Jumping In the Ring On a Debate About Charisma

It’s clear there’s some confusion out there about using charisma in business. What I didn’t realize is how much controversy there is, too. This week, the topic led to one of the most heated responses I’ve seen yet to an article about sales and marketing. I’ll catch you up.

Last Friday, a salesperson for Signals by HubSpot wrote an article for the company blog. It began with “According to my team, I just flirt with my prospects all day. But the way I see it, I’m enjoying time with my prospects. We don’t have sales conversations, we just chat. We become friends.” She went on to share seven one-liners that she uses to build rapport with her prospects. Some are savvy (“Between you and me…”), some are smarmy (“Can I let you in on a secret?”), and others are probably misguided (“In full transparency” …Am I the only one who thinks that means you’re never being honest?). I read the blog post when it was published and didn’t have a very strong reaction to it. If this style comes naturally to the author, she’s probably pretty socially smooth and pleasant to interact with. But these lines wouldn’t be comfortable for everyone to use.

Someone at OpenView read the same article and had a very strong reaction to it, which she shared on Tuesday. She felt that the tips given by the HubSpot contributor cast saleswomen in a bad light, make sales prospects akin to “friends-with-benefits,” and would only serve to create mistrust between prospects and sellers. Woah. Two very different opinions here!

As I mentioned above, I think some of the provocation comes from confusion on a few points. What is charisma, and what’s not? When should it be used? And how far does it go?

First, maybe we should start by cleaning up the mess caused by the word “flirting,” which was used by both bloggers. The kind of charismatic communication that all businesses should strive for in their content and in their interactions really shouldn’t be characterized as flirting. It certainly shares some characteristics in common with flirting, including full focus, keen interest, and friendliness that builds rapport. It even has the ultimate goal of getting the prospect enamored with the product and their opportunities for growth if they purchase it. But it obviously doesn’t (and shouldn’t) share with flirting the same end goal of sexual seduction. I think we can agree that communication that does have that goal is neither ethical nor charismatic in business. Given the unavoidable connotation, let’s scrap the word “flirting.”

Another note: charisma is gender-neutral. The second blogger used a bit of a straw man argument when she claimed that the first was using her, quote, “feminine prowess” to engage prospects. Ew. Aside from the poor choice of photo to accompany the article, the HubSpot blogger never brought gender into the discussion, and that’s a good thing. Charisma can be used successfully by both men and women while interacting with men and/or women. In fact, it’s best if it’s used and practiced all the time.

Let’s chat now about one-liners, one of the main targets of Blogger 2’s disdain. “If we’re being honest,” she began (I hope ironically), “let’s call a spade a spade — pick-up lines and one-liners are really just fillers. They are the roundabout scenic route to the real reason for your call. If you have a reason to pick up the phone, and you have a question to ask — ask it. Don’t waste your prospect’s time. Get to the point quickly. They will thank you later.”

Blogger 2 is right about this around 50% of the time. Blogger 1 is also right about this, around 50% of the time. There are people out there who like to chat at length, speak in abstractions, and build a relationship, and they hate being rushed to the point. There are also people who want to get the information they need as soon as possible to make a quick decision. Chances are, you’ve been both types of people in the last week. Whether you like to take the freeway or the scenic route in conversation is dependent on a lot of factors, including regional background, cultural milieu, personality, the type of purchasing decision it is, and what side of bed you woke up on. It all goes back to really knowing your audience — one of the primary tenets of charisma!

What neither blogger got right is that it all requires a lot more work than you’d expect. Neither prepackaged lines nor a brisk style will make every prospect love you and your product. No single style, no matter how proud you are of it, is the panacea for winning all hearts and minds. Doing the extensive homework necessary to understand your prospect, and then thinking about what you can do to serve their needs, is the best way to go.

What's your approach to interacting with prospects for sales and marketing?

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2 Comments Jumping In the Ring On a Debate About Charisma

  1. Kameel

    I agree with Blogger 1, in that by being friendly and open I’ve built some great client relationships.

    Blogger 2 isn’t wrong, it’s important to demonstrate value – but that value is meaningless if your client doesn’t have faith or confidence in you. Which is where Blogger 1’s approach is good, though slower.

    Most client purchasing decisions have some heavy weight-age on trust, relationship & confidence. If you’re not delivering these, it doesn’t matter what the facts are, you’re probably not going to be selling much.

    1. Laura Hernandez

      Great points, Kameel! Like you said, relationships based on trust are critical for making complex sales work. Thanks so much for weighing in.



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