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You Have 3 Goals the First Time You Meet a Potential Client. Popularity Is Not One of Them. This is business. Stop worrying if they like you.

By John Holland Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Sturti | Getty Images

Have you ever tried to make someone like you? Turns out, relationships evolve over time. Seller attempts to accelerate the process can be awkward because sales is a profession buyers generally don't hold in high esteem. When calling at executive levels, sellers may feel a buyer's time is worth more than theirs. Taking Al Franken's approach can be deadly -- "I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggone it, people like me."

Given the long-standing stereotype of buyer-seller relationships, many salespeople hope buyers will like them. This contributes to sellers failing to view themselves as equals because buyers aren't making any efforts to get sellers to like them.

Related: The 3 Most Important Skills in Sales

When meeting buyers for the first time, I suggest a good initial objective would be to have buyers conclude you are trustworthy. Steven Covey believed that in order to be deemed trustworthy, the other party must believe you are sincere and competent.

I'd like to offer a few suggestions about how to best approach the first few minutes of a buyer-seller relationship:

1. Be sincere.

Being sincere requires sellers to rise above stereotypical selling behavior. Right after shaking hands, most salespeople thank buyers for their time. This means starting relationships as a subordinate. As an alternative after the handshake, say something like, "I'm glad we could meet today." Thank buyers for their time after they've given it to you. Not before.

2. Establish rapport or get down to business?

Once the introduction has been made, if buyers don't initiate small talk, sellers must decide whether to attempt to establish rapport or get down to business. My suggestion is for sellers to be quiet for a few seconds to give buyers the opportunity to initiate small talk. If they don't, give a brief introduction explaining the objectives for the call rather than try to force rapport. There are many instances where rapport will happen after the business portion of calls.

Related: How to Close Deals Without Coming Off as Salesy

3. Establish competence.

Establishing competence is the next potential hurdle. Sellers should view executives as peers for the following reasons:

  • They are subject matter experts and have forgotten more than buyers will ever know about offerings.
  • They (or their companies) have experience helping other executives realize the potential value of their offerings.

Stop trying to be liked. Earning a buyer's respect will increase the probability that there will be a subsequent meeting if your offering may offer some value to the buyer.

I can buy from sellers I like, but don't respect, when making relatively unimportant buying decisions. That said, for important decisions, I'll choose to buy from the seller I respect rather than one that I like.

Like and respect from buyers are not mutually exclusive and like any other relationship, develops over time. My contention is that trying to force personal relationships early can undermine selling efforts and position salespeople as subordinates rather than peers.

Related: Top 10 Tools for Maximizing Business-to-Business Sales

I hope these suggestions allow you to capitalize on opportunities. Remember, buying cycles begin when buyers share a business goal or problem. Executives typically will not share goals with sellers they haven't identified as sincere and competent.

John Holland

Chief Content Officer of CustomerCentric Systems

John Holland is co-founder and chief content officer of CustomerCentric Systems in Sutton, Mass. His company provides sales process consulting and training.

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