Communication and Rhetorical Studies
McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts
Janie Hardin Fritz
Ben Franklin, Ethics, Rhetoric, Sales
The world of the sales representative is rhetorical in substance and in action. In the examination of the current communicative environment of the capital equipment salesperson, the literature demonstrates that the role can be characterized primarily by being accountable for revenues and quotas. Additionally, the role is one that operates at the periphery of organizations and is somewhat autonomous from the day-to-day operations of the firm by which the salesperson is employed. A third characteristic that comes to the fore is the constant emphasis on building and maintaining relationships with the stakeholders in the interests of the company. These stakeholders involve relationships among customers and prospective customers and among supervisors, peers, partners, suppliers, manufacturers, administrators for billing, and other support roles, as well as the marketing and other facets of the very organization by which the salesperson is employed. Fourth, the salesperson has to operate in the rhetorical venue of constantly persuading these stakeholders. The fifth and final characteristic of the environment that comes to the fore is the fact that the salesperson's role is perceived as one that is inherently deceitful and breaches ethical boundaries.
There is a definitely a tension between ethics and sales. This tension between sales and ethics is illuminated extensively in the majority of literature on the subject of sales ethics. With the belief that salesperson must be a liar in order to succeed, as has been shown previously and the implications of the lies being so severe and also at the same time the implications of not succeeding being just as severe if not more so, how does a person succeed in sales while maintaining the sense of integrity that is mandated personally and professionally, honestly, morally, legally, and ethically? The answer to this question begins by examining Alasdair MacIntyre's notion of the practice. By entering into a practice of sales, one relies on the Aristotelian idea that all activity should be guided by virtue and aimed at the good of society. Additionally, by entering into a practice guided by virtue, one can complete a unified life. It consists of complexity, goods internal to the practice, and its own standards of excellence. The successful practitioner of sales embodies passion, a lifelong commitment to excellence, and the virtues of honesty, ambition, friendliness, wittiness and tact, justice, and courage. To accomplish the practitioner's personal narrative must be consistent with this view of sales and the character formed by the habitual display of the virtues must fit into the practice of sales. In addition, the commitment and passion for sales must be congruent with one's narrative to be in the practice. Practitioners of sales must learn the nuances of the companies that they represent. They must develop the knowledge of sales techniques, negotiation techniques, and overall knowledge of the business. Identifying and engaging the assistance of formal and informal mentors with integrity accelerates this learning.
This project illuminates the rhetoric of Benjamin Franklin as a model to follow to enter into such practices. Franklin, very similar to Aristotle and MacIntyre relied on the idea of phronesis to guide him in his business affairs. Practical wisdom is the specific type of wisdom that Franklin was concerned about when he talked about wisdom in his previous works. His work has influenced the American democratic society for the many proverbs that he wrote in his works. Practical wisdom is involved with doing what is good, whether in private or public situations, for the betterment of everybody. This emphasizes the importance of utilitarianism to Franklin's views. This kind of propensity for practical wisdom is reflected in his numerous proverbs, Poor Richard's Almanac. He intended the proverbs in the book to be used across all nations to be wiser about their life. Franklin provides a fine example of rhetorically robust, ethical practitioner for sales professionals seeking to practice their craft with integrity.
Craig, M. (2014). The Rhetoric of Benjamin Franklin as an Ethical Model for the Practice of Sales (Doctoral dissertation, Duquesne University). Retrieved from https://dsc.duq.edu/etd/439