Redefining Sales for Ethical and Sustainable Business

money on treesBy Peri Shawn

Many business people talk passionately about growing their businesses. Yet, in the same breath, they also speak about their dislike of sales. This is like holding aspirations of winning the New York City Marathon, yet, having an aversion to running.

Part of the reason sales has such a bad reputation is because we have developed and accepted sales stereotypes as truths. People often perceive sales as deceptive and manipulative. As a result, the word “sales” usually takes on a negative connotation. According to a recent study by Daniel Pink, when “sales” is mentioned, we often picture the stereotypical used car salesman.

If we hold a negative perception of sales, we decrease our chances of establishing sustainable business and supporting a healthy sales environment that satisfies the triple bottom line – people, planet and profit.  Here are three ways to avoid that.  After all, who wants to be perceived as the stereotypical used car salesman?

1.  Since our definition of sales ultimately informs our sales behaviors, we can start by updating our definition of sales to the following:  selling is about helping others with their buying decisions.  The operative word is “help.”  With this updated definition comes a more ethical set of sales behaviors that makes it obsolete to twist arms to slam dunk a close.

2.  Next we can identify which of the ten biggest sales mistakes we are committing.  This ensures we are treating prospects in a way that fosters relationships, the environment and business.  When we commit sales mistakes, we reduce the likelihood of closing a sale, often making the sale feel more self-serving rather positioning ourselves as valuable contributors and partners.

These sales mistakes are:

  1. Not being clear who’s buying
  2. Forgetting why people buy
  3. Being self-focused
  4. Telling mistruths
  5. Being ill-prepared
  6. Taking too much of the client’s time
  7. Sharing what’s not relevant
  8. Missing prospects’ buying cues
  9. Acting like a traditional salesperson
  10. Treating clients as enemies

If we don’t identify and rectify these sales mistakes, we run the risk of reducing our sales behaviors to those of the stereotypical used car salesman.

3.  The next step is to fully commit to our ongoing sales improvement.  The most effective way to do this is with sales coaching.  Sales coaching is about learning more quickly from our experience.  It helps us determine what’s working and what isn’t so we can adjust our sales conversations to better match the needs of our prospects and clients.

One of the keys to ensuring our sales coaching works (truly reflecting our ethics and business goals) is to ensure it is system-wide and multi-leveled.  This is integral to creating an engaging sales coaching culture that creates sustainable results.

When Sales VPs are coaching their direct reports, and when those directors are effectively coaching their managers, and when those managers are sales coaching their salespeople, they all hold one another accountable.  They each become an essential part of the organization’s sustainable sales coaching culture.

Having a sales coaching culture where each level is responsible to the one above ensures that the sales coaching operates as both a valuable informant for leadership decision-making and a catalyst for sales improvement.

When we leverage sales coaching to discover how our salespeople are defining sales and reduce the number of sales mistakes they commit, we know more about what is going on so we can guide our businesses to be more congruent with our ethics and business goals.  The by-product of sales coaching, when done well, is staff morale and customer satisfaction improves.

This article is adapted from Peri Shawn’s book, Sell More with Sales Coaching (Wiley, Oct 2013).  To receive two chapters, go to

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