked at how business students responded to ethical dilemmas versus how professional salespeople responded. What did the study find? That salespeople were more likely to respond ethically than students were.
In general, salespeople handle these conflicting expectations well. Society benefits because salespeople help buyers make more informed decisions and help their companies succeed, which, in turn, creates jobs for people and products they can use. Most salespeople also truly believe in the effectiveness of their company’s offerings. Schulte, for example, is convinced that the pacemakers he sells are the best there are. When this belief is coupled with a genuine concern for the welfare of the customer—a concern that most salespeople share—society can’t lose.