Is it ethical to keep selling right now?

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I’m not usually one for hot takes, but this might be one.

I’ve chosen the word “ethical” in this question intentionally because of its implied severity.  I could have asked “is it uncomfortable to sell right now” or “is it inappropriate to sell right now”.  And I think we’ve all seen examples of companies that clearly meet that bar in the past few days.

When people are dying, when the health of countless people worldwide is at stake, when companies are scrambling and facing something both completely unprecedented and disruptive – do we have an ethical obligation to take a pause on selling for a little while?

I hadn’t even thought to ask this question until I read Dave Brock’s great piece Buying During Difficult Times yesterday.

I agree with how he breaks down the difference between selling and buying.  The focus of your customers has narrowed dramatically.  Important projects will stall while mission-critical tactics are front-loaded.

This doesn’t mean you can’t help the prospect, it just means you have to do a much tighter, precise job at matching what you have with what they need, right now.

Technique and approach are key right now as well.  Don’t sell, offer. Share. Give.

This is good sales advice to build trust and credibility in all market conditions, and especially right now.

Pivot to focus more intently on what your customers want and need, which may have shifted dramatically in the last two weeks. Those carefully-crafted personas and buying journeys? They might need some significant adjustments – at least for the next few weeks and/or months.

Even if you’ve asked before, ask again now – how can I help?

I asked Dave last night if I was taking this too far.  Is it ethical to continue selling?  Does pitching the same thing the same way do too much long-term damage to your brand and pipeline to continue right now?

Frankly I’m in this situation myself as well.  I’d love to add more sales and bookings to our Q2.  But the last thing I want to do is put pressure on prospects to close, or look like I’m fishing for new business in this climate.

Dave’s answer:

The real answer is, “It depends.”  And basically it’s based on your intent.  If you are trying to help your customer achieve their goals, in many cases now, it’s survival, it would be wrong not to help.  There are some tests to that—i.e., you are the best in the world at solving the problem they think is most critical for them to solve.  If it isn’t, you need to back away.

Sadly, too many are focused on their own self interest and success and not the customer’s.  I don’t know that it’s unethical, but it is unhelpful and the customer will see through this.  Pressing it, or pursuing many of the volume velocity strategies, make it unethical.

In other words, start with a foundation of empathy and clarity on what your customer critically needs to navigate their current challenges.  If you can help them, pursue it.

What do you think?

4 COMMENTS

  1. I work in real estate
    The only clients I am working with right now is one who needs to move as where he’s renting his contract is up
    And an apartment for rent where the owner needs the money to pay the mortgage
    Following most other leads feels wrong

  2. I think it’s unethical not to keep the economy running as best we can, to pay our bills, or to be drawing a salary yet expecting freelancers and companies to give away their services because of angst. The only way we’ll recuperate from these temporary sacrifices is to be hopeful, helpful, industrious, and generous.

    Thinking about Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits list, an attitude of abundance will always get us further than fear of change. I hope every brand feels they’re helping a customer achieve their goals. The silver lining of today’s situation is empathy and compassion.

    Many people were already weathering hardships, personal loss, financial stress, and life shifts when the pandemic emerged. I’ve always found it best to compare my situation to others in history or in the world today who have a harder road to walk. The greater resilience we can foster, the better. I think that includes encouragement among us all to rise above circumstances and keep things rolling. Yes, let’s keep selling wisely and let’s keep buying wisely.

  3. Hi Matt: Your article reminded me of a quote attributed to Robert Frost, when he was asked about what he learned about life. He summarized it in three words: “it goes on.”

    What positive result would be accomplished by a company putting its sales efforts on pause – if for any reason other than cost containment or tactical necessity? I can’t judge any company’s intent, so long as their actions are honest. Regardless whether they are singularly ‘pursuing revenue’ or ‘selflessly serving customers in their time of need,’ executives have moral permission to sustain revenue operations in order to preserve employment for their staff, to protect the interests of their suppliers and contractors, and to serve their customer needs.

    Vendors have always had to tightly align their offerings with what customers need. That has not changed. What vendors should heed today, as you point out, is that customer needs will likely be re-prioritized. My book on sales/marketing ethics is targeted for publication in September, 2020. This will be a great case topic. Thanks for posting it.

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