On Wednesday, the Goldman Sachs executive Greg Smith resigned his job by writing a scathing op-ed in the New York Times. In that column, written as an exit letter, he accuses top management of encouraging predatory sales practices that actively hurt customers:
"I attend derivatives sales meetings where not one single minute is spent asking questions about how we can help clients. It’s purely about how we can make the most possible money off of them."
While he insists that he's seen no behavior that's actually illegal, he explains that:
"People push the envelope and pitch lucrative and complicated products to clients even if they are not the simplest investments or the ones most directly aligned with the client’s goals? Absolutely. Every day, in fact."
Now, I don't know whether he's characterizing Goldman Sachs accurately, but his accusations match my observations of sales practices in many large financial institutions. Even so, I don't think it's fair to lay the blame entirely on top management.
There are, sadly, many sales professionals in this world who see themselves as "sharks" and think its OK to run roughshod over customers, as long as they make their numbers. There are even some so-called "sales gurus" who celebrate such behavior.
I promise you that you'll never see that kind of "sales guru" mentioned, much less discussed, in Sales Source. There would be no point: Only amoral people thrive in amoral environments, and the entire point of Sales Source is that selling is supposed to be about helping the customer.
Despite the fact that there are "sharks" out there, I know for a fact that there are plenty of people in this world (executive, entrepreneurs, and salespeople) who wouldn't be caught dead screwing over a customer. Their values simply won't tolerate it, which is why they'd fail if they tried to work inside an environment like the one Smith describes.
The problem is incongruity. If there's a disconnect between your core beliefs and your job description (spoken or unspoken), you'll inevitably sabotage yourself.
Salespeople who lack congruence between beliefs and actions find it extraordinarily difficult to perform even the basic mechanics of selling, because they’re constantly waging an internal battle. Customers can easily tell when a salesperson is conflicted and, sensing something is wrong, become far less likely to buy.
For example, salespeople who believe that “it’s a sin to tell a lie” will almost always flub a presentation whenever they’re asked to misrepresent a product in order to close business. Similarly, salespeople who believe that “life is all about helping others” will subtly avoid closing business if they also believe that selling means convincing people to buy something they don’t need.
None of that is a problem for psychopaths and sociopaths, who naturally gravitate and thrive inside organizations where such behavior is lavishly rewarded.
Steer Clear of Snake Pits
Based on comments and emails that I get, I'm pretty certain that almost everyone who regularly reads Sales Source wants to do right by their customers. Why else would you be reading this column?
This means that, no matter how powerful you become at selling your products, you'd fail if you tried to sell in an amoral environment. In fact, if you lingered in that kind of snake pit, you'd likely to succumb to a variety of stress-related illnesses: alcoholism, drug usage, and depression.
That's why your first question before joining any organization should always be: Does working for this company fit with my beliefs?
I once asked Ron Willingham, the author of Integrity Selling in the 21st Century, what was the most important element for success in sales. His answer: "your basic values about people and life."
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