Beyone the Handshake

Traditionally, vendors have allocated the majority of their sales training dollars toward product and solution training. Increasingly, however, there is recognition that soft-skills training in areas such as developing rapport, first impressions, and understanding body language is needed as well. Some sales training classes even include modules on neuro-linguistic programming.

After spending 32 years in sales, I can say unequivocally that creating a connection with a total stranger is the toughest thing to do. You’re not going to close a $100K deal within the first 90 seconds of meeting someone, but you can sure lose a deal in that time.

Traditionally, sales was a place where the “gift of gab” and a sparkling personality were major factors in determining the success of the salesperson, and smartness was defined as knowing the answers to all the questions. The sands are clearly shifting, and today a salesperson’s success is more likely to be influenced by the ability to talk less and listen more, and smartness is defined more by knowing the right questions to ask. The gift of gab is really no gift at all. As a result, the psychology of human interaction is being explored in more detail than ever before.

In France, tipping is not normal, as the service charge is automatically included, which makes the following study by Nicolas Guéguen and Céline Jacob, two French psychologists, so interesting. They found that a waitress who greeted her new patrons with a simple welcoming touch to the arm or shoulder as they were being seated received a tip 24.6% of the time. The other waitress in the control study who did not apply the “touch” received a tip 10.8% of the time.
Other studies have shown, for example, that students who received a supportive touch on the back or arm from a teacher were nearly twice as likely to volunteer in class as those who did not. A sympathetic touch from a doctor leaves patients with the impression that the visit lasted twice as long, compared with estimates from people who were untouched.

To see whether touch is in fact related to performance, scientists at the University of California, Berkeley recently analyzed interactions in one of the most physically expressive arenas on earth: professional basketball. During the 2009 season, researchers recorded every bump, high five, and hug in every game by each team in the National Basketball Association. With few exceptions, the better teams were “touchier” than the bad ones. At the top of the list were the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers, perennially high-ranking teams. At the bottom were the so-so Sacramento Kings and Charlotte Bobcats.

This does not mean that your vendors are going to start high-fiving you in the parking lot, but the psychology of touch has become an important human interaction skill that is being taught, and when used deftly, it can strengthen the ability to connect. And that is the Holy Grail of selling.

ICN has been in the business of helping technology users do better and safer deals with vendors for more than forty two years.