100 years ago, the personality and the perceived character of salespeople were key determinants of success as these traits would command both liking and respect.1 However, in Arthur Miller’s 1949 play Death of a Salesman, Willy Loman complained that the sales profession was becoming “all cut and dried” and that you no longer could sell with “personality” or the personal relationships you have with your customers.
This play was set in the American post-war era when marketers indeed were becoming more “professional” conducting market research studies, targeting specific demographics, developing a better understanding of consumer behavior/psychology, etc. Customers at the time also did not seem to care much about close relationships with salespeople as they were too busy buying whatever goods they could get ahold of throughout the prosperous 1950s and 1960s.
As a result, salespeople were trained to soften the edges of their personalities to not offend customers even if salespeople with “bland personalities” likely were doomed to develop at best superficial relationships with their clientele. The thinking was that personalities could only damage the likelihood of a sale, not the other way around. Instead, the focus was on salespeople being professional in offering the right product to the right customers at the right price.
In today’s business world, salespeople are as professional as ever armed with a toolbox of sales and CRM (customer relationship management) technologies enabling them to keep track of customer requests, deliveries, etc. The problem is that most of their competitors have access to these same tools and that the offering of the right product to the right customers is no longer necessarily a differentiating factor. It may only be a prerequisite to get in the door. In fact, many salespeople find that CRM systems are not really useful and refuse to adopt them.
It is perhaps in this context that we can better understand why salespeople are rapidly embracing social networking technologies such as “social CRM” as a means of researching the interests of prospects and staying connected socially with existing customers between (or sometimes instead of) regular face-to-face meetings. Salespeople also recognize that they can benefit from a presence on various social media platforms to make good first Google impressions on prospective customers who check them out before a meeting.
The question is to what extent salespeople should let their personalities shine through on social media sites and blogs by showing not only their professional selves but also the personalities behind their images? Salespeople have long wanted to know the hobbies and musical interests of their clients to be better able to develop rapport but how interested are customers in getting to know salespeople better? I would love to hear your thoughts on this!
1 “‘Personality Wins the Day': Death of a Salesman and Popular Sales Advice Literature,” South Atlantic Review (Winter 1999): 1-10.