Many years ago, there was an evening TV game show called To Tell the Truth. There were three contestants who would try to stump the panel of four celebrities. The “central contestant” had an unusual occupation or experience and was required to tell the truth upon questioning by the panel. The two impostors could lie if they chose to do so during the questioning. So what does a TV game show have to do with water treatment ethics and telling the truth?
Let me begin with a common sales scenario. A water treatment sales rep must initially establish credibility by building trust with the prospect. Building trust starts with getting to know the prospect and developing a level of comfort. In order do this, a sales rep must present himself as a trustworthy, honest, and knowledgable person. If he fails to present himself as trustworthy and honest, it does not matter how knowledgable or technically competent he or his company is.
Once a certain point is reached in the sales process, it is sometimes necessary to introduce other company personnel to the prospect. This could be the sales manager, product specialist, technical support personnel, or even one or more of the company executives. At this point, the lead person in the sales process may shift from the rep to one of the upper level management personnel. In many cases, this is acceptable to the prospect however some treatment suppliers fail to explain who will be the primary point of contact once the prospect becomes a customer. When this happens, the prospect usually assumes the sales rep who initiated the sales process will be the service rep. This is not always the case.
Field sales people who have been in the business for many years develop a loyal following and sometimes change employers once or many times. For this reason, non-compete agreements are common among sales people in our industry. This personal customer loyalty is attractive to most prospective employers who see this as an easy opportunity to grow their sales once the non-compete agreement has expired. There is nothing unethical about this fact but let me continue with the sales scenario I started earlier.
The prospect has now decided to make the change in water treatment suppliers after several discussions with the sales rep and meeting with some of the support personnel. The sales agreement has been signed and the deal has been closed. On the day the program is to be initiated, the customer is somewhat shocked to find the sales rep is accompanied by a person he has never met before. Furthermore, the sales rep introduces the previously unknown person to the customer as his new service representative. Whoa! Wait a minute. The trust and comfort level that had previously been developed during the sales process has just taken a step backwards because the customer is now being told he will now be working with someone who the customer is totally unfamiliar with.
Is this ethical? In my opinion, it is not. To me, this is a “bait and switch” move that is more likely to be found on a used car sales lot than in the atmosphere of an ethical, professionally managed water treatment company. The question I would ask if I were the customer is, “Why did you wait until after I signed the agreement to introduce me to the new service rep?” I have seen this happen more times than I care to admit and think it causes a major lack of trust and gives our industry a black eye.
“So will the real water treatment service rep, please stand up!”