Perception Is Everything: As a Salesperson, Your Social Skills Can Open Doors-Or Slam Them Shut

Article excerpt

You've been selling all your life.

Remember giving Dad your best sales pitch to borrow the car? Then you bundled up your qualifications, crossed some fingers and hoped your potential new boss would "buy." Truth is, even your love life depends upon someone's perception of you, on your ability to connect socially and ultimately "sell" the entire package.

The same holds true for business sales. Cold calling a prospect is much the same as asking for a dinner date. Success or failure comes down to perception and presentation. Granted, prospects aren't expecting any sort of romantic spark, but they do measure salespeople, rightly or wrongly, by their impressions. "In the eyes of the observer, perception is reality. The observer believes that what he or she sees is real," says Gary Hankins, author of The Power of the Pitch.

The difference between a successful salesperson and a mediocre one often lies in the nuances of social behavior and the skills for building relationships and controlling another person's perception. So, while you may be adept at sharing your in-depth knowledge of your product, if you stand too close and invade your client's personal space, you may be perceived as pushy or creepy. Fail to listen empathetically to clients, and you could be perceived as egotistical. Lack enthusiasm in your voice and you're lazy.

Because human interaction of any kind is fraught with pitfalls like misperception, it is in your best interest as a salesperson to critique your own social skills and pay close attention to the reactions you get. Survey your friends and colleagues, videotape your presentations or seek the input of a coach. Perceive yourself as others do, and you can make meaningful and strategic changes to your social behavior that will make a lasting and accurate impression on everyone you meet.

CAUSES OF CUT AND RUN

People cutting short their interactions with you? Something about you may be off-putting. Maybe your personal agenda to sell is overpowering those around you and turning them off. Are you doing all the talking?

Entering into a conversation with anyone, be it a friend or sales prospect, should resemble a game of backyard catch. "Pay attention to how long you hold the ball, and then toss it back in his direction, which signals it's his turn to talk. In time, he'll toss the ball right back to you," says Joe Sweeney, author of Networking Is a Contact Sport. Monopolize conversations and you risk being dismissed as a pompous, full-of-himself bore, even if you're simply overexcited or nervously talking to fill awkward silence.

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There's a time and place for the hard sell, but don't let your enthusiasm for your product or service alienate your friends and potential clients. Your behavior when meeting people casually in a social setting should differ from that of a power networker glad-handing in a room of business prospects. …