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Tech Might Does Not Make Right

 

 

 

 

Josh Anderson, founder and CEO, Telephony Partners

In my last post, What Have You Done for Me Lately?, I discussed the impact of commoditization on the value proposition of our industry and how that commoditization, when paired with out-of-whack incentives that discourage long-term considerations, negatively impacts the ethical foundation of our industry. I outlined how the environment is such that “the system” appears to be designed to push for incremental account acquisition, often at the expense of retention and customer satisfaction.

These concerns are daunting alone, and even if we do take steps to resolve them there is still an ethical challenge built into our industry that is even more insidious – selling a technical product to a non-technical consumer imposes certain ethical challenges that are sometimes difficult to address, even for the most straight-laced among us.

I consider these challenges insidious because they are so easy to get wrong and they can do significant damage to the relationships we seek to forge with our clients. There is nothing that will kill a relationship – and your future sales prospects – faster than a customer suspecting that they were sold a bill of goods or were sold something they did not need. What’s worse is that such suspicions can arise not due to real wrongdoing, but simply because the client does not understand the solution.

Ethically, there is clearly some black and white, but the gray area dominates. None of us would dispute the despicability of the salesperson who willfully misrepresents a complicated technical product as the cure for all ills, relying on the uninformed client’s deer-in-the-headlights response to instill fear and take advantage of the client’s desire to do best by his company. Likewise, most would agree that the salesperson who takes the time to educate his client and to explain both the advantages and disadvantages of a new technology solution is ethically squeaky-clean. However, in reality most of us play somewhere in between.

The size of the gray area here makes it difficult to pin down what is ethical and what isn’t, and exactly what constitutes our responsibilities as service providers and consultants. The fact that we as an industry are experts in telecommunications and our clients are experts only in their field of business can make it easy to slip into some key ethical failures.

The most common failure is that of glossing over a solution’s shortcomings in an effort to win the sale or to satisfy the customer. As salespeople we will always push the envelope by over-committing, but we have to be able to recognize when we’re taking advantage of our clients’ inexperience to force a sale. We know when the client is relying on our expertise as guidance, and for us to breach that fiduciary duty is unethical.

Similar, but less clear, is the tendency not to learn enough about the client’s requirements to be able to produce a suitable solution. We have to resist the urge to listen for what we want to hear, becoming in the process the guy with the hammer to whom every problem looks like a nail. A warning sign of this thought process is the belief that we know the client’s business needs better than they do.

The best guide is to remember that we in the indirect channel are generally expected to be advocates for both our carriers and our customers. We should not forget that we have at least some responsibility to represent and guide our clients – we shouldn’t be blindly drinking the Kool-Aid fed to us by carriers about the latest and greatest product being the end-all and be-all. A healthy dose of skepticism helps us to maintain our intellectual honesty, a critical component to the effectiveness of anyone performing a consultative sale.

It’s not always easy since most of us have a deep understanding of the technical aspects of our industry, but recognizing that our clients’ relative lack of understanding creates a responsibility for us (not an opportunity) will help to keep us in line. If we’re doing our jobs then we will know when we’re pushing the limits of ethical conduct.

Josh Anderson is the CEO of Telephony Partners, a telecom master agency he founded in 2002 leveraging engineering and software expertise. He also is a member of the 2008-09 PHONE+ Channel Partners Advisory Board.


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