There’s many names for it. Some call it rapport or empathy. Others refer to it as a “gut feeling” or intuition. Regardless of what you know it as, every one of these terms describes the same trait: likability. When it comes to decision-making, likability—more than price, more than product features, more than brand—is an incredibly powerful force and even stronger motivator of action across every sales conversation.
When salespeople are likeable, buyers do a few things. They talk. They open up. They share valuable information about themselves and their business. They begin to feel a sense of camaraderie, a feeling of trust. They disclose pain points; where they’re organization is lacking, what they want to accomplish.
Most importantly, they buy.
We all have friends or co-workers who everyone wants to be like and be around. These people are charismatic, engaging, and usually the most popular person at a party. Some people possess this level of likability naturally. Even more people don’t.
The good news is like many traits, likability can be learned and developed over time. You just need to know the right behaviors to exhibit and practice on a daily basis. Mostly, you need to stop talking so much.
Stop Talking and LISTEN
Think back to the last unpleasant interaction you had with someone. One of those conversations you would have done anything to escape. A conversation where you’re helplessly scanning the crowd for someone, ANYONE, to notice your distress, throw you a life preserver, and pull you to safety. Chances are, the person you were speaking with did one, or maybe all of these things:
They didn’t show any interest in you.
They wouldn’t stop talking about themselves.
When you got a chance to speak, they interrupted.
They insisted on talking about topics only they cared about.
I had one of these conversations recently with a Lyft driver, who upon learning that I didn’t follow or have any interest in the sport of Formula One racing, proceeded to talk the entire length of our 15-minute ride about, you guessed it, Formula One racing.
“For me, it comes down to being aware that I should be more interested than I should be interesting,” Akash Karia, speaker performance coach, and author of multiple communication and people skills books, told the New York Times. “People would forego money in order to talk about themselves.”
It turns out this is true. When someone talks about themselves, research shows he or she receives the same amount of pleasure as eating a delicious meal and, believe it or not, making more money. That’s right, self-expression can be more valuable than cold hard cash. The study from Harvard neuroscientists, Diana Tamir and Jason Mitchell, goes on to suggest that “self-disclosure was strongly associated with increased activation in brain regions that form the mesolimbic dopamine system.” That’s the area of the brain responsible for motivation and desire for rewarding stimuli.
Salespeople can use this to their advantage by resisting the urge to talk, actively listening to what the person is saying, and then asking questions based on those responses to move the conversation along, and ultimately, close the deal.
“If you listen, ask about themselves, and give them a chance to express what they’re feeling, they’re gonna like you, and you didn’t have to say much,” said Mike Schultz, RAIN Group President, best-selling sales author, and sales trainer. “When you’re dismissive or act like you’re in a rush, people won’t like you.”
It may seem far-fetched for someone to enjoy talking to as a salesperson, but being likable boils down to being genuine and more importantly being interested in a person’s life, business, and needs. So unless someone desperately requires your product or service and there are no other options, buyers don’t do business with salespeople they don’t trust or like.
“People buy from who they like, and people like people who are genuine,” said Judy Callaway, sales manager at Elite Business Ventures Inc. “Anyone can ask a question but you have to be willing to listen to the answer.”
As humans, we are enamored with ourselves and the opportunity for self-expression.
The study above claims humans devote 30 to 40 percent of speech output to “informing others of their own subjective experiences.” It’s even more severe on social media where more than 80 percent of posts on sites like Twitter are “announcements about one’s own immediate experiences.”
So remember, we all like to talk about ourselves so use this to your advantage in sales interactions. As author of The Trusted Advisor Charles M. Green says, “don’t think less of yourself, just think of yourself less.”
Find Shared Similarities
It’s a common misconception that small talk is unappealing, unimportant, and a waste of time. That couldn’t be further from the truth. The first few moments of an interaction are where you wade into the conversation, find similarities, and build rapport before moving into the details of their needs and how you can help solve them.
“[Small talk] is the appetizer for any relationship,” speaker and author Debra Fine told the New York Times.
It can be even more important in sales. Whether cold calling or reaching out to someone who’s signed up for a free trial of your product, the first moments of the interaction are crucial in forming a connection. A lot of times, this happens through finding something you have in common or a shared link that wouldn’t be possible without small talk.
“If you share genuine similarities with people, as cheesy as it sounds, you tend to like that other person,” Schultz said. “You have to take the time to do those things and be authentic, and then you can start applying them to your sales interactions.”
In many instances the best small talk conversations come from a little preperation or even the information you have on hand or gather on the spot. For example, talking about the weather is cliche and ridiculed by many, but it can work in a pinch if the connection is authentic and not forced. Maybe you used to live in the city or state where they live now and a major weather event is occuring. Maybe the weather has been unusually crazy lately. Using shared experiences is a quick way to get the conversation off the ground and make a connection before getting into deeper layers of the interaction.
If you have the chance to research the lead beforehand, take 10 minutes to look over his or her LinkedIn profile or even their Facebook or Twitter accounts. People aren’t shy about disclosing facts about themselves so take advantage of that. You can find a lot of information on social media about their interests, past work experience, who they follow, and even articles they’ve written that you can compliment or reference. Ultimately, you’re using all of this is to establish rapport through empathy so they have the freedom to talk about themselves, but most importantly, to make sure they know you’re listening.
Practicing this idea of similarity can also extend into the sales conversation. As humans, we like people who share similar interests, likes and dislikes, but the desire for similarity also dicates how we act when we’re around certain individuals. That’s why groups of friends begin talking like each other or why you may adjust the way you speak with your grandparents as opposed to your best friends.
For salespeople, try mirroring the buyer or lead’s behaviors on a micro-level. If they speak slowly or in a more relaxed manner, try matching that. If they are excited on the phone, don’t respond in monotone. Act excited too! Remember, you aren’t copying them or imitating them, you’re strengthening that connection and enforcing rapport.
Developing these skills takes time and purposeful practice. The good news, is that you can work on it with every conversation and interaction you have, in the office or at your next dinner party. Start with friends, loved ones, and co-workers. When they’re talking, resist the urge to interupt or interject with a thought that pops in your head. Instead, try and forget what you wanted to say, and shift your focus on listening more intently. Not only will you be more likeable with leads and customers, but you may also be a better friend, spouse, and person too.