Are Salespeople Too Nice?


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I’m about to reveal some truths that upend commonly-held ideas. Truths that not everyone will be able to accept. If you’re OK with that, read on.

First, great salespeople are not commission-driven automatons, impervious to the pain of rejection and disappointment. Second, some talented salespeople don’t behave like fawning customer-centric servants. Just like other professionals, salespeople go about their jobs every day performing a tangle of actions that are uneven and idiosyncratic.

Every so often, a particular behavior gets pulled out of this stew, destined for the chopping block. Last week, Jill Konrath called out gratitude, a de facto sales standard, by suggesting salespeople abandon a banal opening nice-ity: “Thanks so much for meeting with me today, Terry. I really appreciate your time.” As she explained it, “You sound like a hopeful wannabe,” adding, “Nice people are the worst offenders.” (Are You an Unintentional Sales Wuss?).

Her recommendation? Say, “’Good to meet with you, Terry. As I said when we set this up, I’ve got some ideas that can help you out with [fill in the business reason].’” I like it. Peacock-proud. Confident. And, not a shred of obsequiousness. “Thanks”, nowhere in sight. Not here, anyway.

But that opening might carry too much swagger for some. Graham Hill commented on my January 5th blog, objecting to my recommendation that salespeople require quid pro quo when working with prospects. He wrote, “. . . all of the power ultimately lies with the buyer. If the salesman resorts to the kind of self-serving ‘tricks’ you describe and they don’t have a unique, winning solution the buyer absolutely must have, he should remind the salesman whose money is being spent and who controls the purse strings. It really is as simple as that.” Translation: salespeople are subordinate, always.

Each of these views promotes different behavioral ideals for salespeople. “Walk in proudly” versus “tail-between-the-legs supplication.” Neither works well in the extreme, or in isolation. Good etiquette and empathy are increasingly rare social skills, and they differentiate salespeople from their competitors. It’s a stretch to think that by expressing sincere thanks to a prospect, a salesperson would suffer a tactical disadvantage. On the other hand, salespeople who aren’t assertive and self-serving don’t become top-producers, they become doormats, to use sales vernacular.

Can salespeople be too nice? I don’t think so. But absent from any context, formulating an opinion about what is the “right” sales mindset is impossible. Don’t even try. Buyers and sellers engage with one another within a complex jumble of power that’s always dynamic and asymetrical. That reality alone makes it hard to proclaim that bravado and assertiveness trumps courtesy and humility—or vice versa.

In-your-face proud, or humble. Top producers will figure out how to best combine these and other attitudes. Their words and actions will be anything but even. And that works just fine.

Republished with author's permission from original post.