There is an old saying that goes, “It’s not personal; it’s just business.” This statement is complete rubbish. I think business is personal, especially when you are trying to build a relationship with your customers.
Zig Ziglar, author and renowned speaker, said, “If people like you they’ll listen to you, but if they trust you they’ll do business with you.” I couldn’t agree more. So while this is an excellent concept, how do you make people like you and what’s more, trust you? Some of it is natural. Some people are just more likable than others. But some of this likability is finessed, cultivated, and most of all practiced every day. What do I mean by that?
Likability starts with understanding what people want and then making sure they get that.
It also means getting to know them well enough to discern what they want (as well as what they don’t). Neither of these things happens while discussing business, but instead by making an effort to connect on a personal level.
I wrote a post about small talk, getting people to trust you. Researchers at Harvard Business School, Wharton School and the University of Pennsylvania discovered that apologizing for the inclement weather would get perfect strangers to loan you their mobile phone. The apology is complete nonsense, of course; a person isn’t responsible for the rain. But the apology served as an icebreaker to start a conversation — and conversation is key to making a personal connection.
Now, unless you were raised by wolves or have an actual medical condition that prevents it, most of us can make conversation. But when you want to connect with someone personally, you don’t want to make just ANY conversation. You want to understand what that person wants, so the conversation should enable that understanding.
Here are the keys to conversation that uncovers what someone wants:
- Keep the focus on the other. You already know what you want; the point of this discussion is to find out what your customer wants. So stay focused and ask appropriate questions to figure out what that is.
- Ask the customer open-ended questions to get them to talk about themselves. When you open up the conversation, you want to get the person to talk about themselves. All of us innately like to talk about ourselves. The Scientific American pointed out that Harvard researchers discovered that areas of the brain that link to feelings of pleasure are activated by talking about ourselves. So let your customer talk about themselves; it will make them feel good. Plus, you get to hear valuable information about what is important to them.
- Don’t chime in with your own story. This point can be a challenge, especially when a customer isn’t exactly forthcoming with information about themselves (although in extreme cases, you might have to get the ball rolling yourself). It’s important to let them talk and not take over the conversation yourself.
- Bring hot drinks. It’s never a bad idea to arrive with coffee or tea. Not only is it a safe bet, but it also has an added benefit: it will make you seem warmer to the customer. Researchers out of the University of Colorado Boulder found that participants that held a cup of hot coffee judged other people as having a warm personality. This perception is hardly ever going to be a detriment to making a personal connection.
- Look for what you have in common. Obviously, the point of your conversation is to get to know the other person. But remember they want to get to know you, too. So if you see something you have in common, you should mention it. Just be sure you don’t lose your focus on the other person. Keep it brief and then redirect the conversation back to the customer.
- Allow time for talking. It’s natural when you are excited about your pitch or sense that the customer is in a hurry or is likely to shut you down to rush right into business. However, making time for this conversation is essential to helping your customer first like you (and eventually trust you). Resist the impulse to charge on straight away. Take the time for a conversation to lay a foundation for a relationship and use the pitch to build from there.
This item isn’t in the list, but it’s an important bit: be genuine. Being likable requires authenticity. After all, do you like fake people? Chances are your customer doesn’t either. Don’t try to be different than you are or more interested in a topic than you normally would be. Making a personal connection must happen organically—even if you use a technique to make it happen.
I am no stranger to sales. I understand how to match people’s needs with products and find solutions that overcome any objections a customer might have for them. However, while a foundational element of sales, this skill doesn’t get you to yes all by itself. The way to yes starts with making a personal connection.
How do you make a personal connection with customers? We’d all be interested to hear your insight in the comments below.
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Colin Shaw is the founder and CEO of Beyond Philosophy, one of the world’s leading Customer experience consultancy & training organizations. Colin is an international author of five bestselling books and an engaging keynote speaker.
Follow Colin Shaw on Twitter & Periscope @ColinShaw_CX