Kelley Powell is the author of Courage to Lose Sight of Shore and the CEO and partner of MacLaurin Group.
Once, after a long day at a conference, I stopped at the hotel bar to get dinner. Two salespeople stood at the entrance, scanning convention badges to identify sales prospects. They led attendees into the back room for a party their company was hosting for clients and potential clients. I watched as they smiled and radiated charm to a customer. Then they started talking bad about her as soon as she left.
That told me everything I needed to know about the company. They missed something crucial: authenticity.
Business is ultimately about relationships, and relationships require trust. You can’t build trust if you’re not authentic because people don’t know what to believe or when to believe you. Without trust, people may not want to do business with you.
The challenge is that authenticity is a vague concept. You may know to be authentic, but don’t know how to do that. Let’s solve that with three practical ways to be more authentic.
1. Start the business trip the moment you leave.
The business trip starts the moment you get in the car to the airport. Many wait until the business meeting and then “turn it on” and become their best, polished selves. You still represent your company on the plane, in the hotel and in the elevator. Authenticity means living and leading, so you don’t change your actions based on whether the potential customer is in the room.
When I listened to the salespeople berating their customer, do you know the real kicker? i was the exactly kind of person who wanted to pitch the company. But I had dumped my conference badge, so I flew under their radar. I don’t know how many deals the company closed that night, but I know they lost the chance to sell to me.
Authenticity requires consistency, so wherever you are, be your best, as if customers, your employees and your children are always watching.
2. Treat everyone well.
This next advice is twofold: Treat everybody good, and treat everyone good.
Everyone means everybody. Please don’t turn it off and on based on who is in the room. Customers and prospects know that they get the best out of yourself because you want something from them. They’ll pay attention to how you treat other people — waiters, drivers, strangers on the street — because that’s an indication of how they’ll be treated after the deal is signed.
treating people good means they are treated better than expected. Treating people as expected is the minimum – the baseline. To treat people well, you have to go one step further. You’ve probably heard that you should treat people the way you want to be treated. The better advice is to treat people how she want to be treated. By doing this, you move beyond superficial politeness to real connection, which is the point of authenticity.
Instead of just thinking about what to do, to think about Why you do it and pass the what corresponding. To give you an idea, my mentor, Bill, died when my book was about to come out. Many people sent flowers and cards, which were beautiful, appreciated gestures. My publisher was incredibly thoughtful by donating to a nonprofit on behalf of Bill. The Why was to honor Bill’s values, and what he meant to so many, so they chose a really meaningful what.
Treating people better than expected doesn’t mean going crazy or spending a lot of money; you have to think.
3. Focus on sorting, not selling.
I get dozens of sales pitches a day. One of my annoyances is when people say, “I need 15 minutes of your time because I can change your business.” Every time I think You do not know me. How can you know you can change my business? The sender is not curious about what I need. They want me to buy something.
It sounds counterintuitive, but you don’t want to sell. Once you change into a sales mindset, it’s almost impossible to be authentic. You’re probably putting out a fake, shiny version of yourself and blowing too much of what you can do, leaving everyone disappointed. You may be able to win the customer, but you can’t keep them. Later, if you can’t keep your promises, the customer will be upset and you will suffer the sting of failure.
Identify the right customer for you instead of selling. Be honest about your capabilities – with the potential customer and with yourself. Tell the prospect, “Here’s how I’ve supported others. Do you think you might be interested in learning more about each other?” If the answer is yes, great, if not, it’s still great because you’re not wasting time and energy on the wrong customer.
You can stay authentic and close the right deals by sorting instead of selling.
Don’t turn it on and off.
Do you remember the two salesmen I heard when I grabbed my takeaway? Imagine turning that story around, and I heard them say nice things about the customer. I would have been confident to become a customer knowing I would be treated with respect and care.
Instead, I saw firsthand how they turn it on and off. Inauthenticity may not often be exposed in this way, but it has a way of bubbling to the surface. People can see and feel it.
Your actions tell a story about your values, beliefs and leadership. And you never know who’s watching. So don’t turn it on and off. Wherever you are, whatever the situation, whether you’re with a client, on the plane, expressing your condolences or trying to make a deal, be the same sweet you. At the most basic level, that’s what authenticity means.