November 13, 2006

Do Nice Guys Finish Last?

Do you remember Leo Durocher? He was inducted into the baseball hall of fame in 1994. He was a shortstop and second baseman for the Yankees, Reds, Cardinals, and Dodgers, and was the manager of the Dodgers and Chicago Cubs, among other teams.

But he's probably best remembered for one cynical comment: "Nice guys finish last."

Do they? Can a sales person or a company win while behaving ethically, or does winning require sleazy behavior? That's our topic this time.

Do Nice Guys Finish Last?

Here are five easy questions. Answer them for yourself. Nobody's reading your mind:
  1. If you were very confident that the customer would never find out you had lied, would you do it?
  2. Have you ever told a customer that your product has features or functions that it really doesn't have to close a deal?
  3. If you knew those features or functions were in development and would probably be available in a couple of months, would you tell the customer that they were already in the product?
  4. Have you ever told a lie or made a misleading statement about your competitors or your competitors' product so that the customer wouldn't look at them?
  5. Have you ever told a lie to a customer in order to win business?

The point of these questions is obvious. Sometimes when we're trying to close business, we may be tempted to stretch, shrink, hide, or otherwise handle the truth like a piece of Silly Putty.

It happens. We're all human.

The more interesting question is how you feel about it. What kind of dialogue do you have with yourself to justify acting that way?

When you recall instances where you misled or misinformed a customer (assuming that ever happened!), do you wince a little bit? Or are you actually kind of proud of your ability to get away with it?

Sometimes, in an attempt to quiet a disturbed conscience, people will tell themselves that business is "war," a form of "survival of the fittest," a competitive domain that is "red in tooth and claw." They resort to a variety of metaphors to justify savage or inhuman behavior.

Is it true? Is sales a form of combat? Is business a form of predatory behavior?

Hardly. Business is a form of social interaction. Comparing it to war demeans the experience of anyone who has actually experienced war. Sales is no more inherently a form of combat than shopping. Yeah, it requires a competitive instinct, but not dishonorable behavior.

So why do people lie and cheat? From what I've seen, when people are desperate, when they doubt their own skills, or when they believe their products and services are inferior to their competition's offerings, they have two choices: improve their situation or resort to lies and deception. For some people, lying and cheating looks easier than fixing the problem.

And sometimes it works. The reality is that people who lie and cheat sometimes do win.

But it doesn't work indefinitely. Eventually, what goes around comes around. After all, how many lies does it take before customers begin to catch on? Before the buzz begins to build?

And even Leo Durocher, who supposedly said "Nice guys finish last," really didn't think decent, ethical behavior and winning were incompatible. After all, it was Leo who faced down members of the Brooklyn Dodgers when they rebelled against playing with Jackie Robinson.

The challenge is to find a balance among our competitive instincts (our drive to win), our ethical standards (our sense of honesty, mainly), and our company's short-term interests (closing the deals). And, of course, the ultimate challenge is to find a way to conduct ourselves so that we don't wince with shame when we look in the mirror.

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