Are you “liked” but not “respected”?
When I first started out in my role as a sales rep my manager pointed out to me that every time we went through deal reviews I would start by saying “I think they really like me…” and then move on to the qualification. I thought that if my prospects liked me they would buy from me, so when I lost a deal where I thought the buyer and I were really close after talking almost every day and dozens of onsite meetings, I was not only blindsided, I was devastated.
As a young, eager sales rep I wanted to be the most responsive, most helpful, most consultative rep my clients had ever worked with, and I thought that would translate to them liking me, trusting me, and ultimately doing business with me. It took a long time for me to realize being liked and being respected are very different things.
To this day I still think my customer service was better than my competition in that deal and the prospect probably did “like” working with me better, but that ultimately didn’t matter because I didn’t ask for the things in return that I should have during the sales process that could have let me know we were slowly losing.
After my manager pointed out that I framed all of my deals in terms of how much I liked my clients and how much I thought they liked me, I started to think about my deals differently and tried to find some ways to convert that likeability to trust and respect.
First, I really do love my clients and my job. In my space we didn’t get any inbound leads so nearly every deal I sourced myself and prospected key targets for months trying to get their attention. So once I did get into an actual deal cycle it was with prospects I had hand-picked as top candidates- so to me there was an element of “celebrity” to many of these decision makers and I was the president of their fan club!
Being helpful, responsive, and anticipating needs is important in a sale, but won’t be the reason you win. I decided I would try to test some of these relationships to see if who I thought was a champion was maybe still just a coach. I realized it’s about give and take through the entire process that establishes mutual respect and transforms me as the rep from an attentive “fan” to a trusted partner. I realized that when I started to ask for things in return for all the work I was doing above and beyond the prospect was usually willing to help, and if they weren’t it was a red flag that maybe I didn’t have the champion relationship I thought we had, and I could correct course earlier.
The majority of prospects my team supports now are first-time buyers that usually haven’t run an enterprise evaluation process before, and for our software it’s typically not an evaluation you would run every year or even every 10 years. When I realized that even though I was usually the age of my clients kids, I knew a lot more about the buying process than them because I ran evaluations all day every day, and that confidence and expertise I think also helped me establish a more advisory role to them in the sales process because I started to think of myself as an equal partner instead of a lowly rep.
For these first-time buyers it’s even more important to provide value in the sales cycle to help them understand the process and steps involved where we can establish a give and take cadence from the start. I find this not only helps establish a trusted partnership beyond likeability, but also ironically by us building an evaluation plan for the prospect gives them the feeling they are more in control. If we explain upfront best practices for how evaluations typically flow and the steps where they need to participate and where they can have influence I find it makes the clients much more comfortable in following the process since they know where we are going and what to anticipate along the way.
It’s human nature to want people to like you, but if you want someone to invest in you and your product they need to more than like you, they need to trust you. Although trust is built from likeability it sometimes needs to be tested.