Get Personal to Get More Business

The wind and the sun were having a conversation one day, which turned into a friendly competition about who was better at making things go their way. The wind said, “I am so strong and so good at what I do that I can blow the coat away from that man down on the ground.” So the wind blew hard, bending trees and rattling windows. But the stronger the wind, the more the man clutched his coat, wrapping it tightly around him.

The sun waited patiently for the windstorm to end and then took a turn. With a smile, the sun beamed down its warm rays until the man took off his coat voluntarily. What the wind couldn’t do with brute force the sun accomplished with warmth and charm. It’s a valuable lesson for anyone who has contact with people. Now wouldn’t that be just about all of us?

My mother used to tell me that you could catch more fl ies with honey than with vinegar. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why she wanted to catch so many flies. When I finally understood what she was talking about, I realized that our personalities often determine the outcome of situations. They can go either way.

In a perfect world, a course on personality development should be part of a business curriculum. In my little utopia, students would have to get an A+ to pass the course. Why? Because no matter how advanced our technology becomes, personal interaction often seals the deal.

In The Power of Positive Thinking, one of my favorite books, the late Norman Vincent Peale tells about a man who came to his New York clinic looking for help with his personal relationships. The man was impressive and nice looking. Initially, it was hard to understand why people would not be drawn to him. The man explained that he tried to follow the rules he had learned about getting along, but still, people just didn’t seem to like him.

Peale says, “It was not difficult to understand the trouble. There was about him a noticeable air of superiority. He was rigid, self-centered and egotistical. This young man was irritable with people. He picked on them in his own mind, though no outward confl icts with other persons developed. Since he was being unpleasant to people in his thoughts, it followed that he was less than warm in his personal attitudes.”

Peale’s assessment was that the man was suffering from self-love and that he was trying to make everybody over to suit himself. One of his suggestions was that the man picture each person he had met during the day and think a kindly thought about each one.

The young man worked hard at following Peale’s suggestion, and eventually reached a startling conclusion:“I have found that the world is filled with interesting people and I never realized it before.”

We have a tool at MackayMitchell Envelope Company that helps our sales force learn all kinds of interesting facts about our customers. We call it the "Mackay 66 Customer Profile". We’re not talking about a customer’s taste in envelopes either. We want to know, based on observation and routine conversation, what our customer is like as a human being. What does he feel strongly about? What is she most proud of having achieved? What are the status symbols in his office?

We don’t often get answers to all 66 questions in the profile, but 40 answers are better than 30 and 30 are better than 20. The main thing is to learn as much as you can about your customers. At MackayMitchell Envelope Company, you wouldn’t believe how much we know about our customers. The IRS wouldn’t believe how much we know about our customers.

We aren’t just doing business; we are doing business with people. And I think it’s critical that the people we do business with understand that we see the personal relationship fi rst and the business relationship second.

Studies have shown that salespeople and customers or potential customers can’t talk about business 100 percent of the time. It’s not possible. Furthermore, it’s just not appealing or entertaining. In fact, reliable data says that most interchanges between salespeople and customers are 30-35 percent business and 65-70 percent social. When you know your customers, especially some of their special interests or characteristics, you always have a basis for contacting and talking to them.

All of us gather data about other people—especially people we want to infl uence. The only question is how well we understand it and what we do with it. Knowing your customer means knowing what your customer really wants. Maybe it is your product, but maybe there’s something else, too—recognition, respect, reliability, concern, service, a feeling of importance, friendship, help— things all of us care about as human beings more than we care about envelopes.

Likeability in sales is right at the top of the list. People buy from people they like. It’s that simple. People like people who are genuine, pleasant, sincere, friendly and easy to talk with.

Now, of course, you must perform. If you don’t, you can toss the Mackay 66 out the window. Outperform the competition, build the relationship and you will meet the real test of salesmanship: You not only will get the order, but you’ll get all the reorders.

That means you’d better be prepared to pay attention to what the other person is in the market for. Be sincere and use the information to build a long-term relationship.

That’s what you’re really after—not some victory in a single crowning encounter. Everyone wants to be liked. Remember Sally Field’s acceptance speech at the 1985 Academy Awards when she won the Best Actress Oscar for her role in Places in the Heart? It was her second Best Actress award in five years, and she could barely contain herself: “You like me! You really like me!”

Sometimes you need to work at being more likeable and friendly. You have to like people. People, not specs, will usually be the key in determining who gets the order. As Lee Iacocca, former CEO of Chrysler Corp., once said, “Anyone who doesn’t get along with people has earned the kiss of death… because that’s all we’ve got around here are people.”

Dale Carnegie provided a helpful hint at being more likeable: “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”

To drive home his point, Carnegie tells how dogs have learned the fi ne art of making friends. When you get within 10 feet of a friendly dog, he will begin to wag his tail, a visible sign he enjoys your presence. If you take time to pet him, he will become excited and lick and jump all over you to show how much he appreciates you. The dog became man’s best friend by being genuinely interested in people.

I echo Dale Carnegie’s comments. Knowing something about your customer is just as important as knowing everything about your product. People buy from people they like.


Harvey Mackay is a businessman and columnist. Mackay is perhaps best known as the author of five business bestsellers, including Swim With the Sharks, Beware the Naked Man Who Offers You His Shirt and Dig Your Well Before You're Thirsty.

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