What is business culture? According to James Watt of BrewDog in his recent book Business for Punks, ‘it is something that your company does when no one is watching.’ In many businesses sales is the least well observed function - it is often the case that no one is watching as your sales team interacts with your most important asset, your customer.

The current period of sustained social, economic and technological disruption is driving continual evolution of business models. This context is most striking in the sales profession where changes in customer behaviours, increasing product and service complexity, the impact of the digital economy, globalization and the changing channels to market are all changing the expectations and the role of sales.

Facing increasing complexity and risk many businesses have placed ever more rigorous compliance and controls around sales teams with the objective of ensuring the desired behaviours are displayed. Although this approach has been widely adopted it has also failed in many cases to achieve the desired results as evidenced by the many high-profile cases of mis-selling, both by individuals and across entire organisations.

It is against this backdrop that a small but increasing number of companies are changing their approach and investing in creating an ethical sales culture to create the environment for the right sales behaviours to be consistently demonstrated - even when no-one is watching.

In 2015 APS and EY developed the business case for ethical sales behaviour and found that organisations that purposefully exhibit and operate with integrity and make ethical business decisions continue to be performance leaders. These organisations have:

  • Better reputations
  • Better employee commitment to ethical practice
  • Systematic approaches to ensuring ethical business decisions

With many of today’s successful businesses having much of their valuation based on their intangible assets such as brand equity, they are increasingly vulnerable to anything that may damage the perception of their stakeholders.

Many business leaders and sales professionals may recognise that ensuring ethical sales behaviours is the right thing to do – and now there is increasing evidence that by making the investment in creating an ethical sales culture, businesses will improve the quality of relationships with their customer, improve sales performance and support sustainability in the changing business environment.

Nick Porter is Chair and Director, Association of Professional Sales and VP Commercial for a global pharmaceutical logistics company.