Sales Management

How Sales Managers Can Establish Ethical Behavior in Sales Teams

How sales managers can establish ethical behavior in sales teams

Sales is a naturally competitive environment. Whether vying for the honor of salesperson of the quarter, securing the biggest commission, or winning extra vacation days — whatever the motivation, salespeople are a very competitive breed.

While friendly competition can be a positive motivator within an organization’s sales team, the competitive nature of sales, coupled with the pace and high quota demands of many sales departments, can drive salespeople to engage in unethical sales practices — hurting themselves, their customers, and the company in the long run — for shortsighted, quick wins.

"As a sales manager, you’re in charge of your sales team, and with that responsibility, comes the duty to shape the cultural and operational foundations of how that team ethically performs..." Tweet

Over time, should unethical sales practices be allowed to flourish, an organization’s entire sales department can devolve into an environment where every salesperson simply operates to hit quota, by hook or by crook, rather than seek to truly serve their customers.

As a sales manager, you’re in charge of your sales team, and with that responsibility, comes the duty to shape the cultural and operational foundations of how that team ethically performs in the pursuit of their sales goals.

By understanding why having code of ethics is important and how that code impacts every level of your sales team and your organization, you can lay the foundation for an ethical sales environment that increases sales and fosters trust-based customer relationships.

What is Ethical Sales Behavior for a Sales Team?

Ethical sales behavior, in its purest form, is making a daily, task-by-task decision to put the customer first and serve them from a heart of honesty and servanthood.

Your sales team puts the customers needs ahead of their own.

When salespeople focus purely on meeting their quota by any means necessary, both the salesperson and their customers lose. Potential customers pick up on unethical sales practices almost immediately, and when they do, it immediately destroys any hope creating a fruitful relationship.

Ethical salespeople don’t see their potential customers as a list of potential transactions, but as a group of people whom they might have the opportunity to listen to, understand, and guide to a solution that helps them with whatever problems their product or service can solve.

Your sales team builds customer relationships based on trust and reliability.

Day after day, regardless of whether a potential customer is seeking to make a purchase, ethical salespeople are always ready and willing to help customers tackle their problems and lend a helping hand however possible.

Being a consistent, reliable, and always-helpful presence is how truly fruitful sales relationships are cultivated and maintained for years, turning satisfied customers into devoted advocates for your product or service.

Your sales team always gives honest and knowledgeable insight to customers.

When customers ask for insight into your product or service’s capabilities, it can be tempting to for salespeople to embellish the facts in order to secure the contract or finalize a sale.

However, over time, the truth eventually does find its way to the customer, and if your sales team has exaggerated the claims of your product, you will find yourself with a customer base that is deeply dissatisfied and distrusting of anything your company has to offer now or in the future.

Simply being knowledgeable and honest about what your product or service can and cannot do is the key to securing loyal, satisfied customers who trust your company and want to recommend it to others.

Your sales team holds themselves accountable for problems.

When tempers flare over a missed shipment or a faulty piece of equipment, it’s easy and tempting to want to point the finger elsewhere.

While offering an excuse might diffuse some of the tension in the moment, and though it might feel like an innocent white lie, should the truth ever make its way to the customer — as it often does — the customer’s trust in your company is permanently damaged.

Accepting responsibility for when things go wrong, providing a truthful explanation of what went wrong, and putting in motion a plan of action to correct the mistake speaks volumes to your customers about your credibility and trustworthiness.

Your sales team provides customers with prompt and helpful follow-up.

Whether one of your salespeople checks in with a prospective customer to set a meeting date or they are following up with after a successful sale, prompt follow-up with a customer communicates to them that you sales rep is truly invested in their success and the level of satisfaction they have with your product or service.

Your sales team provides fair comparisons between your company and its competitors.

Throughout any salesperson's career, they will naturally encounter the “Why should I choose you rather than your competitor?” question.

While it’s vital that you and your sales team believe in the products you sell, when comparisons arise, your salespeople shouldn’t seek to slander or belittle your competitors.

When those questions are encountered, simply give an honest assessment of your competitor’s offerings. Your salesperson’s honesty, product knowledge, reliability, and true understanding of the customer’s needs and expectations are what form the foundations of sales success — not the slander of your competition.

In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you...

Matthew 7:12

How Can a Sales Manager Establish Ethical Sales Practices?

When creating a standard of ethical sales practices for your team, getting started can be fun and exciting, but without proper day-to-day reinforcement, salespeople can start to backslide and fall back into more manipulative sales techniques.

Hold regular one-on-one coaching sessions with sales representatives.

At least once a month, schedule a set time with each representative to review the challenges they have faced throughout the weeks and create a strategy to overcome those hurdles.

During this time together, delve into how they are building relationships with their customers. Are they following ethical, trust-building practices? Fantastic! Point out how they are doing well and explain to them how their ethical work is building a successful and fruitful customer relationship.

Review your ethical sales processes and procedures at team meetings.

Group meetings with your sales team are a uniquely beneficial environment. In these meetings, as each member of your sales team reports their successes, setbacks, and goals, they have the opportunity to help and learn from one another.

As they share, highlight key areas where there are strong ethical victories, or great examples of positive, customer-first action that strengthens customer relationships.

Shining a positive light on your sales team’s ethical sales efforts lets them know that you’re adamant about your team’s ethical performance and clearly signals — to new members of your sales team especially — that your team doesn’t operate by a sales-at-any-cost methodology.

Lead by personal and professional example.

As with any leadership practice, unless the leader is actively practicing and exemplifying the actions and attitudes he wants his team to have, it will fall flat and not be taken seriously by the group.

As a sales manager, the ethical sales practices that you establish have to first be modeled by you. Day in and day out, you have to be the ethical model for your sales team to follow.

What are the Benefits of a Sales Team Operating Ethically?

Operating an ethical sales team isn’t just a spiritually and morally sound sales methodology. It’s also a by-the-numbers effective business strategy.

Time and again, the research and data proves that if you structure your sales team around ethical sales practices, your company, its brand reputation, and your sales are positively impacted.

It creates a team-oriented, customer-first company culture.

Instead of being led by a sales-at-all-costs mentality, the team is structured around a singular goal: serve the customer from a heart of servanthood.

With this being your central focus, the sales team truly feels like a team, rather than just the closest group of people your sales representatives have to outperform and malign at any cost in order to get ahead.

From your sales team’s success and the true atmosphere of positivity and servanthood they emanate throughout your company, you and your team not only become a highly-performing sales force, but an influential force for a customer-first company culture.

It increases customer trust and brand reputation.

When customers know that they’re being treated fairly by salespeople, it creates a lasting bond and a deep-seated trust within that brand. Moreover, customers who have a high level of trust in the salespeople who serve them are far more likely to become brand advocates, urging others in their communities and close circles of family and friends to do business with your company.

It places you in better positions for career advancement.

Executives value communication, consistent performance, accountability, and leadership. And by you instituting and adhering to an ethical sales model, you show yourself to be the leader that they look for to help direct the future of the company.

It increases sales.

When customers trust your salespeople, feel genuinely heard, and see that their needs are being met consistently, they will want to continue to do business with your company.

No matter what sales metrics your team is aiming to meet, the data doesn’t lie: Serving customers from a heart of servanthood and building trust-based relationships is the most effective way to sales success.

Creating a Cohesive Team of Ethical Salespeople

In our world of key performance indicators, sales forecasts, and pipelines, there’s one simple truth that underlies every sales metric we measure: No matter the sales scenario, customers will always be more drawn to — and more loyal to — the companies and salespeople that treat them with respect and bring value to every interaction.

What are your experiences in instituting ethical sales practices in your sales teams? Have you seen a positive shift in your sales team’s performance or greater cohesion after adopting a customer-first mindset? We would love to hear from you and talk about what you’ve learned in the Facebook comments below!


  1. Alrubaiee, Laith. “Exploring the Relationship between Ethical Sales Behavior, Relationship Quality, and Customer Loyalty.” International Journal of Marketing Studies, vol. 4, no. 1, 1 Feb. 2012, pp. 7–25., doi:10.5539/ijms.v4n1p7.
  2. Bass, Ken, et al. “The Moral Philosophy of Sales Managers and Its Influence on Ethical Decision Making.” Journal of Personal Selling & Sales Management, vol. 18, no. 2, 1998, pp. 1–17.
  3. Cadogan, John W., et al. “Sales Manager and Sales Team Determinants of Salesperson Ethical Behaviour.” European Journal of Marketing, vol. 43, no. 7/8, 2009, pp. 907–937., doi:10.1108/03090560910961452.
  4. “Ethics in Sales and Sales Management.” University of Michigan, 1 Jan. 2010, pp. 414–420.
  5. Grover, Steven L., and Cathy A. Enz. “The Influence of Company Rules, Ethical Climate, and Individual Characteristics on Sales Representatives Honesty.” Journal of Management & Organization, vol. 11, no. 2, 2005, pp. 27–36., doi:10.5172/jmo.2005.11.2.27.

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