People buy from people before they buy products and services.
I doubt he was the first person to say this, but I remember these words of wisdom from a former mentor of mine, the notably named sales guru Johnny Apples. I’ve always believed in this principle and tried to apply it to my own behaviours (those who know me will be the judge!).
Many business people claim to embrace this same belief, but sometimes their enthusiasm for their product (especially during networking exchanges) leads to self-absorbed monologues and a negative footprint. It’s no way to sell yourself.
So how do we create solid first impressions and cultivate successful business relationships? Here are 7 simple (but not easy) things we can do:
1) Have something to say that’s worth listening to
Have a good story to tell about your company and yourself. Make it human, personal and include something insightful (the buying psychology of your clients for example).
We love to hear the story behind the business, the idea which formed the brand, the people who make it happen and the outcomes it creates. Don’t make it cold and focused purely on financial return. There’s more on this here.
2) Speak well
Few people use their speaking voice to its full potential. That’s partly because we have little idea what we actually sound like to other people, and therefore lack any reference point. By and large we respect and admire people who speak clearly and at a good pace, have nice variety, limit filler expressions (“you know” or “like” or “err”) and convey passion for their topic.
With practice you can develop your speaking voice, but it’s essential to understand how you come across currently, and how it might be improved.
3) Brush up your ‘non-verbals’
Human beings read an awful lot into how things are said, and that includes facial expressions, gesturing and body posture. Tony Blair improved his speaking style after being made aware of a body language issue – a tendency to point his finger at the audience when trying to emphasise something. By joining his thumb and forefinger at such moments, he came across as delivering an insight rather than pushing a viewpoint.
Intelligent use of body language can add flair, energy and impact to your speaking. Even a little thing like moving forwards when you want to stress a point helps you become more persuasive.
4) Be helpful
When you have a product or idea to promote it’s tempting to focus exclusively on this, as if it were the ONLY way you can help people. But of course that’s not true. You could tell them about an event, a TED talk, a book, a useful contact, a better route into town, an amazing recipe for chilli – any number of things which might make their life a little better. It’s a form of generosity because it doesn’t appear to profit you in the short term. But it creates connection.
Also, remember to let others help you too – it makes them feel good and conveys a certain humility on your part.
5) Be positive
We like to be around positive people who show enthusiasm for their work and beliefs. But don’t come across as a crazed zealot! Feel your way into a conversation and leave people wanting more when you start to explain about your life and work. By all means come across as passionate about your job, but be respectful of others. Avoid criticising people (…maybe Donald Trump).
6) Be interested
Give people the gift of your attention. Show them you’re interested by asking good, open questions and listen to the answers. Probe a little and find common ground.
Listening is an underrated skill and very hard to do well, to stay in the moment. That’s partly because the average person talks at 225 words per minute, but we tend to listen at up to 500 words per minute. As TED speaker and National Public Radio interviewer Celeste Headlee points out,
..our minds are filling in those 275 other words.
I ran a workshop a few years ago and during a networking role play the conversation between two delegates dried up when one partner declared they were into golf. The other person had no interest in golf and didn’t know what to say. A great strategy here is to say, “You know, I meet lots of business people who love their golf but I’ve never really ‘got’ it. Tell me, what is it about golf that gets people so hooked?”
You’re not pretending to be interested in a sport you don’t like. You’re interested in why people are interested!
Good conversationalists aren’t just good talkers, they’re interested in the world around them. They don’t listen with the intent of responding, but in order to understand (Covey). The interest they show in us makes us feel valued and better about ourselves. It’s a characteristic of people we’d describe as charming.
7) Deliver on your promises
If you say you’ll do something, make sure you do (that’s the foundation of trust). If you do more than expected, you’ll begin to wow people and get them talking. After all, isn’t that the meaning of the word ‘remarkable’ – worth talking about?
It’s sometimes hard for people to develop these skills and behaviours because they’re simply not aware of their own shortcomings. Others may shy away from pointing them out for fear of the reaction – after all, it’s very easy to take such feedback as a personal criticism.
But if you’re open to it and willing to improve you’re in a great position to promote that most important product – YOU!