Should you be likeable to succeed in sales?

likePay-off: Understand your blindspot if you like to be likeable
Investment: 30 seconds for the short version, 5 mins for the long
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The short version

Should you be likeable to succeed in sales?

Well, honestly, is your customer trying to buy your likeability? Ultimately, is their main purpose to exchange their money for the feeling of liking you?

If yes, then try to be ‘likeable’. You might get rich.

(But good luck to you – since what you think is ‘likeable’ behaviour is not necessarily what they think is ‘likeable’ behaviour, and they might end up not liking you.)

If no, or if you realise the above tactic is high-risk, then focusing on ‘likeability’ is likely ineffective at best, and very costly at worst.

If their main purpose is to exchange their money for some other form of value, you might want to work hard to clarify and then maximise that?

Do that, and ironically, they might just like you more than their alternatives.

People don’t just buy from people they like. They buy what they like in the way that they like.

The longer version (that you’re more likely to remember and act upon)

If you get my point above and consistently act on it (stop trying to be ‘likeable’ and simply work hard to maximise fit and value for your customers) then you probably don’t need to read on.

But if you want a deeper insight into this – especially if you consider yourself a ‘likeable’ person, or if you pride yourself on being someone who tells it how it is – you might want to read on and consider some of the behaviours you might be displaying, and the unintended consequences of those behaviours.

The “likeability” debate in sales (and leadership)

The debate around the importance of ‘likability’ when selling is one that people tend to get quite passionate about. It can conjure up strong feelings and opinions around ones self-image and being accepted, approved, or rejected. When people we don’t like, or can’t stand spring to mind, we want to distance ourselves and often become a bit emotional, potentially losing perspective!

What I find interesting is that most of the opinions and thoughts voiced by people in the ‘likability’ debate, aren’t what I would refer to as ‘useful thinking’ (you can learn more about this useful technique here).

In fact, in my opinion, the mindset most people have around ‘likability’ probably costs you sales, and threatens your overall performance and value that you provide to others.

Let me explain…

The need to be liked

At one end of the spectrum you have those who are convinced that people only buy from people they like, or those who think that being liked is the way to progress. To them, ‘know, like, trust’ is the secret formula to marketing and sales, as in “get known, get liked, get trusted, and you’ll sell”.

They tend to think that they made their sales or progressed in their career, in part because of their likeability.

“I am the sort of person who is nice or likeable” their subconscious might play on repeat. And their subconscious then guides them, scanning their choices and continuously asking, “do likeable people like me do this sort of thing?”

Many of these people also insist that they only buy from people they like.

There’s a lot of evidence that they notice that says that being liked works.

Belief in the relationship is important to these people.

And they are often quick to point out that the less likeable sales people are self-serving, pushy, arrogant, show-offy, lying, blunt, and often just plain irritating.

And they might be right.

The need to be right

At the other end of the spectrum you have those who think that the need to be liked is a weakness in sales as it can prevent you from asserting yourself and your professional opinion on to your customers.

And, that is why you’re there talking to them after all, isn’t it? Aren’t you there to advise and steer them towards value? Rather than to just be liked?

These people think that the psychological need to be liked or approved can have you behaving in ways that may threaten the relationship, the trust or respect factor, and ultimately the sale. They believe that being frank, and challenging your customer appropriately is the way to earn respect, build value, and make the sale.

They say that those trying to be likeable can be too soft to get commitments from others, and too soft to shape things how they should be. They say that the ‘need to be liked’ people are people-pleasers, sometimes smarmy, they get walked over and reduce overall value, discounting unnecessarily, giving away too many freebies, selling inefficiently, losing respect, and not driving sales and results forwards. (In fact, this list is definitely worth a look to see more ‘approval seeking behaviours’).

They say that business is business, and that appearing nice and kind is not a requirement when a win:win deal is on the table waiting to go ahead.

And they might be right.

The big problem here

The problem I see, is that no one has seemed to acknowledge what ‘likability’ actually means. It’s subjective for starters. We all have different criteria that defines what we like in others.

What if you try hard to be liked based on your own definition of what ‘likeable’ is, but your customer actually finds that unlikeable?

Perhaps they like people who are frank, blunt and challenging, so long as it’s moving them forwards? They might see that as value? I’ve worked with many clients who say to me, “Mark, don’t be kind, tell us what to do!”

Perhaps some people like you if whatever you’re doing, you’re making them look good, when they need and want to look good?

The problem I see in this ‘likability’ mindset is that ‘likability’ is the wrong thing to be looking at. It’s a moving target. It could mean anything. It’s dangerous and it’s costly.

You could argue that the phrase “people buy from people they like” should in fact read “people buy the option or the package they like”. That removes the personal likability factor and acknowledges that no one is going to strike up a deal that they don’t like, for whatever reason, when there is an alternative option that they like more.

And usually, when a buyer makes a buying decision, what they ‘like’ most is the most value (whatever that means to them in the full context) at the right price.

So, the point of my article here, is to encourage you to stop debating ‘likability’! If you get passionate about it, there’s your signal that you might be playing with fire.

The need to care, create fit, create mutual value, and be trusted

Don’t waste your time sucking up to your customer. Be polite and professional, obviously. Be helpful. But most of all, focus on creating an overall deal or package that they’ll ‘like’ more than their alternatives, and more than having the equivalent amount of money in their pocket. You can still build professional business relationships this way, without trying to be liked. The relationship is based on care, trust, mutual value, reliability and respect. That’s sustainable. And that’s what buyers like most.

If you are likeable in any given context, then great. But don’t TRY TO BE LIKEABLE. You might just push the sale away.

People buy from honest professionals who maximise value by giving them what they want in the way that they want it.

Whatever that is.

Your job is to find out, and deliver…

If you want to improve how you sell and improve your sales results, I may be able to help you. Give me a shout here and we can determine that between us.


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