[How (and why) salespeople go bad]

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[how-(and-why)-salespeople-go-bad]

When thinking of the least pleasant salespeople, several types spring to mind.There’s the one who can’t read body language, who persists with a sales pitch even though the customer is obviously disinterested.There’s the one who thinks the more phone calls they make and the more emails they send – all to the same person – that somehow they’ll win the client over.The more complex the sales task, the more frequent instances of “moral disengagement”. Credit: iStockThere’s also the one who uses a veneer of feedback-seeking, such as a request to “pick your brain” or worse, to do so over coffee, when their real intention is to sell you more stuff.There are many more of course. Those are just the annoying types.If we were to include others that are more toxic, more consequential, such as those responsible for pyramid schemes and the like, this would become an essay instead of a column. More important are the causes of those counterproductive behaviours.Some of those, as revealed in dozens of studies over recent years, can be related to the actual salesperson. This includes, for example, the extent of their competitiveness, which can drive them to act in conflict with the firm’s values and their customers’ preferences.Another proven factor pertains less to the individual and more to the firm. Firms characterised by excessive bureaucracy can unintentionally compel salespeople to bend the rules, while those with leaders who make unfair decisions can generate sentiments of vengeance.The third factor is the job itself. Simply hating the job (or being bad at it) is one such catalyst, while difficult customers and workplace stress are other prominent contributors.And now, thanks to a fresh study published this month in the Journal of Business Research, we can add one more to the list. Job complexity.LoadingIn short, the more complex a sales task, the more likely salespeople are to engage in what’s known as “moral disengagement”.As humans we have the ability to identify when a potential act goes against the principle of what’s right and to then prevent ourselves from persevering with what’s essentially wrong. When confronted with a complex situation, however, one that requires mastery of numerous skills, knowledge areas and contextual considerations, our rational ability can be deactivated.According to the scholarly team, which was led by Assistant Professor Olalekan Seriki, sales complexity is “a ubiquitous phenomenon that is the bane of the selling profession, making the sales job increasingly difficult, and potentially undermining the role of the sales force if not properly managed”. That’s when moral disengagement sets in.It sets in because job complexity can cultivate feelings of frustration, tension and anger, leading to a violation of the salesperson’s moral standards. These employees go so far as to justify their unethical acts, lodging a passionate defence against what’s clearly an inappropriate course of action, absolving themselves of any guilt, shame or conflict.The researchers’ survey of 400 salespeople also explored possible solutions to mitigate the problem. One in particular stood out. The presence and influence of an ethical role model, specifically someone in a management position to serve as “a moral compass”.This individual can go further in also asking the team what’s impeding their performance and then putting in place measures to alleviate those pressures and to ease the imposing complexity.The scholars go on to say that “in the tumultuous environment of the ever-changing sales role, the sales force looks to management to provide clarity in their behavioural expectations. Without a clear mandate of what constitutes appropriate behaviour, salespeople will seek to find solutions wherever they may exist”.Solutions of the most undesirable kind.Most Viewed in BusinessLoading

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