Salesperson, Know Thyself

Customers are more inclined to buy from people they like. That means polishing your connection skills by learning about yourself

By Michelle Nichols

When I was just starting my sales career, I had a client whose banking-equipment needs could only be solved by my product -- or so I believed. Problem was, he didn't like me. I smiled as I anticipated the almost physical pain he would have to endure while signing a very large sales order with my name on it. Guess what? He figured out a way to solve his problem without buying anything.

Life is hard. The test comes first, then the lesson follows. I later heard this wisdom stated this way: If two people want to do business, the details won't hold them apart. But if they don't want to do business together, the details won't hold the deal together. The real issue here is likability -- a tough one for us salespeople, since our very livelihood depends on people liking us.

If I knew then what I know now, I would have brought another rep into the banking-equipment deal and worked quietly behind the scenes. A percentage of something would have been better than the 100% of nothing that resulted from what was essentially two personalities rubbing each other the wrong way. I'll never find out how much additional business I could have received from this client.


  Recently, I came across an observation by marketing-and-promotions specialist Jack Nadel: "All business is personal." Despite all the time marketing departments put into persuasive press releases and snazzy computer presentations, in the end, people do business with people. That means prospective customers have to like and trust you from the get-go. Every time you meet a new client, it's like meeting your date's parents for the first time.

So what's a salesperson to do?

First, know yourself. No, don't ask your mother. Take a reputable standardized test or two and find out your personality style. There are many available on the Internet -- just type "personality tests" into your favorite search engine. There are ones you can take for free, others that cost hundreds of dollars, and some it might be best to ignore: I found one, for example, that claimed it could describe my personality based on my favorite fruit!

One of the best-known tests is the Jung Typology Test. It will describe you in four areas -- extrovert (E) or introvert (I), sensing (S) or intuitive (N), thinking (T) or feeling (F), and judging (J) or perceiving (P). You can click here to take the test for free, and I guarantee you'll learn something about yourself -- as well as the people you know and work with. People who have taken the test will sometimes describe (or even introduce) themselves by saying, "I'm an ISTP," or whatever their four descriptive styles are.


  If you took such a test a long time ago, take it again. Your results should be the same, but it will serve as a reminder that we all learn and process information in our own different ways. The second step, though just as necessary, is learning about the other basic personality types, how to identify them, and the way to succeed with each particular category.

Don't worry: You don't have to remake your personality -- there are ways to connect and communicate with people of each style. Customers don't expect you to be an ever-changing chameleon, and wouldn't approve if you were. But they do want to do business with salespeople who make them feel good -- or at least make them feel understood.

Most of us were raised with the Golden Rule, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Personality tests remind us that this has been updated to the Platinum Rule, "Do unto others as they would have done unto themselves." Two different outlooks produce two different outcomes.


  The issue of compatible personalities doesn't stop at the relationship between salesperson and the customer. For large orders or ongoing business relationships, customers will probably want to meet your sales manager, senior executives, or other representatives of your company. Do everyone a favor, brief colleagues in advance and let your team know how to best approach your customer.

Another way to increase your likability is to look for mutual interests, and to do so with every potential customer you meet. It's possible to find something in common with everyone, be it hobbies, civic associations, family situations, geography -- even big feet if that's what you have in common. You may need to be creative, but I promise that finding where interests and passions overlap will pay off.

Many salespeople take their clients to football games and other events to get to know each other on a personal basis. The trick is to avoid talking about business. Rather, let your guest connect with the complete you. Including spouses in the outing can make the invitation all the more powerful.


  Having a strong relationship with your customers won't let you take their business for granted, but if the day comes when your client must choose between several vendors competing on more-or-less equal terms, he or she will likely go with the person they like the most. After all, it's hard to tell someone you like, "Sorry, you didn't get the big order."

Try as you might, there are going to be some people you will never get along with, no matter how hard you try. Accept it and move on. If possible, refer them to another sales rep in your company -- as I should have done with that banking-supplies customer.

To succeed in sales, you don't need to sound like Sally Fields doing her infamous Oscar acceptance speech, the one in which she repeatedly exclaimed, "You like me! You really like me!" However, in these competitive times, it's important to polish your likability. By learning who you are and how to get along with the widest variety of personality types, you can sell more successfully -- and do so with less frustration and more fun! Happy Selling.

Michelle Nichols is a Sales consultant, trainer, and speaker based in Houston. She welcomes your questions and comments, and can be reached at