Sales and Ethics

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All businesses need a sales function in order to identify and target potential customers, develop a reliable customer relationship and provide goods and services in return for funds (Chris Anderson 2009). Without this core activity, businesses could easily drop out of competition. However, in today’s hectic and intricate selling environment, ethical behavior has been more and more taken for granted and has gradually lost its importance (Ingram, LaForge and Schwepker 2007, 301). Many international businesses, including some high-end brands, intentionally undertook immoral actions to rocket their sales figures (Vasagar 2007; BMW of North America, Inc. v Gore (1995) 517 U.S. 559). Have businesses come to a point where unethical practices need to be done to reach their goals? Many argue that sales ethics is a contradiction in term and businesses cannot operate if ethics are not taken into consideration in their day-to-day activities (Schmidt 2008). However, Davis (2005) points out the Economist Milton Friedman’s motto, “the business of business is business”, where the ultimate goal of a business is to create shareholder value. Every company has specific objectives to achieve in a limited period of time and their duty is to meet the aspirations of not only the shareholders but also the stakeholders. Salespeople are the front-line faces of the company who communicates directly and personally to the market and their sole responsibility is to maximize profits; they should therefore do what it takes to be business-orientated and sales-driven for short-term performance and long-term customer satisfaction that will create value is what ultimately matters. Sometimes, the end justifies the means. The meaning of business ethics to Carr (1968) is comparable to those of a poker game. Basically, the game ethics comprises of calling bluffs, and not telling the whole truth about the game strategies in the person’s hand, which, in real life, would normally be considered as unscrupulous. Deception has to be expected and it is known to be a genuine part of business for, just like poker, bluffing is done in order to mislead others. In business, either one chooses to lie, or loses the game. Also, the theory states that the business game justifies several activities such as participating in the political process. Carr (1968) defends: “As long as they comply with the letter of the law, they are within their rights to operate their businesses as they see it”. Everyday life ethics can therefore never be associated to business. Moreover, research has shown that incorporating ethical behavior in the business environment is ineffective and unreliable (Pater and Van Gils 2003). Somers (2001) also confirmed that there was no link between the ethical codes of a company and the misconduct of an employee. When making a decision, an individual will depend on factors such as society, culture, economy and the organization itself, from which numerous ethical matters can arise (T.M 1991). For instance, some individuals may find corporate ethics insignificant and ignore such codes of principles; if one is used to lie, commit fraud, bribes or even put his or her interest before the organization for which he or she is working for, the latter is an ethical egotist and will continue in making immoral decisions. In such circumstances, there will always remain a shadow of dishonesty in the sales environment (Moseley 2005; Gan 2012) McClaren (2000) stipulates that sales managers could be one of the reasons why sales ethics is a controversial subject; when evaluating and remunerating the sales force, sales managers influence the employee’s working performance by rewarding the most performing salesperson with straight commission and extra benefits. Since competition amongst salespeople will then be tougher and motivation to achieve this incentive by any means will be greater, it will automatically increase the chances of unethical behavior in the organization (Abratt and...
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