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 doesnt have to like you.
Before you pick up your pitchforks, let me explain.
Im not here to knock likability, nor dismiss it. Its common sense that a relationship will be better the less its members hate each other, so please dont 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 As 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 Bs Christmas party, but Bs company is still going to go with a competitors product.
Why? Because all the friendliness in the world couldnt make a generic product more compelling. Your likability doesnt matter if the product is loathsome, or simply underwhelming.
Now compare with a counter example:
Seller C and Buyer D cant stand each other. Maybe its 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 cant stand Cs guts – but Buyer doesnt 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 Cs basketball preferences made her blood boil, the thought of Cs 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 dont mean to say that a bad buyer/seller relationship cant or wont torpedo a sale. Im saying that a good relationship wont guarantee a sale. Furthermore, the examples here are person-to-person, but the relationship can be more abstract: one companys values and demeanor might mesh well with another companys, but nothing may come of it. The point is this:
Your buyer doesnt have to like you; they just have to find you compelling.
The key differentiation value for any product is authenticity. If you dont have it, you cant fake it, and no amount of friendly sales calls or charming lunches are going to conjure it out of thin air. If a product doesnt have authenticity then theres 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 youre not bringing authenticity to the table, youre going to be playing sales catchup forever: an endless cycle of sales panic that wont end until you do.
Likability has its place. Seller A and Buyer B have a great relationship, and thats a key tool in any salespersons arsenal. But if Seller A only has a generic, mundane product to bring to the table, theres 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 buyers 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 theyre in a room together you have a solid shot making the sale if you have what they seek.
Thats 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 youre 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.