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  • Simon Boardman

I Don't Have to Like You...But it Helps

In this not anticipated article that no one's been waiting for, we pick up where we left off by exploring one of the supporting pillars of the "Crushing It" philosophy - that you don't have to like me to do business with me.

After “crushing it” we left you with a thought from an old boss of mine – "I don't have to like you to do business with you, but it helps." One of the pillars of crushing it seems to be the opposite - "you don’t have to like me to do business with me." This idea that you don’t have to like me to buy from me is epitomized by the tough guys of sales I talked about previously, who shout at us through videos on LinkedIn. It seems that’s all part of “crushing it, being massive and going big or going home." So, why should you care?. Because as leaders in your companies you are setting the vision and building cultures. A misconstrued relationship dynamic (inward as well as outward facing) means you don't understand your buyer, and you have the wrong sales people doing the wrong things…and then guess who’ll get crushed? That’s right…YOU. So, follow along, and we'll show you how to be the crushER rather than the crushEE.

In 1987 I was a trainee sales rep for an American computer company in London. Young and naive, my ideas on what made a great sales professional were generally wrong. Frank (made up name to protect the guilty) was a hell of a guy. He was the hard living, hard-charging, favorite, aggressive sales guy. We all loved Frank. He was a human operator with lots of natural EQ. Never behaved the way (I later learned) a professional sales person should. Disorganized, couldn’t run a process, not much clue on the professional and economic reasons that motivated the buyer (and frankly didn't much care). He could sniff out a deal, and he'd sniffed out a big one. He did what he did best. Buddied up to the primary buyer and became his best pal. Playing it great, Frank was smart enough to know when he didn't know, and call in the assorted techies, and members of the business and management teams. Frank was a great "orchestrator," and he knew his shortcomings. In the words of the great Harry Callaghan, "a man has to know his limitations" (a huge EQ asset). I’d see Frank and the buyer in the pubs and bars round by the office (which was between Fleet Street and the Strand in the West End of London). I didn't get it, maybe still don't. They were an unlikely couple, and I remember thinking multiple times over those months "doesn't this guy get it, Frank's playing him and this guy's obviously in need of a friend.” Frank got the deal, a multi-million pound (it was in the UK, remember) quota buster that took the best part of a year. Frank left not long after. Apparently, no one was surprised. I’m sure he waited around for the commish.

Unlikely Bed Fellows

That cute little vignette is an example of what has provoked the view that you don’t have to like me to do business with me. It's a reaction to the perception that superficial salespeople promoted the relationship over and above everything else. As I said in another article "Relationship, What Relationship?"; Salespeople would joke about “building relationships now so that they could abuse them later." As salespeople continue to promote their "professionalism" the story of Frank could be construed as anything but professional. Although that’s not necessarily true – some would argue it was just another form of professionalism. However, modern salespeople quite rightly want to be recognized for different qualities. So, the movement of "you don't have to like me" might be a crusade to exercise the ghosts of salespeople like Frank that they believe have given the profession a bad rep.

You Can Trust Me; I'm a Doctor

As opposed to a desire to prove their professional purity, salespeople maybe being forced into this change. There has been a loss of trust as buyers perceive that they were misled by a good deal of “old pal" palm pressing and back-slapping in the restaurants, golf courses and sports venues of the world, by guys like "Frank." Buyers are now less willing to participate in the theatricals and charades of the past, particularly as companies have become more sensitive to their financial and legal obligations insisting on clear impartiality. Wait, What? That all sounds good, but it's hard to choke down. You cannot ignore the excesses of many businesses these days. The culture of the financial industry is particularly poisonous for example. The corporate boxes and “debenture” seats at sports stadiums across the world are built specifically to enable the necessary greasing of the wheels of industry, so I'm not swallowing this pure and pious version of the modern business world.

Sure, I Went to School with Flounder

The sales training courses of the 1980's taught us that the first thing you do when calling on a prospect was to "establish rapport." They taught us that when making a sales call, to scan their office for clues of what we might have in common – sports teams pictures, golf paraphernalia, college info., etc. Something that gives you a cue you can use to "break the ice," establish common ground – the old saying “people like people who are like they are” rings true. This behavior was never meant as an elaborate charade or ruse but taken too literally and handled clumsily it came over as false and inauthentic. Promoting a more relaxed environment was intended to improve communications. These sales instructions were trying to teach a simple lesson, but once again when taken too literally, and implemented clumsily are remembered as false and superficial.

The Final Countdown

The fact that we are witnessing change, and the impact on the relationship and communication dynamic in both our social and work lives is undeniable. We hear so much about the changing abilities and willingness of the millennial and Gen Z generations to communicate. Maybe these emerging professionals don't want or need to have much of a relationship with the people they're buying from. Perhaps we're myopic about those sales ninjas. Maybe they are onto something here and are trying to convince young professionals to rely on their technical (in this case “sales” ) skills alone, as the relationship dimension becomes yesterday’s news. Technology is a catalyst here as well. The opportunities to build relationships in business are declining as more people work from home and sell remotely with companies using more inside sales groups. It’s difficult to create the same level of relationship with someone if you never meet them. So perhaps these sales ninjas are a necessary evil in that while they may be extreme, they’re teaching young sales professionals to prepare for these changing times.

The Verto Verdict

So, what’s this got to do with the Verto business of providing sales and marketing consulting and advice to B2B companies? We use the analogy of gaps. Gaps between plans and strategies, strategies and tactics, sales and marketing, past and present and in this case fiction and reality. It’s our job to spot these organizational gaps and then bridge them. This one impacts the nature of your sales force and the relationship it has both with marketing, but more importantly with your customers and prospects.

  • Liking one another isn’t the point of doing business together, neither is it supposed to be the determining factor (although it can be). Liking someone, or having some form of neutral or positive relationship, helps the communications process, it's about being able to "get along” with people. In the Joshua Principle, Tony Hughes refers to this in the sales cycle as "building a relationship that enables the customer to share your vision." You don't need a macho sales team that is focused exclusively on "crushing it", neither do you need a team that wants to be everyone's friend.

  • Ideas like this should force you to consider the nature of your buyer in two ways. First, their Demand Type where using the Sirius Decisions model helps you determine the type of sales professionals you need. Second, you should consider your target buyer. Who they are, what they're looking for and identifying their communications preferences. Those high sounding words like persona or phrases like "buyer journeys." These might sound like grand ideas, but this is an area where we generally see yawning organizational gaps.

  • Modern salespeople have evolved, just like the center forwards in soccer and the strong safeties in football. The games have changed. The profession of sales is not immune to this evolution and with evolution comes balance. You need to decide the formula in your business when facing the changing nature of markets and customers and the relationships required on both sides.

We’ll leave with thought we came in with; “I don’t have to like you to do business with you…but it helps” – as we think it's as valid today as it was 30 years ago. Like most things in life, these ideas must be taken in moderation. You have to find the balance. We didn’t get into what it means to be liked or disliked but intertwined in there is the element of "trust." When you dislike someone (which doesn’t mean you have to “like them”), I'm not sure you even contemplate trusting them. Maybe that’s a conversation for another day.

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