Sales 101 – Learn Names

Many principles of sales and marketing have origins in social psychology. One of the most basic principles involved in being a good salesperson is learning the name of a potential customer, then saying the person’s name during conversations, as a way of building rapport. For example, every competent car salesperson asks the name of everyone who expresses an interest in a car being offered for sale at the dealership, then inserts the customer’s name in questions and sentences; for example, “Melissa, I see you like that new Jaguar. I agree with you—it is a beautiful car! Are you interested in a test drive?” Using the name of someone we just met is a quick way to induce a sense of familiarity between strangers, one of whom is, often, hoping to gain something from the other. The custom of handing a business card to a stranger is derived from this principle of social psychology; it provides an easy way for people to learn each other’s names. In fact, strong social cues dictate that, when someone gives a business card to someone else, the receiver is expected to give his/her card in return. I recently participated in a meeting during which David and I were the prospective customers. The person with whom we met was acquainted with David, but not me. Although I was introduced immediately upon meeting this person (who, as an aside, was 30 minutes late for the meeting), he made no effort to engage me in the conversation, much less call me by name. I sized him up quickly and decided not to give him my business card, so that he would not have it to use as a crutch for his disinterested attitude toward me. The meeting dragged on and on, and not once did he look at me, speak to me, or ask me to repeat my name. I decided, rather than get angry about this person’s complete disregard of me, I would conclude the meeting by asking him if he knew my name. (I asked this question in response to his inquiry about whether David or I had any questions.) He appeared aghast because, as I already knew, he had not given any consideration of my name (first, last, or just plain “Doctor” would have been fine with me!) He tried to recover from his inconsiderate action, but to no avail. The point of this post is: Everyone has a name. Do you care enough to find out what it is?

Another of our posts has been about mind games and I would have to say that the story that concluded Melissa’s post about knowing names involved a bit of a mind game on her part. I saw it coming – the person we were meeting with did not. There were several ways he could have avoided falling into the trap which he set for himself; instead, he walked right into a trap of his own making. The point of this blog is not, however, mind games, but rather making an effort to learn names in business or social settings. Exchanging business cards is one of the best ways to do this. When the other person does not have a card, I often discretely make a note on a pocket notepad I usually have along. And, we train our employees to offer cards to clients on research days. Often, there are 6 to 10 or more people observing our research; by offering a card we are giving the clients a way to get to know our team. Usually the clients reciprocate; that is the western norm, and it helps our team communicate with the clients throughout the day and the engagement. But we have found this does not come naturally for our employees, so it is a detail to include in training. For entrepreneurs, there are few things more effective than business cards – cards which serve the primary purpose of name recognition, and hopefully recall. Using someone’s name in verbal and written communications, including email, also personalizes what is often an impersonal world. Though Melissa can explain social influence and how it can be used to “enhance” the business experience by someone skilled in such things, learning names and using them is by no means only a manipulation. It is common courtesy – it shows that one is interested in the other person. And, when we meet narcissistic members of society as Melissa related, their lack of courtesy is abundantly clear. (As an aside, the norms we discussed in this post are western societal norms. These customs vary in different parts of the world and one would be well advised to study the norms of other countries whenever working or, even vacationing, abroad. The book Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands is a good resource for such research. Better to know than to break a taboo.)

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