Sales Ethics: When Is Enough, Enough?

September 29, 2010

I was new in car sales. One evening I found myself negotiating a deal that held the potential of being the highest gross profit sale the dealership had seen in months. At one point, I was not only surrounded by the three Sales Managers on duty, but I was about to be thrown back into negotiations to close a deal that I had ethical questions about.

Moral Dilemma

The retired schoolteacher I was working with desperately wanted to trade her almost new, high-end SUV on a more modestly priced new one. The dealership had jacked up the price of the SUV she wanted to buy well above the Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP). They were also trying to “steal her trade” with a very low offer on her existing car.

There was nothing illegal going on. This was the Wild West of car sales, and I was being trained by some of the best managers in the business. This was simply how the car business is done. My problem was that I identified with my customer. She was making bad financial decisions and if the deal went the way management was working so diligently to make it to go, she would pay, what was to me, an outrageous price to complete this deal.

When I went back in to try to close the sale, my moral compass was spinning, trying desperately to find an ethical direction where I could feel comfortable with myself. In the end, I successfully made the sale without getting clear on my personal ethical dilemma.

My customer was thrilled to have the deal over and done with. Both the dealership and I made a ton of money. However, I began to wonder if I could remain in this industry as a sales person? Could I feel right about making car deals where the buyer was obviously paying far more than they should? Was this the business I could, or even should be in? My care-taking personality wanted to please both management and the customer. Somehow, in this moment, that felt impossible to do.

My Personal Ethicist

I called on my good friend Roger. He had spent 20 years as a Jesuit, then another 20 as a high-level business consultant to major corporations coaching executives to implement emotional and spiritual intelligence in their world of decision making. We dived right into my ethical dilemma.

That discussion, tommorrow.

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