I want to start by making a statement, a heresy that flies in the face of all good sales technique. Here it goes:
The buyer doesn’t have to like you.
Before you pick up your pitchforks, let me explain.
I’m not here to knock likability, nor dismiss it. It’s common sense that a relationship will be better the less its members hate each other, so please don’t think I am saying that you can be unfriendly with your buyers. There is nothing wrong with cordiality. But what happens when all you have is a friendly relationship?
Let me give an example.
Seller A and Buyer B have developed a good working relationship. Phone calls are always upbeat and promptly returned, in-person meetings are warm and personable. Although Seller A’s product is pretty generic, with a respectable but flat market share, Seller A tells his board that he is convinced that that Buyer B is eager to buy - after all, the relationship is going so well. Time passes, however, and that sale never comes. Seller A may have snagged an invitation to Buyer B’s Christmas party, but B’s company is still going to go with a competitor’s product.
Why? Because all the friendliness in the world couldn’t make a generic product more compelling. Your likability doesn’t matter if the product is loathsome, or simply underwhelming.
Now compare with a counter example:
Seller C and Buyer D can’t stand each other. Maybe it’s personal: Seller likes the Celtics but Buyer likes the Jazz. Maybe the sales process has been too long and too frustrating for anyone to even make a pretense of being friendly anymore. Whatever the reason, Buyer D can’t stand C’s guts - but Buyer doesn’t pull out of the sale. She approves the purchase and the sale goes through - even though she disliked Seller C personally.
Again: why? Because Seller C had a product worth showing up for: no matter how much Seller C’s basketball preferences made her blood boil, the thought of C’s product kept her coming back to the table. She swallowed her pride, and her dislike, because the end goal was worth it.
This is obviously an extreme example. I don’t mean to say that a bad buyer/seller relationship can’t or won’t torpedo a sale. I’m saying that a good relationship won’t guarantee a sale. Furthermore, the examples here are person-to-person, but the relationship can be more abstract: one company’s values and demeanor might mesh well with another company’s, but nothing may come of it. The point is this:
Your buyer doesn’t have to like you; they just have to find you compelling.
The key differentiation value for any product is authenticity. If you don’t have it, you can’t fake it, and no amount of friendly sales calls or charming lunches are going to conjure it out of thin air. If a product doesn’t have authenticity then there’s nothing much sales can do about it, besides lie through their teeth and hope that their good rapport will push the sale through. But good sales technique should be the cherry atop the ice cream, the last bit of polish before the gleaming car rolls off the line. If you’re not bringing authenticity to the table, you’re going to be playing sales catchup forever: an endless cycle of sales panic that won’t end until you do.
Likability has its place. Seller A and Buyer B have a great relationship, and that’s a key tool in any salesperson’s arsenal. But if Seller A only has a generic, mundane product to bring to the table, there’s only so much they can do - no matter how good a salesperson they are. In the internet age buyers are savvier than ever before about the options available to them and, in the next ten years, differentiation as a buzz-word is going to dominate the conversation. A product will need to be compelling in ways that cannot be superficial - it has to be authentic, it has to speak to the buyer’s fundamental change. Your product, and only your product, has to be the solution to your buyer needs. Even if your sales team and their purchasing team nearly come to blows every time they’re in a room together – you have a solid shot making the sale if you have what they seek.
That’s the power of authenticity, and of the buyer seeking fundamental change. I your product looks like the only thing that can bring salvation to your buyer, neither hell, nor high water, nor high price will stand in their way. So long as you’re compelling, everything else - flashy features, good sales relationships, affordable pricing - is gilding the lily.
A buyer will do almost anything to get their hands on an authentic product if they think it will help bring-about their fundamental change.