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Why Fly in the Days of Webinars?

July 2005 Selling

In the age where technology and communications has brought us instantaneous and continuous connectivity, why do we still make customer visits? Isn’t the purpose of webinars, live-camera aided telecommunications, VoIP, email, and cell phones to free us from having to be there all the time? And yet, we do still have to be there, in person, from time to time, if we want to forward our business goals and make a sale. There is just something about face-to-face meetings that keep them entrenched into our sales culture.

Recent research on the nature of choice and trust reveal some useful insights into the persistency of the need for business travel.

Tiziana Casciaro of Harvard Business School & Miguel Sousa Lobo of Duke University examined the decision criteria people use when selecting people to work with. Drilling in to the variables of likeability and competence, they divided the possible types of people into the four. While people were inclined to work with the likable and competent and disinclined to work with the unlikable and incompetent; when it came to the unlikable but competent versus the likable but incompetent, the decision calculus was a bit more messy. People stated that they would choose the competent over the likable, yet their research demonstrated that people were biased towards the likable over competent. It seems that likeability trumps competency.

Alright, but what does this have to do with business travel?

In acquiring new customers, the job of sales is to encourage prospects to take a chance on a new vendor. In managing existing customers, the job of sales is to up-sell, cross-sell, and referral-sell with the captured account. And, in competitive situations, the nature of sales is to sway decisions when all else is equal. If we know that likeability gives us an edge in accomplishing our sales goals, then we would be fools not to use this factor.

Social psychologists have long proven that likeability is dependent upon familiarity, similarity, reciprocity, and attractiveness. These factors can be manufactured, in a sense, during the sales process. Let’s take them in reverse order.

Attractiveness is simple enough, even if there is only so much anyone can do about our ugly mugs. Yet, the fact that attractiveness is correlated with likeability supports the long entrenched dimension of the sales culture that stresses good appearance. Well cut suits, polished shoes, manicured hands, attention to detail, and a smile will get most people quite far on the attractiveness dimension. Looking good in sales isn’t vanity; it is a required part of selling.

Reciprocity refers to the fact that people like people that like them. Sales cultures have innately found reciprocity in liking others to be useful. From calling everyone by “hey buddy” to learning peoples names and using them quickly in conversations, salespeople incorporate the concept that if they show you that they like you, maybe you will like them too. Being friendly is just good business.

Similarity as a factor of likeability relates to the fact that people like people that share something in common with them. (Which might explain why yours-truly gets on well with odd-ball intellectuals.) Manufacturing similarity is a matter of finding points where concerns cross. This may relate to backgrounds, beliefs, personal styles, characteristics, or attitudes. People like it when others reaffirm their choices. Hence, salespeople do well when they listen to the issues of prospects and find reasons to support their position; if not entirely, then at least some of their points of concern. Uncovering commonalities and using them for mutual benefit and support, creates a personal connection. The value of similarities is the reason that sales tools such as Star Closer help sales people to close more sales. (See StarCloser.)

And last, we get to familiarity. Familiarity requires seeing each other. It is built upon getting used to each others face, voice, mannerisms, and responses. While developments in technology and telecommunication can support the creation of familiarity, nothing can replace the full strength of being there, face-to-face, to build familiarity.

Hence, we get to the reason that flying across the country to have face-to-face meetings with prospects and customers, retains a key position within the activities of sales people.

But the research didn’t stop there. In recent months the journal of Nature reported the research of Michael Kosfeld and Markus Heinrichs of the University of Zurich regarding biology and trust. Kosfeld and Heinrichs found that the hormone oxytocin increases a person’s level of trust in others. While being both a seditious finding and an opportunistic finding, it points out that even smell has a role in building trust. Hence, it isn’t just a matter of being in visual contact with prospects, but may also require enabling prospects to smell you. (Showers are suggested.)

Emails, tele-conferences, webinars, and live-camera aided phone calls each have their role within the sales process. They are excellent for prospecting and qualifying, and good at supporting the overall sales process, but in the end, nothing works better then flying across the country to meet with prospects face-to-face, and maybe smell-to-smell, to build likeability and trust. When our offering is competitive with the others, we might as well use the affective tools at our disposal to sway opinion and win accounts.

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References

“Competent Jerks, Loveable Fools, and the Formation of Social Networks”, T. Casciaro & Miguel Sousa Lobo, Harvard Business Review, June 2005, p. 92.

“Oxytocin Increases Trust in Humans”, M. Kosfeld, M. Heinrichs, P.J. Zak, U. Fischbacher, E. Fehr. Nature, V 435, 673-676.



About the author

Tim J. Smith, PhD is the Managing Principal of Wiglaf Pricing, and an Adjunct Professor at DePaul University of Marketing and Economics. His most recent book is Pricing Strategy: Setting Price Levels, Managing Price Discounts, & Establishing Price Structures.

Tim J. Smith, PhD
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