Nice Guys Finish...First?

Your manager lied to you.  She told you that nice guys don’t prosper in sales. In fact, she was pretty sure that nice guys don’t prosper anywhere...ever.

Encouraging research from Dacher Keltner (Author of, “Born to be Good”), suggests otherwise.  According to Keltner “People give authority to people that they genuinely like.”

Studies by Keltner and others show that this phenomenon holds true from university campuses, to the military, to global corporations.  In almost all cases, individuals who score highest on measures of agreeableness and extroversion are the ones who rise to positions of power and respect.

But here’s the weird thing; other organizational surveys indicate that the vast majority of rude and inappropriate behaviors (such as yelling and cursing), come from the offices of the people with the most authority (quick, hide your phone—here comes your boss!)

The dichotomy of nice people rising to the top—and then going totally berserk is what psychologists call “The Paradox of Power.”  Of course it’s really just a variation of what our old friend Lord Acton said in 1887, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

So what does all this have to do with selling?

Simply this; if you are a genuinely decent person, your clients and prospects will reward you with respect—and with the authority to advise them on their purchasing decisions.  But here’s the really great thing; prospects aren’t promoting you to CEO of their company, or even hiring you to be the manager of a project team.  In other words, you get all the advantages of trust and approval that come from being a nice guy—and none of the “crazy cussing” that comes from being the boss.

In fact, the prospect/salesman relationship is almost always one of unequal power—with power skewed in the direction of the prospect.  Unless you’re selling something for which there is limitless demand and a very small supply, you are in the position of supplicant.  The prospect decides if he buys, and ultimately if you get paid. That means he’s in charge.

The unfortunate corollary to this phenomenon is that individuals who are granted even a little bit of fleeting authority often exhibit symptoms of, “The Paradox of Power.”  Which is to say, they can sometimes behave poorly. 

Power tends to make people less sympathetic to others, more inclined toward hostility and impulsivity, and (this is important), less sensitive to the quality of arguments that contradict their beliefs. In other words, they make decisions based upon what they already believe to be true.

So does that mean that the trust and credibility that you’ve built up by being a decent person are all wasted on a “powerful” prospect?  Not at all.  It simply means that you can quickly learn and understand the arguments that will be most persuasive to him.

If he tells you that automobiles are destroying the planet, are you going to try to sell him a Camaro—or a Prius?  That one was easy—but what if he tells you that Microsoft products are junk—but the only thing that you have to offer him is a software system built and based upon Microsoft tools?

First off, you don’t want to directly contradict him.  We already know that he is primed to ignore or discount arguments that directly oppose his preexisting views.  Instead, you want to get to the core of his opinion.  Does he just hate Bill Gates because of the man’s vast wealth?  Is he a programmer who feels that he must at all times be publicly committed to Linux?  Or is he perhaps simply mimicking the beliefs of his manager?  Knowing how he formed his opinion is crucial to helping him see past it.