Relationship based marketing has become the common trend in sales now a days. Companies are willing to spend hefty sums of money in order to make a lasting friendship with their customers. Extravagant dinning, parties, and gifts are now strategies being used to create these friendships.
Relationship based marketing, often known as Customer-Relationship-Management is the “Segmenting customers based on needs or profitability and designing and implementing programs to allocate efficiently/ effectively the appropriate resources to each customer” (Arnett & Badrinarayanan 2005).
This is different from traditional methods because firms were not focusing efforts on the customer but rather on the advertising and marketing of the products of services. CRM wants to build mutual trust in order to ensure that the sale will happen.
In order for relationship marketing to be successful, there are 3 factors that must be present, they are trust, relationship commitment, and communication (Arnett & Badrinarayanan 2005). Business professionals spend a lot of money in order to make sure that they can develop this with their customers. Essentially their mindset is if you spend a lot now, the relationship they create will continue to pay them back and eventually even more.
With this new wave of creating friends out of your customers, it’s interesting to look at what professionals in this kind of selling realm are being taught.
One of the oldest and most known books in the sales world is Winning Friends and Influencing Others by Dale Carnegie. This book was originally published in 1937, but after a surprisingly popular release, edition after edition was published and adapted for the use in the changing business world. The point of this book was to give business professionals some insight on how to up their business game. Carnegie says “about 15% of one’s financial success is their technical knowledge, and about 85% is due to skills in human engineering—to personality and the ability to lead people”.
While Carnegie researched what to write, he conducted interviews with people like Thomas Edison and Theodore Roosevelt to understand how they conduct their person-relations, or essentially, how they got their popularity. He takes an in-depth look at different ways “The Greats”, or people like Lincoln and even Capone, used speaking strategies to convince people to follow them.
This book, like in the title, gives readers examples of how to be influences those who they need to.
I thought this idea of influence and trying to navigate people’s thoughts to achieve a desired outcome was interesting because it sort of mimicked manipulation. Manipulation is defined as:
ma·nip·u·late | \mə-ˈni-pyə-ˌlāt \|
1: to treat or operate with or as if with the hands or by mechanical means especially in a skillful mannermanipulate a pencilmanipulate a machine
2: a to manage or utilize skillfullyquantify our data and manipulate it statistically
— S. L. Payne
b to control or play upon by artful, unfair, or insidious means especially to one’s own advantagebeing used and manipulated by the knowing men around him
— New Republic
3: to change by artful or unfair means so as to serve one’s purpose : DOCTORsuspected
that the police reports were manipulated
— Evelyn G. Cruickshanks
Though relationship-based marketing seems like an acceptable approach to selling, there is this huge question of mental manipulation and whether or not these strategies are ethical. The mental manipulation that takes place when it comes to this idea of relationships and selling made me question whether or not this could be tied to the psychological manipulation that is used in cases of bullying.
I was able to get insight into the psychology of bullying from an article by Hannah J. Thomas in which she described theories and frameworks around, essentially, why bullies bully.
The psychological tactics used by bullies laid out in these theories and frameworks seemed quite similar to the psychological strategies that relationship-based sales coaching books were encouraging professionals to do.
This is where ethics come into play for everything.
When it comes to marketing and selling, ethics is a widely discussed and truly important subject to consider as well. As we make this transition from conventional methods of selling to relationship-based selling, professionals should always be making sure that the behavior and decisions are consider ethical.
Johannes Brinkmann in Business Marketing Ethics as Professional Ethics defines many approaches, concepts, and typologies when it comes to making ethical decisions in the professional marketing world.
Selling: The Profession, distinguishes between two different segments of ethics. Those that are written down (deontological) and the ethics that look at right and wrong based off of what the decisions outcomes are (teleological). Most commonly in Business Ethics, “executives response to ethical problems is predominantly utilitarian” (Lill & Brown 2016). As we look at relationship focused selling it’s reassuring to know that there are ethics that should be in place.
With ethics involved, it would ease the threat of the mental manipulation that occurs in relationship-base marketing, however we also need to consider the sales personnel’s self-interest.
Self-interest is important here because they’re livings are made off the commissions of selling
Self-interest is often looked at sometimes through an egotistical, selfish way. To make that claim about sales people would be wrong, however it would be wrong to there aren’t any like that either. When it really comes down to it, self-interest is involved in the most modest of terms. They need the sale to make a living and provide for their basic needs, and this is why is conflicts with the ethics that are in place.
If there isn’t enough data to conclude that malicious mental manipulation occurs in selling, especially because of the ethical code, it is also important then to look at the self interest that’s implied for sales jobs and how that can intentionally or unintentionally impact the reliability of a simple code of ethics to prevent manipulation and deem this method of selling as okay.