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Is integrity the true golden ticket

September 16, 2021

... to the sales train?

Life's Business Lessons

It was still early in the day, when I was rushing out of my flat to get to an appointment on time. Since it was on the other side of Berlin, I had to take the metro to get there - something I hadn't done in months, since the covid-19 lockdown had kept me inside for way too long. In my rush and excitement I made haste for the closest station. I put on my mask and looked at my watch and my smartphone multiple times to check whether I would be on time while cautiously keeping my distance from other travelers. Very content with reaching my designated train on time, I entered. We took off. A few stations in and a team of ticket controllers entered the train asking me to show them my ticket. I picked up my smartphone with confidence, ready to show my ticket...only to realise with shock and surprise that I had completely forgotten to activate the ticket on my smartphone. So, there I am riding the metro for the first time in months, possessing a ticket I already paid for which I forgot to activate to make it valid and promptly being controlled and fined. Classic...what are the odds, right…?

To my surprise the ticket controlling staff were very nice. When I explained my situation and forgetfulness they understood that it was an honest mistake, but they could not let me go unfined - Germans need to keep processes in order...At least they did give me tips on how to potentially lower the fine significantly from 60€ to just 7.50€. I followed their guidance, activated my ticket on the spot, took a screenshot of it and went to my appointment. After the said appointment, I went straight to the BVG (Berlin transport company) headquarters in order to explain myself and ask for a reduction of the fine.

With all of the positivity built up in me from the earlier encounter with the friendly BVG controllers, I confidently walked up to the counter. I was surprised to meet a stone cold, unwavering face. The teller didn’t budge for a moment. He told me curtly that he “couldn’t do anything for me” and asked me if I wanted to pay on the spot or online. Slightly disappointed, I took off to stake my claim using the online service platform. On my way home, I couldn’t help reflecting on this situation and what it told me about the nature of trust. 

I imagined how many bullshit stories this teller (as well as the ticket controllers) must have heard and endured throughout their years of service. Stories such as those all of us have sold to our teachers about what came in between us and doing our homework properly: the hamster ate the essay, my aunt died, we got a serious case of spontaneous swine flu, our mothers went on strike and refused to cook us dinner … the bottom line is this: they have already heard all of the excuses, I’m sure.

At some point along the way they became blasé. They stopped trying to differentiate between the honest mistakes and the lies - and who would blame them for doing so?!

They would rather not be made into fools than to trust where trust is difficult to find.

If you are, or have been, working in sales you know for too well how important trust is to close deals and start collaboration. For human interaction of any kind to bear fruit, we need trust as the main building block of social contracts. [= For those who want to dig deeper here, I recommend the work of Rachel Botsman - e.g. her book "Who can you trust"]. Looking at your own drive for climbing the "social ranks" by closing deals on a daily basis and collecting fat commission along the way, it can seem tempting to choose and aim for quick, low-integrity, high-profit deals. 

Doing so will result in two outcomes. 

  • Number one: You may feel now like you’re being smart and clever, but over time you may have a much harder time regaining people’s trust and building new relationships. The risks are great. If your name or reputation are tarnished by even a small dose of mistrust, it can cast a long shadow on your whole person and business. 
  • Number two: It only takes one detected lie to bring suspicion to all the other metro-travellers [= sales(wo)men]. Even if you get away with it in the short term, and optimize your personal short term gain, you ruin the game for everyone involved. Just imagine how hard it will be for the next sales(wo)man to close a deal with a potential customer, after you’ve already taught that customer a lesson about how untrustworthy sales(wo)man are?!

"Burned" customers will have a hard time taking honesty into consideration. It is like a stain on trust which is hard to wash out. So, I invite you to ask yourself: In what kind of business environment do you want to work and live in? Is it really worth it to take bridge-burning, short-term decisions only for some quick profit? Or do you prefer living in a world wherein it is easy for customers to give trust since their experience shows them that responsible sales(wo)men handle this trust with care and aim for real WIN-WIN scenarios?

I invite you to ask yourself: In what kind of business environment do you want to work and live in? Is it really worth it to take bridge-burning, short-term decisions only for some quick profit?

For me, answering this question is easy: Deceiving, lying or striving for less than 100% integrity is never worth it. The experience I took away from the metro that day - together with my not-so-palatable fine - proved to be a valuable reminder.

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