It was nearly 20 years ago and I was working on closing a deal for a Frame Relay network with a local hospital in Chicago. My Vice President, Ed, pulled me aside and asked how negotiations were going. After I explained my strategy, Ed said something that I would never forget. “Look Kevin, our clients are your neighbor, your relative, your friends and if they’re not, then I can assure you that they are the neighbor, relative or friend of another member of our team. As a result, I expect you to be honest and straightforward and to document everything that you are offering them to ensure that there will be no question that you have always done the right thing for our client.”
In stark contrast to my original experiences, here is what many of us are more likely to hear when discussing sales strategy on data center negotiations with senior sales management. “Tell them whatever they want to hear and don’t say no to anything. More importantly, don’t put anything in writing. We can work around most of these points during contract negotiations.”
Is it possible that we have seen a dramatic shift in sales negotiations strategy over the last 2 decades, and if so, what might be the cause? There are a several possibilities. In June 2013 the Ethics Resource Center published a new study that showed unexpected and disturbing findings that may portend a future downward shift in business ethics. The new report titled Generational Differences in Workplace Ethics examines the differences in attitudes toward ethical issues among four generational groups. Most importantly, the report states that younger workers are significantly more willing to ignore the presence of misconduct if they think that behavior will help save jobs. “Willingness to ‘let the ends justify the means’ seems to have a strong inverse correlation with age,” according to the report.
Other studies have also shown that the reason unethical behavior occurs is because of the absence of punishment for committing the act (Zey-Ferrell and Ferrell). Individuals are more likely to participate in unethical behavior when they are rewarded for the conduct. Sales, which provides direct rewards in the form of commissions for sales closed, is highly susceptible to this type of behavior. This especially true if sales management supports and encourages an attitude of “whatever it takes” to close a deal.
While it is easy to speculate on the causes of this behavior, in most situations the individuals involved didn’t actually believe that their behavior was unethical. They believed that their behavior was more indicative of persuasion than manipulation. I believe that it is more likely that they fell into a psychological trap of obedience to authority which overrode their own judgment on the matter. The end result of this particular type of behavior is that the buyer is left with incomplete or incorrect information on which to make their decision. This could easily lead to poor decision making which create a huge risk to the buyer’s organization and to their own careers.
Whatever the case, I believe this type of behavior is cause for concern among those of us who need to make decisions regarding the acquisition of new technology. For me personally, this concern became a major influence in my recent decision to pursue a second career in consulting with Kiamesha Global. We will seek to find ways to avoid this dilemma in future discussions here at Kiamesha Global.