Likeability Matters?

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The sign on the receptionist’s desk read…

“Every 3rd salesman gets shot…the second one just left.”

I was selling long distance telephone services to businesses, door to door. Man, that’s not a fun job. I’d target an office building, take the elevator to the top floor, then literally start knocking on doors. If they’d even let me in, my required opening line was…

“Hi, I’d like to talk to the person who makes decisions about your long distance, are they in?”

Actually, I was really taught only to ask for the President, when visiting small companies, but I couldn’t stomach the laughs and sneers after the first day, so I brought it down just a bit.

For every 100 doors I knocked on, I probably ended up getting laughed, escorted or thrown out of 50, asked to leave materials in 20, told there was no interest in another 20, and asked to wait in 10. In the end, I’d land maybe 2 accounts out of 100.

Granted, I hated what I was doing and selling and, fresh out of school, my sales skills were pretty non-existent. But, there was something else going on. Some other critical factor that was hijacking a huge percentage of my sales.

The “likeability” factor

One of the first things you’re taught in sales is that it’s a numbers game. That only a small percentage of people will ever say yes, so the more doors you knock on, the more calls you make, the more sales you get.

So, don’t take the rejection personally, it’s not you, it’s the product, the service, the timing, blah, blah, blah. Working under this assumption makes the job far more tolerable, because it allows the chance to not take ceaseless rejection personally. It helps shield you from the emotional side of non-stop no.

Problem is, to a much larger extent than anyone wants to admit…it IS personal!

Sales skills matter. Belief that what you are selling will genuinely solve the buyer’s problem matters. Professionalism and courtesy matters. But…

Likeability is the often the difference between tripling quota and getting fired!

There’s just no way around it. Whether you’re selling vacuum cleaners door to door, knives on QVC or a bailout plan in congress, a big part of your success is personal. Because…

People buy or reject YOU as much as they buy IT

That’s a tough pill to swallow, because it delivers all that potential rejection right back into your lap. It makes it emotional, personal. It makes it much harder to stay in the sales game (and, reality is, we are ALL in the sales game), because it means that no means no, I don’t want the product, and, no, I don’t want you.

But, here’s the thing, if you choose to acknowledge this and invest in understanding the nature of likeability, you can develop a deep wellspring of tools and strategies to quickly be perceived as being way more likeable to nearly anyone you meet. Then…

You can craft and leverage a broader, stronger level of likeability and turn it from a potential negative to a potential positive.

There are plenty of interaction-enhancing technologies, like NLP, that help with the process. But, for me, the answer came on a far deeper level…

It was about better aligning what I was selling with who I was.

When I simply stopped selling stuff I had no interest or belief in to people I had no connection with and, instead, launched my own business, selling something I believed in my heart would change their lives, everything changed.

I went from being a terrible salesman to being “the closer.” I started selling nearly every person who walked through the doors. When I didn’t close a new client on the spot, I was shocked.

Was the service I was selling far better differentiated and focused?

Sure, and that helped a lot.

But, the change in my state of mind and state of being made the biggest difference.

Because it profoundly altered the overall dynamic of each sale on a very subtle, yet compelling level.

  • I was more authentic – I stopped trying to follow a canned script or project who I thought my prospect wanted me to be and started being myself. And, whether you like who I am as a person or not, authenticity always reads and feels better than nearly any facade you might construct.
  • I believed in the solution I was selling – I knew what I was selling would truly change lives and I believed that the lives of every person who sat before me would be changed for the better once they were my client. And, when you sell from a position of belief, it comes through and helps you read as more authentic and likeable.
  • I had a genuine interest in my prospect – I actually WANTED to know about the lives of the people who’d potentially become my clients. I was interested, genuinely interested, I asked questions, I followed-up, showing that I really listened to what they were saying. Do you have any idea how rare it is for people to find someone else who is not only interested in them, but wants to know more and listens to what they say? It’s like manna from heaven for most folks and when you can bring this quality to the conversation, authentically, you become more likeable.
  • My personal energy shined through – Personal energy is a huge factor, because people often look at others with great energy and that little voice in their heads says, “I want some of that!” And, when you’re doing something you are authentically interested in, you believe in what you’re selling and you express genuine interest in others, you tend to come alive on a level that people around you not only perceive, but desire. You become more likeable.

These things all combined to allow me to establish a strong sense of rapport, trust and likeability very quickly.

They helped cultivate that intangible connection, a strong affinity that is an essential element of persuasion and sales. In fact, if you do a good job of cultivating the above qualities, half the time, even if a potential client isn’t quite convinced they need what you are selling, they’ll still want to buy it.

Because, part of what you’re selling is you…and they want more of that in their lives.

And, this applies to politics, to relationships, to business and even to spirituality.

How many people are drawn to McCain or Obama more because of the man than the position? How much easier is it to convince a spouse, partner, colleague, friend or family member to go along with you when you are radiating these qualities, when you are intensely liked by them on a personal level? And, how many of us are drawn to a spiritual path, community, teaching or idea, in no small part, because of the cult of personality, the likeability, of the person who leads the discussions, movement or community?

Likeability matters far more than any of us want to acknowledge.

Whether we’re selling a product, a service or an idea, as long as there is a person in somewhere in the process…a big part of the decision to buy is “personal.” No doubt, if you’re not selling, that’s a tough pill to swallow.

But, if you get comfortable with that idea, if you accept people are buying you as much as “it,” then you are positioned to take charge not just of the pitch, but the person. And, when you do, your longer term success will be limitless.

Of course, this all raises another really interesting question…

Can you FAKE likeability?

Can you actually develop a set of skills of strategies capable of manipulating others into liking you? Even when you are being largely inauthentic, you don’t believe in what you are shoveling selling, you have no genuine interest in the person you are selling and your natural personal energy is pretty low?

If so, how? What would you do? Will it work as well as the authentic approach?

And, what happens if you get busted?

As always, though, this is just me talking, I’m always open…

What’d I miss? What else should we explore?

Do you agree or disagree?

Let’s discuss…

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32 responses

32 responses to “Likeability Matters?”

  1. Bryan Eye says:

    What an appropriate post for me… I’ve been reading Tim Sanders’ ‘The Likeability Factor’ this week. I got a free copy when he spoke to a YPO group last year and I’m just getting around to reading it. He was a supercharged speaker, and the book is the result of a lot of research on the very specific subject.

    Yes, I think you can absolutely fake it… for limited, short-term encounters. For a sustainable presence, especially now that people are going online with their personalities, absolutely not.

    In short, Sanders’ four critical elements of likeability: 1) Friendliness, 2) Relevance, 3) Empathy and 4) Realness.

  2. Jonathan,

    In my former sales consulting experience from sales rep to VP, Sales I have come to conclusion that people buy for their reasons and not the person trying to sell them something.

    I think the likeability factor is less important then we think.

    How many times have we observed “slicky-boy” behavior in a sales situation and asked ourself, “why would they buy anything from this person?”

    I believe the reason is because most people buy emotionally and not intellectually.

  3. It’s easy for me to turn down a product, MUCH harder for me to turn down a person.

  4. I truly believe the “likeability factor” plays a HUGE part in whether people buy from you.

    They are not really buying the product but from you. If they buy from you, it’s because (for the most part), they are buying a piece of you (even if the product was not designed by you or whatever).

    People HATE to be sold to but they love to buy. How do we get them to buy? By following all the suggestions you wrote above PLUS “letting it go.”

    If you walk in there and share a story, that’s a different form of selling versus outright sales techniques. People love stories, especially if they make you more personable. I imagine that’s what you did when you went from being a “terrible salesperson to a terrific closer.’

    I’m betting you incorporated more stories, whether they were your own personal stories or those of others.

    Great job here – good stuff!

  5. Jonathan Fields says:

    @ Bryan – thanks for sharing that resource, I’ll definitely have to check out the book! And, I tend to agree, for short transactional situations, there are a lot of ways to fake it, but long term, not so convinced

    @ Matthew – No don’t sales skills and the genuine need for what’s being sold go a long way, but, interestingly, my experience has been the exact opposite. I’ve actually driven out of my way to a different car dealership in order to avoid buying a car I wanted, but the salesperson was so, um, icky, that I didn’t want to give him my money. And, on the flip side, given the choice to purchase a substantially similar product from two different companies, I’ll often go with the one where I felt most comfortable with the person servicing my needs.

    @ Hayden – Funny, sometimes you just wanna buy BECAUSE someone is so nice

    @ Stephen – I agree, but I’m not so concinved about the old “People hate to be sold’ proverb, I think it’s much more complex than that. 🙂

  6. IMO, it’s not that we hate to be sold. I think we basically like to buy, even to make the deal. What folks hate is being manipulated or “shined on”; once that perception arises — game over.

  7. Bryan Eye says:

    Jonathan, one vital thing about the four critical elements I forgot to mention above: you hit them all! Have an amazing day. =)

  8. Jonathan Fields says:

    @ Dan – Yeah, I think that’s what I was trying to get at, people love to be sold, because they don’t have to work so hard to come to the point where they feel comfortable buying. It’s more than we hate the notion that (a) we’re being manipulated, and (b) we hate to be sold BADLY. So, if someone doesn’t bring me to the point where I really want to buy, but rather constantly asked my to buy long before they’ve done their job, joined the conversation in my head and gently persuaded me I need what they’re selling, that’s not fun

    @ Bryan – ahhh, yeah, that makes a lot of sense 🙂

  9. What a great article! On the question of faking it, seems like more trouble then sincerity but isn’t that what con artists do? They figure out how to make others think they care when they really don’t. Seems like the suspicious nature of people these days is largely the result of being taken advantage of by someone who faked it.

    On genuine interest in others, it must be a rare quality these days. Whenever I am on the phone with someone I always ask, “How are you today?” It doesn’t matter if they are just taking phone orders or they answer the phone in some large corporate office. The thing is, they always seem surprised that anyone would be care. Often, they thank me for asking. So, I think that it probably doesn’t happen very often.

    Nothing will ever replace genuine sincerity. It refreshes us on a core level and developing likability is always a worthwhile endeavor. It actually raises the level of our life experience.

  10. Jonathan Fields says:

    @ Jonathan – Funny you mentioned that about asking people how they are on the phone, even if they are someone most people usually view as having to “suffer through.”

    I’ve often done that and a lot of people have a similar reaction. Though, some others react like I am some kind of freak for breaking the unwritten rule and ignoring their humanity, like there’s something wrong with me for asking. You just never know. 🙂

  11. Rachel says:

    I don’t think you can fake likeability. But since it is an ‘ability, you can become more likeable. The biggest thing is you just gotta honestly give a sh*t about people. A good way to get at caring about others is empathy. Faking empathy will come off as creepy. Really empathy is likely going to bring in more sales, and I’m thinking a better life too.

  12. Jonathan Fields says:

    @ Rachel – true, true…give a sh#t and a lot more just falls into place

  13. Thanks for asking some excellent questions Jonathan.

    As the saying goes “fake it till you make it.”

    You can absolutely fake likeability. How? Learn from the pickup artists.

    But here is the twist: the process is not like makeup. Its not skin deep. It sinks in deeper than that. And the faking WILL change you.

    Example: the telemarketers start out with a script. They start by faking. But over time, because of the feedback they receive – subtle and otherwise – they change. Their tones change. They’ll smile even while reading out of a script. Their voices will become more likeable.

    Its the same with everybody else too. Start faking it. Model after someone. Yes – even read a book that gives you scripts on how to start conversations with folks. And learn the dialogues by heart if needed.

    Learning from pickup artists may sound creepy. But they’ve broken the coded of building up a likeable personality.

    1. Work on your smile
    2. Work on your looks
    3. Work on your clothes
    4. Work on your posture – erect is better
    5. Take a few improv classes or join a public speaking club. For building confidence and timeliness
    6. Work on your sense of humour – if you lack one – start out by learning a few jokes word for word
    7. Work on remembering peoples names

  14. When another person is doing everything right, but we still don’t click with them, they’re faking it and we can tell on a subconscious level.

  15. What a timely post for me. I just posted last night about being afraid to make offers at one time.

    Likability is huge. I was an office manager for seven years and I made very quick decisions about salesmen who walked in off the street. I once bought a case of cleaning solution (we surely didn’t need) from a guy just because I liked his personality and friendly approach so much LOL!

  16. John Haydon says:


    Excellent post. It’s interesting how many books have come out recently that discuss the business value of the human heart: Steven Covey’s “Trust”, “Personality Not Included”, “The Go-Giver”.

    I think many people and businesses are seeking something that combines “faking it” (an external approach) and being true to one’s self (an internal approach).

    Like Ankesh mentioned, there are ways to fake likeability that strengthen what you present to others in a more powerful way. But faking it without addressing issues of authenticity and happiness will result in short term results. Being authentic without using effective communication tools might not work that well either…

    Eastern thought offers a way to create powerful, lasting change by unifying these external and internal approaches.

    Again – great post!


  17. @Jonathan Fields – What an interesting concept that ignoring someone’s humanity could be like an unwritten rule. Makes me think of a caste system or a social order where not everyone qualifies for acknowledgement.

    I live outside of a tiny little town in extreme rural southern Oregon. Twenty years ago, if you made eye contact with anyone, it was always followed by a word of greeting. If you passed another car on a small country road, you waived and they waived back. A lot has changed in the last few years, even here in the middle of nowhere.

    I think we owe it to every person on the planet to acknowledge their humanity, and greet them with a smile – even if it means being labeled as a weirdo.

  18. Yes, I think one can fake it…for a short period of time but I think the cost is significantly reduced happiness for the faker. Interesting that you’ve chosen this topic. A few months ago, I decided to rid my life of all relationships that I’ve been maintaining out of obligation. You know, those folks you’ve known forever from your career but you don’t really have a spiritual connection with? I wanted to trade them in so that I could maximize my time and spend it more wisely on only truly authentic folks. The reward for being brave enough to do this is that serendipity has stepped up and rewarded me with amazing new people. The opportunity cost of faked likeability is too high to ignore imho.
    @aaswartz on twitter

  19. @Jonathan-I totally agree with your comments about rather purchasing from a “likeable” person.

    However,I was responding to the question of “can you fake likeability in a selling situation?”

    I help to train an estimated 10,000 sales consultants every year. My observation: people who are not “likeable” are selling and making a ton of money.

    I think they are a “putz” because I don’t find them likeable, and most of us know there is a better way to sell with professionalism and likeability, but YES there are people unlikeable and successful. I don’t get it, but there are…

    Here is the converse to sales consultants and “likeability.” One of the limiting factors of most sales consultants is they have such a high degree of needing and wanting “likeability” from their customers that if they don’t perceive they are getting it-they are in the parking lot sucking their thumb because they don’t want to potentially face rejection.

    Very interesting topic. Well done, Jonathan.

  20. Jonathan Fields says:

    @ Ankesh – No doubt, I agree that you can train a lot of “likeability” tactics, many of the things you mentioned as essential parts of good sales training programs. And, I tend to agree that on a transactional basis, you can fake it, but I don’t necessarily agree that you can model the sales tactics of someone with whom you have fundemantal differences in temperament, risk tolerance and ethics.

    BTW, this is one of the challenges I have with the whole NLP concept of modeling, too. I’ve had many fascinating conversations about modeling, but I haven’t seen it work on a robust enough level to buy into it’s broadspread efficacy.

    @ Michael – I tend to agree, intuition plays a role. But, I also consider myself a pretty intuitive person, capable to sussing out insincerity and scammers and, as I’ve recently posted about, I still get taken every once in a long while. Though, that may be more about me not wanting to believe my gut.

    @ Kelly – yeah, haven’t we all bought stuff because we liked the person, but didnt need the product 🙂

    @ John – you bring up a really interesting point, looking at the other side of the equation. As a sales person, even if you’ve developed the ability to fake it, I wonder what years of doing that in a scenario where you are also being largely inauthentic and don’t believe in what you selling will end up doing to your psyche?

    @ Jonathan – yeah, it’s an odd phenomenon, but I think it’s more prevalent that many think, especially in big cities or high volume settings

    @ Angie – I wonder, too, what the long term effect is on the mental and spiritual wellbeing of someone who effectively lives a career based on a lie in the name of paying her or his bills. I know, it’s way more complex than that, but it’s an interesting question

    @ Matthew – I hear you. Great points. But, I wonder if it varies substantially based on (a) what you are selling, and (b), the role the continuing service or contact will play in the product, service or relationship. If the sale is largely transactional, I can see where you are coming from.

    But, if it is a service, or a product where the buyer needs to rely on the continuity of the person doing the selling, I’m still not buying it. It think the initial sale may be doable, especially by someone with killer sales/rapport skills, but I wonder if the health of the continuity sales and enduring relationship are gonna get hurt if the sales person works from a place of insincerity.

    And, as has been mentioned in a number of other comments, I’ve also got to wonder about the effect on the salesperson. My guess is a small number f people can handle the burden of inauthenticity, while man more will burn out under the burden.

    You’ve observed way more sales people than me, though, I’m curios what you’ve seen?

    Of course, another aspect is whether the product or service is truly unique or largely fungible. It it’s the former, then people will likely suck up the bad vibes even from a poor salesperson. But, if the product is highly fungible and has lots of competition, the person matters more.

    Great insights and questions everyone!

  21. @Jonathan I agree with your comments and those of your readers who mentioned that “likeability” trumps the slicky-boy sales rep.

    I scratch my head at some of the non-likeable sales consultants I meet and train and ask myself how can they can be so successful according to their sales manager?

    I guess customer, sales manager, and sales rep have to measure the “likeability” factor.

    I served as a Global Director of Training for one of the largest sales forces in the world and spent years as a psychological profiling analyst with an Army Special Forces unit, and I still can not tell you if the likeable or non-likeable sales consultant on day 1 will be successful for the customer and company over time.

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  23. @Jonathan

    Thanks. I tend to agree with you. However I also think modeling after someone who is different than you is a good way to “start.”

    Example: pickup artists like David D’Angelo (Eban Pagan) – they teach the same way to all their students. The same approach. But none of their students end up with the same routine. People adapt it and make it their own.

    Its the same with GTD time management system. People start out with GTD. But I know very few people who still continue with GTD after 5 years too. They adapt the GTD system to meet their needs.

    Re: NLP and modeling. (I didn’t mean mirroring when I used the word modeling. But its a good relevant point – so continuing the conversation…)

    See a few Darren Brown videos. He uses modeling and cold reading to persuade people to agree with him – no matter what he says. Some very freaky stuff.

    The most successful salespeople model prospects. But they do this unconsciously. What NLP teaches is modeling consciously.

    Yoga teaches us that everything is a 2-way street. You can change your thinking patterns and your breathing will change. Or you can change your breathing rate and your thinking patterns will change. It works both ways.

    Modeling is going the round about way.

  24. Evelyn Lim says:

    I’ve always admired the guts of the door-to-door salesman. I doubt that I can ever do it. I’m glad to read how you’ve managed to turn it from a source of pain to one whereby you’ve gotten great results. Inspiring!

  25. Eric Deeter says:

    I think you can fake likability, but I can usually tell if someone is focused on me or themselves. I’ve become better at this since I’ve become less focused on myself and more focused on others. If I’m self-focused a salesperson can schmooze me with product benefits & I’ll buy what he’s selling because I’m just thinking of me. I think this article hits the sweet spot for sales. I have to believe that what I have will benefit my clients AND I have to truly care for my clients. I “killed” a sale last week because I wouldn’t truly benefit my client.

  26. Jonathan,

    Not much to add to this one. It is dead on. I can only attest that it works. I have a very untraditional approach to sales.

    Mine is to be open and honest with my clients. Tell my profit tell them my challenges. I try to inspire them to be great and that my product will help them.

    In the end my goal is that my clients are just as invested in my success as I am invested in their success.

    I hate bidding on jobs. I like to partner with people for success.

    So if there was one distinction to add. Are you in sales or in partnerships. Partnerships have a greater chance of success since both parties are invested.

    Just some thoughts as well. You hit it on the nose.


  27. Naomi Niles says:

    I think pretending does not work at all. Several years ago, I did some telemarketing, and tried selling vacuum cleaners and perfume. I sucked really bad at the last two. I did well with telemarketing because, although I felt bad calling and annoying people, I also genuinely thought I was helping them.

    It does make a huge difference when you have your own business and sell your own stuff. I think you can fake it and it works sometimes, but later it will often come back and bite you in the butt.

    When you convince people to buy things they don’t really need or want, you increase the chances they regret it and want to back out later. That’s a waste of their time and yours, not to mention a good way to burn yourself out fast. I think it’s just really important to just be honest and not be pushy.

    I’ve also gone out of my way to buy from people I like more and where service is better.

  28. Mark Cahill says:

    Great piece.

    All of us sell everyday, even if we never see a traditional customer. It never ceases to amaze me how some people make their work so much harder by not attempting to be even slightly likeable.

  29. Martin says:

    What makes a salesperson likable?

    Personally when I walk into a store I’m looking for a good price or someone who knows the product and can answer questions. Manners are important, but thats about all the criteria I have.
    Things I don’t want is a long sales pitch, someone who hovers around or disappears and then can’t be found.
    As for someone cold calling at my door, or a tele-salesperson they have no chance because I will send them away.

  30. Mary says:

    The Likeability factor is becoming less and less human and more and more virtual. Just like first appearances make a difference in face-to-face meetings, sales meetings, so does first impressions upon coming to a web site make a difference. Have you seen the proliferation of avatars? The shift towards more virtual will continue to the point where we will not be sold to anymore by real people, so the Likeability factor will shift from real to virtual.

  31. […] on people the minute they walk in the door.  As Jonathan Fieldss points out in his post “Likeability Matters” in sales, you’re always told its not personal, but it is… People buy or reject […]

  32. Dimitri says:

    This is a great post especially opening joke :)))

    I laughed so hard! But the information in the post is absolutely true. People buy you before they ever buy the product. And unless the product has nothing to do with their needs, they will buy if you are likable. Thank you, Jonathan