What’s Happened to Character?

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I recently read a Forbes’ article, “America’s Most Disliked Athletes”, after reading this I came away disillusioned with people we put on pedestals. I am one of those “baby boomers” who continues to shake his head upon hearing of so many “admired” sports heroes who have fallen from grace. Just in the last few years we have been stunned to hear about baseball players using illegal drugs…..Tour de France winner, Lance Armstrong. Lance is likely the poster child for our societies fall from basic principles I grew up with, Honesty, Trust, Accountability and Respect. This goes without mentioning the litany of corporate executives (Bernie Madoff) and organizations (AIG) who failed their clients, communities and friends.

You might ask the question….”what is character?” The best definition I came across is…”character is how you interact with people who can do nothing for you!” I like this because I find much of the time I try to influence people for my own needs. Being in business development, I find myself balancing the needs of my employer (more sales), needs of my prospect/client and of course my own needs. Other definitions I have heard are…”what you do when no one is watching”….or …”how you deal with adversity”.

Many people will say “do the right thing”…..despite the fact that “the right thing” in our society seems to be a sliding scale! For me, I have found that the key in any relationship (be it professional, friendship or personal) is trust, honesty and communication!  You can imagine the interesting issues business development managers find themselves in when dealing with multiple buyers who have multiple agendas. We can develop strategies and play books….but in the end; we should always focus on “character”. Over the years, the most challenging issue in sales for me has been the buyer who goes “silent” after you have worked a long sales cycle and delivered a proposal. Why is this? I personally believe that many buyers are reluctant to say “no”! Why you ask? The simple answer is character. But in reality, they struggle with disappointing the business development manager. This is a normal reaction; however is it the right one? I personally have learned over my career that being told “no” just means “not now”! But our human nature does not like to disappoint. A hard spot to be in since we can’t please everyone. I deal with this issue in my work, my home and with friends.

Maybe character is tied closely to our “values”? I believe that “values” are our innermost compass. These values will drive our behaviors which are the manifestation of our character. Examples of values are what you truly believe in or about…..work, religion, family, and money.

I will wrap up my thoughts with a story. I had been calling on a large client who I knew bought services that my employer offered. I had been calling on this client for over six  months. I finally got an audience with a key executive. After a long conversation about projects, etc.….the buyer asked me if I could offer services that my firm JUST introduced.   I wanted to say YES! However, I knew this new service was not mature enough and felt it was “the right thing” to tell the client that I recommend waiting. Not what a sales manager may want to hear? The outcome was better than I thought. I got a call later in the week from this executive who explained that he wanted to do business with me because I said “no”! What an amazing method of building trust/respect! The client also shared that I brought them value!

The moral of my story is…..”we can gain all the knowledge in the world but it’s useless if we don’t live with character!”

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