People like to do business with people they trust. Unfortunately for sales professionals, salespeople are often the last people anyone trusts.
We can argue the reasons for this, but instead - what if we could shift it? What if we could learn to make real human connections that build genuine trust, despite the bad reputation salespeople get - and reap the benefit of more deals as an outgrowth of that?
Michelle Tillis Lederman is a leading expert in the field of connections, author of The Connector’s Advantage and three other books, and an accomplished speaker, trainer, and coach. I spoke with her recently about the importance of human connection, and how we as sales professionals and leaders can do a better job of nurturing it.
In sales, we often think of connection as a transactional activity. We send out 400 LinkedIn Inmails and we get 25 new “connections” as a result. We shake 75 hands at a networking event, put their contact info in our CRM, and consider that 75 new “connections.”
But when Lederman talks about connections, she means something deeper and more powerful than a handshake or a business card.
“It’s hard to define,” she says, “but you know it when you have it, and you know when you don’t. Connection is that feeling you have when you trust someone and they trust you. When you can reach out to them and they reach out to you. Sometimes you make a connection right away and it’s ‘click click click’ - but with others it might be slower and you need time to marinate.”
She is quick to point out that you won’t always make a connection with everyone. It’s not like LinkedIn where as soon as you click “accept” you have a new connection. It takes time, and sometimes two people won’t ever have that genuine human connection.
Besides sending 400 Inmails and calling that “connection,” there are a number of mistakes people - including salespeople - commonly make when trying to connect with others.
Lederman says one of them is trying to rush or force the connection. Sometimes connections can take time to develop. We see this in sales when a salesperson tries to be overly “chummy” with everyone they meet. This can work when the connection is automatic and instant with some people, but other people can be turned off and turned away by overfamiliarity.
“Sometimes you get on the phone and it’s ‘click, click, click,’” says Lederman. “But with someone else it might be slower and need time to marinate.”
A second big mistake people - especially sales professionals - make, is seeking a connection only when we’re trying to accomplish something. This is a classic mistake in the sales profession when we’re focused exclusively on quarterly results and making our numbers. We hit up everyone we can looking for our next sale - and putting genuine connection and trust at risk.
“A connector is something you are all the time,” says Lederman. “Not just when you’re in networking or business mode. Wherever you are, you have to be thinking about connection. And it’s not for a reason all the time, but rather to make people feel good, and to help them.”
Lederman is not a fan of the traditional “collect as many business cards as possible” approach to business networking. This type of networking starts with our needs and looks to fill them with other people.
A better approach is to focus on one-to-one interactions, and to use the seven mindsets of connectors to build relationships rather than collect business cards. Those seven mindsets are:
In her book, The Connector’s Advantage, she covers each mindset in detail, but I asked especially about curiosity, because it’s such an important mindset for salespeople to cultivate.
When I asked Lederman about curiosity, she was quick to say that it’s important to be both curious and social. But by social, she doesn’t mean the usual extroverted behavior.
“Some of the best connectors I know are introverts,” she says. “They have innate advantages - they are more comfortable and better in one-on-one settings, which is where real connection forms. Introverts put people at ease, ask questions, and are amazing listeners.”
Being social, in this context, means being willing to engage at a human level in one-on-one conversations - and to be curious about the other person.
“Put yourself in the position to be interested, curious, and socializing with the person in front of you,” she says. “Then people can see that you’re a real person, and not just trying to get something from me.”
When people (salespeople or otherwise) are anxious or uncomfortable, or trying too hard to make a “good impression” they can come off as fake. Lederman says it’s important instead to be real and authentic.
“People can’t connect with you unless you’re being real,” she says. “That’s open and accepting - not just open and accepting of others, but open and accepting of yourself.”
She says that it’s good to know your own strengths and to play them up. But you must also be flexible in how you express yourself, and be willing to moderate yourself to meet other people where they are. She uses herself as an example - as an extrovert, she’s aware that she can be “too much” for some people. When she senses that someone needs more space or lower volume, she tones down her interactions to accommodate.
Salespeople can learn to listen not only to the words of other people, but their body language and energy, so that they can embrace their own way of being - but also adjust to the needs of those they connect with.
By mastering the skills and mindsets of true connectors, salespeople can increase trust, build more relationships, and close more deals. In addition to the topics covered here, there’s more good stuff in my interview with Lederman here, or you can connect with her website at michelletillislederman.com to find out more about her work.
George is the founder & CEO of Membrain, the Sales Enablement CRM that makes it easy to execute your sales strategy. A life-long entrepreneur with 20 years of experience in the software space and a passion for sales and marketing. With the life motto "Don't settle for mainstream", he is always looking for new ways to achieve improved business results using innovative software, skills, and processes. George is also the author of the book Stop Killing Deals and the host of the Stop Killing Deals webinar and podcast series.
Find out more about George Brontén on LinkedIn