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    Likeability does not make a better salesperson

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    It goes without saying that most people want to be liked. This also holds true in the workforce, particularly ones that involve working with people closely — like sales.

    However, focusing on likability can undermine good sales tactics and hinder progress in the long run. That’s because a heavy emphasis on likeability takes the focus off what the customer needs, making the experience about the salesperson instead.

    In fact, trust is far more important in commerce than likeability. A recent study showed that among 450,000 elite salespeople, the bottom 25 percent overwhelmingly indicated they needed to be liked. Contrastingly, most of the top five percent did not feel the need to be liked.

    Why is this? The same study has found that salespeople who spend their time and energy trying to get a potential customer to like them miss out on a far more crucial aspect of the equation: the customer’s problems. Since the customer may not know the problem themselves, it’s important to help them reach that point through diligent questions.

    Because the salesperson knows the product better than the customer, it’s their responsibility to be the subject matter expert and to take charge of the situation. Knowing not just the product but the process behind it will help avoid the pitfall of being unable to address the customer’s problem.

    “Salespeople who focus on being liked often fail to figure out that real source of a client’s problems. That’s because prospects haven’t figured out the causes themselves,” writes Jim Keenan, CEO of A Sales Guy Inc. Therefore, that focus needs to be on determining the client’s needs, and that may mean sacrificing ego and even likeability to clinch that sale.

    Another problem with prioritizing likeability is that it makes salespeople afraid to ‘push back’ at what the customer is telling them. Although being assertive and presenting contrasting views might seem counterproductive, the top 40 percent of salespeople have been shown to be primarily made up of these “challengers.” It is the demonstration of their knowledge that makes the sale.

    This guy is trying way too hard.

    Knowing the customer’s needs better than the customer does takes some investigation and patience, but honing those skills will pay off. The reason for that is simple: the salesperson is demonstrating that they are acting in the customer’s best interests. The customer may present their ‘symptoms’ one way, but it is the salesperson’s job to identify the root problem.

    There’s another important factor in the sales equation: trust. All the knowledge in the world is useless if the customer doesn’t trust the information they’re given. Look at salespeople who make cold calls. Besides the likeability factor (or lack thereof) there is no trust or reason to believe that the person on the other end of the phone is looking to solve a customer’s problems. Trust is the crucial element to closing a sale. Even if the customer’s problems are correctly identified, they have no incentive to hand over money to someone they have no trust in.

    In the end, even if a potential customer is wowed by a salesperson’s charm and charisma, that generally won’t be enough to net a sale. Instead, focus on trust building paired with product knowledge. The lesson from this is: ‘be an expert, not a friend,’ as Keenan says. Giving up that need for personal approval will open the door to many more sales in the future.

    Originally published November 18, 2020, updated August 25, 2023

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