Charm School

How to win friends and influence clients


What You Don't Know

About How Others See You

By Ann Demarais and Valerie White

Bantam -- $22.95


Connecting with Customers and

Colleagues When It Counts

By Jerry Acuff with Wally Wood

John Wiley & Sons -- $24.95

Ever see someone just click with a customer or business associate and wonder how they do it? In a moment, they've made the other person feel smart, creative, and insightful -- in short, important.

To some, such smooth social interactions seem to come naturally. For the rest of us, two new books take a close look at the elusive notion of likability. One examines brief encounters and breaks them down into simple steps anyone can use to up his charm quotient. The other provides a point-by-point guide to building a sales relationship, and hopefully, upping your sales quotient.

First Impressions: What You Don't Know About How Others See You was written by two psychologists, Ann Demarais and Valerie White. Together they put human behavior under a microscope -- in particular, the first significant exchange of glances, small talk, and unconscious assumptions that influence how you initially view others and vice versa. Through anecdotes and tidbits of psychological research -- i.e., a woman's most likable feature is often her spontaneous facial expressions -- the authors skillfully deconstruct the way others form an image of you. Then they discuss how you can shape that first image and the relationship that follows. The guiding principle probably has changed little over the years: make the other person feel important.

While some of the suggestions in First Impressions aren't new -- regarding eye contact, body language, etc. -- they're dissected and explained here in an original, accessible way. When discussing the importance of opening lines, for instance, the authors shun rehearsed questions and suggest commenting on your immediate surroundings. Not only will you have quickly established common ground but you'll send a signal that "you are socially aware, safe, and connecting." And while complaining about the traffic might seem like a good icebreaker, displaying negative vibes is a no-no, as it can make people uncomfortable.

At times, social interaction as portrayed in First Impressions appears so rife with danger that a perfect first impression may seem to be the one that's blandest. But the authors do have a kind of free-to-be-you-and-me approach: "A good first impression is the one that reflects the real you."

But what happens after a first impression? That question is tackled in The Relationship Edge in Business: Connecting with Customers and Colleagues When It Counts, written by sales and marketing consultant Jerry Acuff with Wally Wood. Acuff, a marketer in the pharmaceutical industry, is a bit of an evangelist of sales gospel, and he quickly becomes repetitive. His premise, though, is solid: The key to relationship building is to create a mutual exchange, making sure to meet the other person's needs as well as your own. In doing so, you will move up the "relationship pyramid," evolving from an unknown quantity to someone whose relationship is valued by the target person.

Climbing the pyramid is a process. The steps are described in detail -- i.e., decide who's key; ask personal questions (the authors suggest 20 key ones, with potential topics); and do thoughtful, inexpensive things for the other person. Bottom line: care more about the other person than the sale, and you'll increase your chance of a lasting relationship.

While some might find this disingenuous, small-business owners will relate to the author's seemingly genuine passion for getting to know the customer. So while the book often feels padded, within its pages there is some illuminating advice.

A section near the end on training is a good guide for any manager looking to build accountability into a sales force. Asserting that effective salespeople are those who know how to build relationships and make sales calls that lead to ongoing dialogue with targets, the book suggests that managers can measure sales reps' performance by judging their relationships. Managers can make clear that salespeople are expected to know their customers well, then see if they can answer those 20 personal questions about their leads. Just so long as they don't forget to pitch their product, too.

By Marilyn Harris

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