Should Sales Rep Strive To Be Likeable?

BY Jessica Helinski
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We all want to be liked by others, and in sales, likeability is often considered a must-​have trait. But your sales success might not depend on whether a buyer likes you or not. According to Sales Guy CEO J. Keenan, “those who focus on it [likeability] as a priority are destined to fail.” In an article for Harvard Business Review, Keenan cites research findings that among elite salespeople, 89% say they don’t need to be liked. Conversely, among the weakest salespeople, 86% say they do need to be liked. 

Keenan acknowledges that the desire to be liked is human nature and inevitable. It just isn’t necessary to be successful in sales. “…customers care far more about the value of what they’re buying than they do about the person selling it to them,” he writes. “The key, I teach sales teams, is: ‘Be an expert, not a friend’.” He goes on to list three ways that reps can get comfortable with the idea of expertise trumping likeability. 

His first tip is to dig deep to uncover the prospect’s real problem. Often, reps are so worried about being friends that they never work to uncover the source of the issue at hand. Often, they don’t want to ask the tough questions or offer a differing point of view in fear of upsetting the prospect. “[But] sales professionals who are assertive and willing to present controversial views outperform 'relationship builders' by a huge margin,” Keenan writes. “'Challengers' were 40% of top performers in sales, while relationship builders accounted for only 7 percent.” 

The right prospect will not shy away from your observations, but instead, be encouraged and inspired. Don’t be afraid to question what the buyer thinks is the best solution; if the buyer is a truly good fit, he or she will be grateful for your outside perspective. 

When reading his other tips, keep in mind that Keenan isn’t implying that being liked is a bad thing. He points out that with all things being equal, buyers may choose to work with the person they like best. But in sales, things are rarely equal. As he writes, “You just might find yourself going to [a ballgame] with some prospects who like you, but buy from your competitor.”