In every business transaction a relationship is formed between a buyer and a seller, whether you like it or not, even when you visit the local baker in the morning. Selling where there is no relationship does not work. The fact that this is inevitable should not be seen as a burden but rather as an opportunity to shape this relationship. How close the rapport becomes is up to you.
The soccer coach example
Let’s take the example of a soccer coach. First of all, he has to sell his team on a concept that will allow them to score enough goals, keep the defence tight, and come out on top. If this goes according to plan, then everybody wins – the coach, the team, and the fans. How is this supposed to work without a relationship? It doesn’t. But this relationship doesn’t necessarily have to be a close one.
Felix Magath, for example, a former German soccer player and team manager, prefers to keep a constructive distance from his team. When commenting on his coaching style, he says that he has no interest in playing the father figure to his team. He keeps his distance, addressing players informally while they address him formally.
“I try to approach them in the least emotional manner possible,” he said in an interview. “I can only elicit excellence from my players if I allow myself to be unpleasant from time to time. I don’t believe that players deliver their best performance voluntarily – so things can get pretty heated on the field or in the locker room. I am the one who dictates how the team should play. And there is no room for dissent. To keep a team of twenty to thirty players from sixteen different nationalities unified, I cannot afford to respond to everyone. Here, clear policies are indispensable. That is what ensures success, and this success unifies the team.”
I like what Magath has to say. The friendlier your ties to the client, the trickier it will be to remain professional. Being professional as a salesperson includes insisting on cancellation fees, prices, and payment periods. This is exactly what should apply to the relationship between business partners: professional distance. Clear messages. And respect.
Honest recognition instead of flattery
The point is, regardless of distance and professionalism, most of us need recognition. Even the pompous feudal lord wants to be loved. This desire for love and recognition is so deeply rooted in us that we will do anything for it. The less a person has of it, the more they need and strive to get it. The lower a person’s self-esteem, the more recognition they seek outside themselves. This applies to the customer as well.
However, coddling your client poses the same problems as feigned amiability: The customer senses when you are false, when you are not genuine. And above all, she senses when your behaviour is at odds with the situation. After all, you don’t give the taxi driver a medal of honour just because he sat soberly at the wheel and didn’t cause an accident.
At one time, sales trainers made much of the issue about the client’s need for recognition. Today, the emphasis has shifted away from the amount and technique of bestowing this recognition to the suitability of a given approach to a given situation. It used to be a question of flattery. Now, it is about nuance and striking the right balance, the right words for the right occasion. I would call it honest recognition, sincerely conveyed. If it comes across as contrived, I can already see the customer grinning at you with pity before remarking, “You sound like you just walked out of a sales seminar.”
By Martin Limbeck is an international sales authority and sought-after keynote speaker, dubbed 'The Porsche of Sales' by the press. With his best-in-class German Sales Engineering approach, he helps sales professionals seal more deals. Martin has trained and inspired audiences in twenty-one countries for more than twenty years. The Certified Speaking Professional (CSP) has been honoured as Top Speaker of the Year 2014, International Speaker of the Year 2012, and Trainer of the Year 2011 and 2008. He teaches at Reutlingen European School of Business, Steinbeis University Berlin, and St. Gallen University, and is the author of several bestsellers, including NO Is Short for Next Opportunity: How Top Sales Professionals Think and Why Nobody Wants You to Get to the Top...: ...and How I Made It Anyway.