Be Smart and Be Likable

The article I read on LinkedIn stated that salespeople who relied on rapport, said another way, “being liked” do not fare as well as salespeople who have a greater level of expertise. One example that they cited was familiar to me. The author suggested that you would choose a neurosurgeon that was highly skilled over a likable one with lesser skills and knowledge. Having once been forced to choose a neurosurgeon for a brain surgery, I can’t argue with that math.

That said, there are two problems here. First, the problem of generalizing. Second, the problem of mutual exclusivity.

Large, complex, expensive, and riskier deals require greater insights, greater business acumen, and situational knowledge. Smaller, simple, relatively inexpensive and relatively low-risk deals don’t necessarily require greater skills or greater knowledge.

All generalization, as useful as they are, are lies (even this generalizing sentence). Selling is a complex, dynamic, human interaction, and succeeding in sales is about choices. In some cases, your smarts will serve you well. In others, your fast rapport skills will produce the same or better results.

Mutual exclusivity is a terrible trap. When you are offered a choice of “being smart” or “being liked,” you are presented with the idea that you can only have one, and that selecting one means giving up the other. This is a false choice. You can actually be smart and be liked. You can have insights and also have rapport skills at the same time.

  • High Insights and Low Rapport: You can be smart, have poor rapport skills, and still win business. You will likely win business from people who are more concerned about the outcomes they need and who want to eliminate risk.
  • Low Insights and High Rapport: You can know little and be so amiable that some people buy from you, usually people who don’t want to be challenged or forced to deal with conflict. Some people will work with you because you have a smart team behind you.
  • Low Insights and Low Rapport: You are going to have a very tough selling anything that isn’t a straight transaction, eliminating any need to deal with you over the longer term.

Now you have seen three of four possible combinations of smart and likable. But there is another choice available to you.

  • High Insight and High Rapport: You can be both smart and likable. It is possible to be known, liked, and trusted while also possessing the business acumen and situational knowledge you need to serve your clients, helping them to make substantial changes. In fact, the very best salespeople look more like this than they do High Insight and Low Rapport. Why? Because for most complex sales, the relationship comes with the purchase.

Let’s look at the scenario from the first paragraph again. You are choosing a brain surgeon. One has world-class skills, little empathy, and poor bedside manner. The second has world-class skills, is highly empathetic, and a bedside manner that helps put you and your family at ease, giving you a far better experience as you make a difficult decision under immense pressure. Which surgeon do you choose and why?

A large part of selling, the part that is not transactional, is creating a preference to buy from you personally. There is no reason to believe that you are not part of the value proposition, and in some sales, the largest part. The more advantages you stack on your side of the scale, the better. These advantages accrue to you when you are smart and also someone your client wants to work with long term.

Filed under: Psychology

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