Tackling the Ethics Question in Business

Are you an ethical businessperson or employee? Most people would answer with an emphatic yes, but in reality, too few people consciously consider the ethics of a business decision when they're weighing their options. Consider what you would do in the following scenario:

You're talking with a prospective member. You know he is close to signing up. And if he knows he's getting a membership designed specifically to meet his health and fitness needs, there is a great possiblity of having other business referred your way. Plus, if he says yes to your proposal, there's a commission check waiting for you in the wings.

Just as you're finishing your presentation, he suddenly asks, "This membership that you're presenting seems a little expensive. I've checked around with other health clubs, and they're not as expensive. Can't you do better on the price?"

BAM! Suddenly, your heart sinks, your palms start sweating, and your breath begins to quicken. You know there's no way possible to accommodate his request. Or is there?

What do you do? Do you tell him that you will match the fees of the other club? What will that do to your credibility and value? And what are you telling prospective customers - that you are a fee-based (not a value-based) business?

Conversely, if you don't reduce the cost, do you explain that what he will be getting from your club is worth the price difference? Do you explain the value-added benefits of signing up with your facility?

Will you focus on price, or will you focus on value? Which approach do you think will develop customer loyalty? Furthermore, where does honesty and integrity come into play?

The above story may be hypothetical, but your answers are still important. These days, people are being judged more and more on their ethics, and are being held accountable for the choices they make. Make a good choice and sleep better at night; make a bad choice and risk a negative reputation.

A good number of business-people and employees are naturally ethical and have high moral standards. They wouldn't dream of telling their customers anything less than the truth, even if this jeopardizes their commission check. They will be rewarded in the long run for their ethical nature.

Other people, however, need a little help. While they may have good intentions, they sometimes stumble into unethical behavior. Rather than willful misbehavior, their unethical acts are more a matter of thoughtlessness.

So how can you be confident you're treating your clients ethically? Let's return to our hypothetical story to discover the best ethical guidelines.

First, you must realize that simply making a sale won't help your business. Trust is the basic building block of any relationship. Since people don't buy from companies they don't trust (see the sidebar, Ethics Course), the acts of being truthful and making loyal customers outweigh a sale any day.

Although money is a strong motivator, the main objective of any business presentation should be to find your customers' needs and offer a solution. When customers see that you have a genuine desire to help them, they will be naturally drawn to you. Help your customers and the money will follow.

Even though our hypothetical prospect may not do business with you if you don't lower the price, he may give you some great word-of-mouth advertising by telling people how you put his fitness and health needs above all else. And just because he won't buy today doesn't mean he won't do business with you in the future. In fact, he may be so impressed with your ethical standards that he may seek you out when he is thinking about fitness again. What do you think that will do for your company's bottom line?

In the long run, being ethical beats out deceit every time. While you may lose the quick buck, you'll certainly gain the ethical insights that lead to more sales and better values. And the clearer you are about your values, the more effective you'll be in your chosen profession.


Ethics Course

An Indiana University study in Business Horizons magazine found that customers increasingly base their buying decisions on whether they believe a company is ethical. Cynicism promotes fickle buying habits.

Companies that prove themselves ethical will make lifelong customers out of even the most distrusting consumers. That is why the behavior of salespeople is so important. A salesperson is the connection between company and customer. Therefore, a company's ethics and integrity are ultimately based on the relationship between the salesperson and the customer.

How does one build and maintain an ethical relationship that will turn a consumer into a lifelong customer? Here are four "ethics questions" that will help.

1. Does my decision affect anyone else besides myself and the bottom line?

2. How do you become successful - making sales or making loyal customers?

3. Are ethics and service intertwined?

4. What is the PTP (Price to Pay) factor? (The PTP factor involves the consequences of your action; for example, if you give one person a discount, you may have to give everyone else the lower membership price.)

Remember, customers like to do business with people who can be trusted, make them feel good and will give them the very best advice, service and product.