Why so serious?

Why so serious? The iconic movie poster (Photo credit: laverrue)

A lot of people in business struggle with this. Sometimes I have conversations with women about this topic  sometimes men, sometimes youngsters, sometimes more mature people. It seems a common theme for a lot of people in business and a lot of people in sales especially.

“How do I make sure I am taken seriously?”

Here comes one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever been given.

As a younger man I had a very light touch. Always joking about, and trying to make people laugh. At the same time I was always very conscious of how I’d be perceived by others. Everything from my suit to my haircut came under my microscope. ‘How do I make people take me more seriously?’ was a constant question.

As a sales man at the age of 21 or 22, how did I make people twice my age feel comfortable in giving me thousands of pounds of their advertising budget? How did I make them feel comfortable listening to and taking my advice and recommendations?

‘If you take yourself seriously, people take you seriously’

Dave Gifford told me this almost 20 years ago and it still comes to mind today. He’d always add. If you take yourself VERY seriously, people will take you VERY seriously.

Almost overnight I stopped with the ‘stand up’. I didn’t need to make people laugh, and I didn’t need them to like me. It was a real revelation. It allowed me to be as serious about the stuff I was doing on the outside, as I felt about it on the inside.

And it worked like magic on the people I spoke to.

When you laugh and joke with a client how do you think they perceive you? As a lightweight maybe? I don’t mean to advocate a completely straight-faced approach, I mean to ensure that your client takes you seriously, be serious about what you have to say. If the situation calls for it of course crack a joke, or have a smile and a bit of banter with the client or the staff of your client.

But when it comes down to the nitty-gritty be ready to do business.

It’s not life and death, its more important than that 

I read somewhere that most small businesses were started with inherited money. Or maybe it was a lottery win? Which ever, someone gets some sort of windfall and invests in themselves and their dream of working for themselves. They soon discover there is too much of each month for their money and have to go to the bank.

Maybe its a bridge to the end of the month, or some capital for equipment, or some other sort of expansion. They go to the bank and they say to the bank ‘Here is my business and my idea. I need you to back me here, and I, and then you, will make a load of cash!’

At this point the bank usually says ‘No’

No, they wont back you on the strength of the business idea, but they’ve noticed you have a load of equity in your house, they’ll lend it to you against that.

So very quickly a business owner becomes extremely committed to winning.

And a sales person that can’t see that, or doesn’t give the impression they see that, is not going to be taken seriously. Sales people who are not taken seriously will only get so far.

If you are a personality seller – Give up NOW 

We’ve had this conversation on this blog before. People buy people right? Wrong!

Well, at least, they don’t only buy people. And when there is a lot riding on the outcome of a deal, they may give you an appointment or an opportunity to pitch if they like you, but if you don’t sound like you know what you are talking about, you’re not even at the races.

WInning isn’t everything – it’s the only thing.

Larking about and joking about the weather or last nights TV or the fact you’re feeling hung over after a wild night out that previous weekend and that grizzled veteran business man or woman facing you is going to start questioning your commitment.

Respond to their questions with wise cracks and quips and you’ll quickly find yourself weighed measured and found wanting.

And back on the street with no sale.

They don’t want to make friends with you, they don’t buy your ‘personality’. They buy the solution you provide, the value you create.

There is a time and a place for the relationship building and the lighter side of the job, but also a time and a place to be on it and to take them and their objectives seriously.

We all want to have some fun, and to enjoy what we do. But make sure you have established your credentials for getting the job done first.

Surprising an already committed client with a wry comment or a spontaneous and funny anecdote is a great way to add layers to the relationship and bind their business closer to you. But start that way, and if you are selling anything of any real value, you’ll find it an uphill struggle from the start.

What do you think? am I over stating this? Are your clients more interested in enjoying your company than knowing what value you can create for them?

Let me know, as ever, in the comments, I really look forward to hearing what you’ve got to say.

Or email me directly on [email protected]

Just in case you didn’t know what film the poster was advertising, here is a clip of the brillant Heath Ledger as The Joker from The Dark Knight.

There’s also another Heath Ledger reference in the text to this blog – 1,000,000 cool points if you can work it out! (warning – adult content)

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wQHfoz9Be7U&w=560&h=315]

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14 replies
  1. Mike Bersin
    Mike Bersin says:

    Good stuff! I would like to think clients take me seriously, it’s certainly my intention, but paradoxically I don’t feel I’ve quite connected with a client until I know what makes them laugh, don’t ask me why, but it may be to do with them letting the buyers mask slip a bit so we can relate to each other as people?

    • Tony Dowling
      Tony Dowling says:

      Precisely! That’s the multi layered relationship I’m talking about.

      But get the credentials in first. Having the benefit of knowing you as well as I do, I think you strike the balance between being serious about businesses and disarmingly comical perfectly

      Thanks for the comment as always!

    • Tony Dowling
      Tony Dowling says:

      Thanks for the comment Kath – I hope you weren’t offended? I tried to head off any issues as per the video content with the adult content disclaimer.
      Heath Ledger certainly makes an impression doesn’t he? It was a powerful performance

  2. doclize
    doclize says:

    You are absolutely right. Clients dont have time to waste. Get the work done. But, get your homework done before you see the client and know it all. It always helps if you recall what your client had said before, about, perhaps a new baby born or whatever, and you can ask about it. If you emailed documents before to the client, take an extra copy with you. Most clients appreciate it, and we can start working. They then know you are serious to assist their company’s growth and to expand their business. I always close the deal or complete what the meeting was about. Time nowadays are far to prescious. Some client never wants to see you as email and telephonic conversations are good enough for them…but you had to earn that trust first by doing your best for their business. Results! Others would like to see me, sometimes for the smallest thing, which we actually could have settled it over the phone. But its all about relationship! Just do the job.

  3. strategyaudit
    strategyaudit says:

    Good advice.
    At 61, I still from time to time suffer with “foot in mouth”, or at least my mouth running just in front of my brain, and and kick myself every time!

  4. TheJackB
    TheJackB says:

    I think the trick is by starting the relationship with proof that you can do the job and provide the solution(s) they need. After that you can open up and ease into things a little bit.

    • Tony Dowling
      Tony Dowling says:

      Exactly my point Jack! I dont know if its because there is so much competition out there these days or that people are so much more on their guard. But proof, or social proof online especially, is essential in order to start the relationship, much less add layers to it.

      I think can remember when you would be given the benefit of the doubt as a green sales person, to build up a relationship through achieving results, people are much more careful these days

      thanks for taking the time to comment!

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