Introduction person or an organization and finally

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This paper seeks to explore the concept of ethics in relation to salesmanship through a case study on the work of Thomas L. Carson and in particular his views on the subject. It is imperative that sale persons adopt ethics in their day to day activities, which then makes this topic of particular interest.

However, due to the complexity of this topic, different authors have always disagreed on what can be accepted as ethical when making a sale. Thomas L. Carson puts forward what he calls a comprehensive theory of sales ethics in his critic of the works of other authors, where he identifies four moral duties of salesmanship. He identifies that over 10 percent of the American workforce is composed of sales persons who mostly view ethics from a nondisclosure point of view with great emphasis on caveats.

Ethical Grid

Among then ethical issues cited in Thomas L. Carson’s work includes: supererogatory actions, which are actions that are viewed by people as not immoral to do though it is good if they do them.

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He also mentions prima facie, which is the obligation that can be overridden by other obligations if the other obligations are deemed more important; utilitarianism, which dictates that actions should produce the greatest amount of pleasure for as many persons as possible; egoism, which is the view that morality always coincides with the individual interests of a person or an organization and finally conscience, which is a set of principles which people internalize and which have been taught to them by different authority figures.


The author starts by identifying the differences between deceptions and withholding information where he identifies that most sales persons identify deception as the giving of false statements which distorts the definition of ethical salesmanship. This is so because some true statements can lead a person to believe in information that is not right.

He identifies that by law, the adoption of caveat-emptor has further precipitated the breakdown of sales ethics as sellers are not penalized for withholding certain information that could be harmful to the buyer. Furthermore, the law takes an implied stand on product information rather than an express or explicit concept.

Most sales persons are more interested in complying with the laws rather than having a moral duty to their customers. In his criticism of Holley’s theory, the author identifies that where time is a constraint, the sales persons would not be in a position to consider the moral obligation to the customer and would therefore not think of what he or she would have wanted to be informed about if he or she was the customer.

They also do not have a duty to inform customers of cheaper alternatives and in some cases where market constraints are evident, there is nothing the sales person can do ethically or not, which is in relation to supererogatory actions, which are actions that are not immoral to do though it is good to do them.

In his theory the author gives a combination of six rules that are supposed to govern salesmanship to be ethical which he justifies as giving a clear description of what is right and what is wrong in salesmanship. He says that this eliminates the unreasonable demands made to sales persons as suggested by Holley’s theory, such as giving information about their competitor’s products.

He also says that his theory provides different parameters used in judging the ethical behavior of sales persons in different sectors. He cites the golden rule that says that, if one thinks that it is morally possible for an act to be done by one person to another then it is imperative that you also consent to someone else in the same way, and this he says has been accommodated by the six points of his theory.

This is in the sense that, the first four points which he describes as prima facie or rather obligations that can sometimes be overridden by other obligations if they are deemed more important, offer some level of flexibility regarding both the industry of the sales person, and the circumstances of the sale. He says that the permissibility of an act depends on the view of the person performing it and especially if he or she would like the same to be done to him or her. He further explains this in two premises, consistency and consent.

In relation to utilitarianism, it should be noted that at times the actions of sales persons may be seen unethical, but are actually the best alternative that suits both the customer and the sales person. He however, gives an example of a sales person who has to meet his or her targets or get fired. This is not ethical since the sales person still has an obligation to the customer by virtue of him or her taking the job while knowing that being fired is one of the risks he or she has to contend with.

Also, in relation to egoism which should be applied in the first premise, he says that if a person makes a moral judgment on a particular case, then he or she must always apply the same judgment in all other similar cases, hence exhibiting ethics through consistency.

However, the rigidity posed by consistency may compromise ethics since some cases might be too unique. Conscience should be applied in the second premise where the sales persons must not allow their customers to accept products that they would not accept which in this case the acceptance of a product is considered consent.

Categories: Case Study


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