What is your professional reputation worth?
My last post talked about how stretching the truth and white lies hurt your product and hurt your business. For a marketer that should be a big deal. In stretching the truth we also hurt ourselves. And that should be a much bigger deal. At the end of the day, the reputation we develop within a corporate environment is our personal, professional reputation. As an employee, we lend our personal reputations to the business not the other way around.
In my first product marketing job, the sales team often pulled me into sales opportunities. Having a technical background, I understood our product well. I was also well versed in the competition. Every sales situation was a competitive situation. As with any potential sale, there were situations where our product was a good fit and others where we would probably never meet the prospect’s expectations. My role in these sales situations was to fit our product to the prospect’s situation – a consultative role. The agreement I had with the sales team was that if I couldn’t find a fit between the prospect’s needs and the product, I would say so. If I was put on the spot by the prospect, I would give my opinion even if in that situation it didn’t favor the sale our product.
I was surprised by the effects of the above business ethic. Within the prospects and customers I visited, my personal reputation for integrity developed. These prospects and customers remembered my honesty and because of it valued my opinion in other related areas. They extended my personal reputation to also apply to my company. Even when we didn’t get the immediate business by selling my product, we were invited into other sales opportunities which we otherwise may never have been offered.
After 3 years marketing my product at that first company, I took a product marketing position at another company. Guess what. Some of the prospects and customers of my new company were the same prospects and customers I had visited at my old company. I was participating in sales calls in my new company that engaged the very same people I had met with in my old company. Of course, those individuals remembered me. They also recalled my integrity from our dealings in the old company. My new company benefited from my reputation.
A bad set of business decisions changed my situation. Promises management authorized me and others to make to customers were not carried through. Management asked us to deliver the bad news to the customers. I knew that my reputation was at risk. After seeing how important reputation is in our business, I was not willing to take that “hit” for the company. The senior manager (the one who made both decisions) was the one who explained the painful situation to the customers.
I have experienced the benefits of leading a life of personal and professional integrity. If you measure success by sales, then integrity may cost you some immediate, short term sales. But that loss came with something much more valuable – a long term position as trusted advisor and the opportunity for more lucrative future sales.
The business world is a small place. You never know when and where you will run into someone you know from a previous job. You can’t count on the business to protect your reputation. The business will do what it thinks is in its best interest. Only you can act with integrity and protect your reputation.