Moving forward on our sales ethics series, we now come to this question: is sales ethics—or any field’s ethics—a matter of values, or principles?

Confusion of Values and Principles

Principles and values can be confused. Values are not the same as principles, for values are contextualized.

As an example, we can take an actual accountAccount Account refers to a record of primary and background information about an individual or corporate customer, including contact data, preferred services, and transactions with your company. published by a Christian missionary who was ministering to a South American jungle tribe. This particular tribe, because the ground was very soft, made its home in the trees. This posed a particular challenge to the missionary when attempting to translate Jesus’ teaching that those who trust in his word have “built their houses on solid ground.” These indigenous people had not built their houses on the ground at all, so this particular value had been contextualized.

On the other hand, a principle is universal. For example, the principle of gravity cannot be disobeyed without serious repercussions.

Creating Business Codes

In that principles are universal, a business should be founded in principles.

Principles apply everywhere, and companies are global. Businesses often evolve ethics codes, however. Most often, they are not principles but values, and as such will often be violated—not because people deliberately want to break them, but because they don’t make sense in some contexts. These codes haven’t been thought through enough and are not mature.

Comparatively, a principle acts as a guiding light. Because it is supportive, people readily see it will help them.

If principles are used to evolve business codes, following them becomes logical. An example of such a code would be to refrain from making illicit political expenditures. An example of a violation of this principle is when Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, in the last election, spent $419 million U.S. dollars for targeted takeovers of specific nonprofit organizations, resulting in a higher turnout of democrat voters. In my opinion, this was a violation of principles. He provided a bad example. And while he was not the first individual on either side of the political spectrum to quietly channel money to a particular cause, he is the first to do it at scale. Ultimately if we accept such activities as the prerogative of the select few, then we are faced with a political landscape that becomes a battle of billionaires across the political divide. Exercising their outsized influence, whether overtly or covertly, erodes the influence of the ordinary citizen which is the antithesis of democracy.

These kinds of violations unfortunately happen frequently in Congress, on either side of the political divide. An example there is trading stocks on insider information.

Behavioral Impact

The flagrant examples above demonstrate the current erosion of business ethics—and they therefore no longer have positive influence. Ultimately, we need a positive impact on behavior from business principles. When they don’t create that kind of effect, they are not principles; they are contextualized (as values) and are not sound.

“Sound” in this context means affecting preferences. We must think through business ethics as they’re being created so that preferences are clearly addressed.

Time is influenced by preferences. One kind of preference, such as constructing a building or putting together a business, can extend over years. Sales, in my opinion, deals in much shorter periods. A sale will rarely take years.

Two different terms for time were created by the ancient Greeks. One is Chronos, which is the term for chronological time. The other term, Kairos, refers to specific and significant moments—for example, the ideal moment when something should be accomplished. In sales, this would translate to the ideal time that a deal should be closed.

If business ethics are created for Chronos, a longer period is influenced. Kairos deals with particular moments. When evolving business ethics, a company should consider what makes sense and has meaning to people. If that isn’t considered, people won’t follow business ethics.

Ethics without meaning will never translate to behavior. One follows ethics when there is meaning. Meaning taps into a person’s goals and what they want to attain. When it does so, they will be more likely to follow ethics.

As an example, most Olympic athletes, when in competition, will follow the rules, as they want to win their medals honestly. Sure, some cheat, but overall, rules are adhered to.

Over time, Olympic competition roles have changed. Currently, a number of professional basketball players have pledged to play for the U.S. Olympic team in Paris next year. They can do this because the rules have been modified, and professionals who are paid for their sport can compete. This wasn’t always true—in 1972, Austrian downhill skier Karl Schranz was disqualified from Olympic competition because he was not a pure amateur. Today, this is no longer a problem.

The Olympic rule given above wasn’t logical, therefore it is no longer followed. But some rules, based on principles, actually are reasonable. They don’t evolve out of idealism but out of common sense. Rules based on idealism sound good, but often nobody will follow them. A principle is universal—it applies the same in New Zealand as in Australia, Europe, or the U.S.

The Following of Principles

Today, erosion of ethical behavior is happening because people in power and the media, totally visible to all of us, blatantly ignore principles and don’t follow them. People look to those examples and wonder why they should have to follow principles. This is bad for society.

We have taken a positive approach at Pipeliner, instituting universal and supportive principles. We know that not everyone follows them—we gave two examples in the last article. But that doesn’t mean we are giving up on these principles, because we believe they support us and our customers in the long run.

It isn’t a matter of an ethical dilemma—we make the choice because it’s one we believe in. We have the moral obligation to help build positive sales enterprises, because we know that when commerce is not causing goods and services to cross borders, soldiers will be crossing borders. Peace only comes from strength, and strength only comes about when people are honest. Dishonest sales upsets people, and upsets could leadLead Lead refers to a prospect or potential customer (who can be an individual or organization) that exhibits interest in your service or product; or any additional information about such entity. to conflict, and conflict could lead to war.

A widespread perception exists that salespeople, with low moral standards, will go to any length for a sale. Where does this perception come from? It comes from portrayals in fiction and film. In my opinion, the exact opposite is true—sales is a very moral field. Just look over the last thousands of years. If sales was utterly immoral, we would not have had the volume of trade we have seen over that time.

It is our belief that all salespeople are equal. Sales is not an art, but a craft that anyone can learn. And we believe that most salespeople are following it honestly.

Actually the Intelligent Path

No moral religious stance is being taken with this series of articles. Ethics in business, and in sales, is actually the intelligent path. Intelligence doesn’t mean “information,” it means knowledge. Knowledge actively executed brings about wisdom—and wisdom is always ethical.