Last week I was a guest on a popular sales podcast.  I won’t say which one – it doesn’t really matter – but it’s a reputable podcast, particularly in real estate.  In fact, I felt pretty special as Seth Godin and Daniel Pink were recent guests of the show.  Not bad company, huh?

I had my reservations about the interview.  Not because I was nervous (which I was), but because I had doubts about whether the message of How Clients Buy would resonate with the target audience of the podcast.  Do realtors have the same business development challenges as accountants, attorneys, management consultants, architects, engineers, financial advisors, etc.?

In my opinion, realtors are ‘cousins’ of the expert service providers, but not quite the same.  Because, at the end of the day, realtors are selling real estate – which is a tangible product – and thus, there is less of a leap of faith in the buying process. That said, I do think that the most successful realtors are highly respected and trusted by their clients.  And, subsequently, generate a high degree of repeat business and referrals.

So, we get started on the podcast and it’s going smoothly for the first five minutes or so.  Mostly introduction, small talk, and soft ball questions.  Then, the host dives into one of the topics of our book, ‘The Myth of Likeability’.  It’s actually a pretty minor part of our book.  (See below at bottom for an excerpt from the book where we discuss our POV on likeability).  The podcast host had a real issue with our opinion that respect and trust are more important than likeability.

We bantered back and forth for a few minutes, but never really came to any closure.  Which is fine.  Intelligent people disagree every day.  And, maybe the host had a point.  At least as it relates to realtors.  Maybe ‘likeability’ is a key success factor in real estate sales.  I’m not sure.  I’ve never been a realtor.  But, when I’m buying my next property – whether commercial or residential – I’d much rather put my faith in competence than personality.

Our main point in the ‘Myth of Likeability’ is that in expert services (what academics call credence goods from the Latin word, credere, or trust), respect and trust are front and center in the clients buying decision journey.  If you’re hiring a tax attorney, or a compensation consultant, one’s professional credibility and personal character outweigh someone’s likeability.

Our POV shouldn’t be misconstrued to say that clients hire jerks.  That’s not what we’re saying.  We’re simply saying that as long as you are a kind and decent human being, your professional qualifications and trustworthiness are what matters most to a client.

When a young professional asks me what they should focus on to create success in their career, would I rather recommend someone focus on their professional expertise and personal character or on being more likeable?  In my experience, there’s no question.

Have a nice weekend!

Excerpt from How Clients Buy.  Chapter 16.  Pgs. 210-211.

In interviewing young people in consulting and professional services firms, we often heard about the need to be liked.  “I think clients work with people they like.” If this were true, it would present us with a real problem. In order to increase your practice’s revenues, you would need to tune up your likeability.  But trying to be more likeable is like trying to be taller. Maybe we are just who we are. That and authenticity is important. If you try to be something you’re not, people will pick up on that.

The good news is that we don’t think clients buy on likeability at all.  We think it’s a myth.

We think clients buy when they meet someone they think would add to what they are trying to do.  To test this hypothesis, we asked ourselves if it was possible for us to engage with a provider that we respect and trust but do not like.  The answer was yes. The easy example is the surgeon in the emergency room. We take a tumble on the slopes and break our tibia. Rushed to the hospital in an ambulance, we are wheeled into the operating suite — but only after they ask for our insurance information.  The doctor comes in and begins to go to work. Our only concern: Is she focused on her work and has seen this sort of thing before? We don’t care if she’s nice.

For us, “like” is a tiebreaker.  If you go up against another practitioner and you seem equally qualified, capable and trustworthy, we might go with the consulting or professional services partner we like better but only at the margin.  It would be mistake, though, to think “like” is all there is to driving business development. It trails behind the engines of interest, respect and trust.