"Likeability" Is Not Enough

A myth has been perpetuated in sales that if you can get someone to like you enough, they'll buy from you. The sooner you stop believing that, the better off you'll be.

I see this a lot, and I recognize it because it was one of the first big mindset mistakes I made early in my career...

"If people like me, they're going to buy from me, right?"

I'd go and visit the clients I'd inherited along with the territory, get the lay of the land, and do my best to keep them happy. Selling was going to be pretty simple, or so I thought...

Then a funny thing happened. Go figure, but I couldn't sustainably grow. I'd have up months, and down months with no control whatsoever over the outcome. Everywhere I went, people would tell me that they loved what I was doing, but that certainly didn't influence their decisions to buy more. In fact, I started to get beaten up on price, and my competitors were gaining ground.

To make matters worse, I was having a terrible time creating inroads into new accounts. I was a really nice guy, and very likable, so why wasn't that making me successful?

Looking back on it, hindsight being what it is, while I was being nice, I wasn't giving anybody a compelling reason to buy anything. It's not that nice guys finish last, it just takes more than a warm smile to sell.

Still, so many salespeople wrap their arms around their prospects and customers and try to hug them to death (or at least until they purchase). Invitations to dinners, sporting events, parties... Are you looking for a customer or a drinking buddy?

When's the last time you bought from someone “just because,” and I mean for NO OTHER REASON than they were nice???

Beyond that, think about the precedent you're setting. Do you want the only major differentiator between you and your competition to be that you're always willing to pick up the check?

I talk a lot about creating tension in the sales process, and for "nice people," this word gets misconstrued. Nice people often equate tension with arm-twisting, manipulative behavior, or at least making your prospect uncomfortable, so they try to stay as far away from that sentiment as possible. Do people really want to buy from sellers who are actively trying to find pain and twist the knife?

I'm going to tell you that yes, sometimes that's what it takes, but not nearly as often as you're leading yourself to believe. No matter how you look at it, there needs to be some stimulus in order to create a response, and tension is that stimulus.

It doesn't need to be painful though. For a lot of buyers, it's enough to demonstrate that you know something that they don't that would really help them reach their goals or solve a problem. If you can get a prospect to think, then you've created some tension. If you've got something different, and something valuable to them, especially something they haven't thought of, then you can make them think...

Being courteous, empathetic, and considerate is a prerequisite. Mind your manners for crying out loud! But your prospects are not looking for new friends, so trying to reach them by offering favors or concert tickets is not going to be the most effective way to get through to them. A personal relationship will sometimes form out of a professional one, but it rarely goes the other way around. Stop telling yourself that lie.

Think about it this way... Would you rather be known as the nicest salesperson in town, or the most thoughtful? Perhaps even more valuable, the one who makes the most people think? It's been my experience that the latter is more worthwhile, and it gets validated every time my customers insist on paying the dinner tab.