Notes on B2B Persuasion: The Importance of Ethics
Updated: Sep 12, 2020
Ethics or morals in business are a major topic, and running a business with integrity when so many companies don’t, can give your organisation a competitive advantage.
That’s because many of your prospective customers both government and private entities employ sustainable and ethical business practices. They don’t want to do business with you if you’re not like-minded.
In the words of Janet Holmes a Court:
“We have to shift our emphasis from economic efficiency and materialism towards a sustainable quality of life and to healing of our society, of our people and our ecological systems.”
It’s why an ever-increasing Request for Proposals (RFPs) ask vendors questions about diversity and indigenous programs, safety policies, or how you contribute to minimising negative social and environmental impacts.
Ethics And Trust
For other organisations, the topic of ethics runs deeper. Your B2B buyers want to do business with a company they can trust. The more ethical and moral your behaviour, for example, providing them with transparent pricing and a contract that has a ‘get-out clause,’ the more they feel they can trust you to look after their best interests as well as yours.
Some of the best minds in philosophy and business understand how ethics or integrity impacts business profitability and contributes to building better communities. For example:
"In looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And, if they don't have the first, the other two will kill you." – Warren Buffet
"Moral authority comes from following universal and timeless principles like honesty, integrity, and treating people with respect." – Stephen Covey
”Integrity has no need of rules.” – Albert Camus
“Ethics is knowing the difference between what you have a right to do and what is right to do.” – Potter Stewart
“Living up to your commitments is part of business ethics. My word is my bond.” – Isadore Sharp
“The primary aim of business is not to earn profit but to serve people--the customers and society at large--to fulfill their needs!” – Dr Vivencio Ballano
Ethical Persuasive Techniques
There is also the topic of ethics when applying the art and science of persuasion. Many buyers are cynical about so-called ‘salesy’ messages from vendors. But that’s because some B2B marketers and sellers don’t know how to write persuasive messages, are lazy in their communications approach or use underhand manipulative tactics.
Being persuasive isn’t about being superficial or evil. It’s simply this:
Persuasion: the ability to influence someone’s thoughts or actions.
It’s important to remind ourselves that every human being uses persuasion whether they’re aware of it or not. From a child charmingly pleading for that extra cookie, teenagers craftily manoeuvring parents into lending them their car, to convincing your boss of a pay rise and converting prospects into customers, persuasion is key to being influential!
The reason that buyers hate ‘sales speak’ is that many so-called persuasive messages about benefits or value are not supported by evidence. A persuasive argument without proof is nothing more than hollow words blowing in the wind.
As a sales writer, I believe in the power of persuasion to help IT vendors stand out in a crowded marketplace and promote their unique promise of value to customers. And, here’s why: you might have a better solution than your competitor, but if you can’t persuasively articulate what that is and how it will help the prospective customer solve their business challenges, you won’t close as many sales, and your business won’t thrive.
Many B2B IT sellers come from a delivery or technical background and still pooh-pooh persuasive selling especially on paper. But you need to get good at persuasive writing to compete in sales today. The only rule is this: approach persuasive techniques ethically.
Ethical persuasion holds to these tenets:
Always tell the truth. Don’t exaggerate or lie about the benefit of your product, solution or service, even if it means you will lose the sale.
Provide evidence of benefits and value either through customer testimonials and success stories, analyst rankings or industry awards.
Stick to your word. If you say in your sales proposal that pricing will stay the same for 18 months, don’t turn around and renege on this even if legally you’ve left that open in the contract.
The Appeal To Ethics: A Persuasive Technique
Aristotle teaches us that one way to win an argument is the appeal to ethos (ethics). Of course, this should be combined with the appeal to pathos (emotion) and the appeal to logos (reason). All of these persuasive appeals must be supported by evidence.
The problem is that many B2B IT organisations understand how to appeal to logic, and some even use emotional appeals like ‘fear’ and ‘safety’ but fail to use ethics as a persuasive technique to win customers over.
If you’re an ethical company that has sustainable policies and practices in place, you should use them as part of your persuasive argument. The key is to show evidence of your ethical policies, behaviours and achievements. It’s not enough to say, “we have a diversity program in place,” yet 9 out of 10 of your leadership team is white, Anglo-Saxon male. Or you spout, “we are active in minimising climate change,” yet your company takes part in large-scale greenhouse polluting activities.
Know Or Find Out Your Company’s Ethical Practices
As a salesperson looking to attract new customers or an account manager needing to market new services to current customers, it pays to gather as much research as you can about your company's ethical business practices and use them in your persuasive pitch. Do it even when prospective customers don’t ask.
Be prepared with the latest information on the following:
Achievements like reducing energy costs for clients or doing the same for your organisation
Awards for ethical behaviour or practices
Evidence of your organisation building sustainable communities
Successful diversity programs not just more female leaders in IT but promoting people from different cultures or walks of life
How you’ve built your business practice consistent with climate change policies
Events you’ve sponsored that have promoted community causes
Scholarships awarded to students
Financial investment in charitable causes and how much
Employees engaged in volunteering and number of hours
Improved employee engagement scores
Improved net promoter scores
Customer success stories that focus on providing technology solutions that help your customers build a more sustainable, environmentally friendly and ethical business.
As you can see, there is a lot of potential to use the appeal to ethics to support your persuasive argument. Right now, not a lot of B2B IT companies use the appeal to ethics often enough, so if you start using it a lot more, it will give you a competitive edge.