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Sales Eye - Here comes the bribe (April 13th, 2004)



Here comes the bribe

13th April 2004 


In Polish, those magical words Co ja z tego będę miał? signal a step in the sales process that isn't covered in the textbooks, nor in most sales articles.


"What's in it for me?"

In Polish, those magical words Co ja z tego będę miał? signal a step in the sales process that isn't covered in the textbooks, nor in most sales articles. Nonetheless, it's clear to everyone who hears them what they mean, namely 'what bribe are you willing to pay me to place the order with you?'


First, some disclosures. Our company never pays bribes. Never. We are deeply, even passionately, committed to running a clean business here in Poland. It is a written policy that if we find out that a sales rep offered a bribe, we fire him.


Second, our industry is horrifically corrupt. We recently spoke with some of our major competitors (all bribers), all of whom estimated that 60 percent of the promotional sales in Poland are somehow tied to bribes. That's right, 60 percent. It turns out that many of the marketing and purchasing folk in Poland's largest companies are making a killing on the side. And not only Polish companies. You name a nationality, and we'll show you a company that reeks with corruption.


Finally, we have not only survived the difficult Polish recession, but have actually thrived, achieving leadership status in this rotten-to-the-core industry without one grosz of bribery. So, it turns out, despite conventional wisdom, that one can achieve success in this country without greasing the palm.


Does anyone care?

Sadly, we are beginning to think not. We recently started asking friends of ours in other businesses, "How corrupt is your industry?" The answers were shocking.


We are all used to the fact that government is corrupt. Everyone's heard the stories about how getting a driver's license in Poland requires giving 'a little extra' to the instructor. And how getting a permit for a building project goes a little bit faster with the appropriate slathering of 'grease.'


But did you realize that many commercial photographers - very good ones - can only get work if they offer the buyer a 25 percent or even 50 percent cut of the deal? Similarly, in a job interview last week, one candidate from the advertising industry explained in great detail how the bribes flow from media buyers to travel agencies to publishers and billboard companies. Apparently, the media buyers are getting cash or awesome vacations all over the world for placing ads with a certain billboard company.


A friend of ours in the beer business explained that they can't sell to most hypermarkets because his company won't play the bribery game. If true, that's a sad indictment of two important industries. Staying in the FMCG area, we were told by a sales director of a large soft drinks company that one of their major competitors frequently beat them out on contracts due to under-the-table deals.


And despite the fact that our own company gives very competitive offers, some tobacco and alcohol companies won't even ask us to quote on a job because we won't play the game.


We heard the same about certain telecom players, as well as real estate agents, restaurants, bars and even law firms. It seems we are not alone in our industry. And for the record, we are not holier than the pope. We understand that there's a difference between 'customer appreciation' or 'corporate hospitality' and bribery. Our company is in the gift-giving business, so we've got nothing against showing appreciation in the form of a tasteful, reasonably priced corporate gift. But there's a line that should be drawn when it comes to cash in small envelopes or extravagant all-expenses-paid holidays.


Who's responsible?

Clearly, the bosses are responsible. It's easy to blame the 'givers' and 'takers,' but good corporate behavior begins at the top. One of us spent years at Procter & Gamble in the USA, and from the very beginning was instilled with a strong sense of corporate ethics. Even if you received a $10 box of chocolates from a salesman at Christmas, you had to report it.


We've had experiences here with large multinational companies where we knew bribery was involved, and we went to the boss. One director said, "I'm not really involved in the day-to-day operations." Wonderful. Another asked, "What proof do you have?" and insisted that his company was clean, in a clear case of denial. The cheats are too clever to leave a trail, so 'hard evidence' is not always easy to come by.


There are a number of solutions for eliminating such behavior, but we don't have space to go into them here. If you are a top manager in a company - and you give a damn - the first thing you need to do is stop ignoring the problem and assess whether it's going on in your company. If you are sincerely interested in learning more about this, jot us an email and we'll send you some of our ideas on the subject, including what to look out for.


Who suffers?

We all do. But mostly Poland suffers. That is, the honest people and the decent companies suffer. Bribery is a distortion of the free market. Because of bribery, bad companies survive longer than they should, and rotten employees - instead of being fired - make tons of money. It's not performance related. It is anti-capitalism. Until it stops, Poland will never develop to its full potential.


People say, "Well, this is Poland, and unfortunately, until the market matures, this is the only way to do business." Others say, "As long as wages are so low, people are going to succumb to bribery." That's bullshit. If you believe that, then you insult this entire country. The 'market' is made up of individual players, and every player has a choice to make.


We've made our choice. Have you made yours?

Is your company one of the 'good guys'? Please cheer us up and send us an email telling us what your company does to stay above board. If we get enough responses, we'll publish a follow-up article and mention you or your company by name, if you want us to. You can contact us at: saleseye@lynka.com.pl
(c) John and Matt Lynch - The Sales Brothers



From Warsaw Business Journal by John Lynch, Matt Lynch -"The Sales Brothers"