Trust vs Like: Which is More Important in Sales?

If you google “likability in sales,” you’re going to find a bunch of articles listing all the ways you can be more likable or finding that magic recipe for the “likability factor.” 

You’ll also see more than a few articles telling you not to worry about being likable in sales at all.

So is it really as important as we think? 

In a Harvard Business Review study done a few years ago, participants were asked if they would be more likely to buy from salespeople who are primarily professional, friendly, or charismatic. The majority said they would feel more comfortable buying from somebody who is friendly, as long as they were able to explain their product well. But a large portion of them, especially in industries such as healthcare and manufacturing, preferred a more professional salesperson with complete and thorough product knowledge. And other industry specific customers, like fashion and media, preferred charisma to both knowledge and friendliness. 

So maybe likability isn’t nearly as important as you would think.

Knowing and being able to explain your product should be a given. Why would you try to sell something when you can’t even explain the product well enough to illustrate how it can help?

But being able to build trust with your prospect, that’s where the real difference between successful and struggling salespeople is. 

You can be friendly, approachable, and chatty all day long. But that still doesn’t mean that your prospect is going to trust you.

In this same study, it showed that 40% of participants wanted salespeople who listened and proposed a solution to their specific problem and 30% wanted a salesperson who they could trust to take care of their needs for the long haul. The last 30% preferred salespeople who challenged them on their thought process and proposed ideas or solutions they hadn’t thought about at all yet. 

All of these prove that only the most attentive salespeople close more deals. And all of those options depend on a certain amount of trust. 

If you haven’t built trust with a client through setting expectations, asking for agreements, and putting their needs first, how do you think they’ll respond when you try to challenge their perceptions?

Not well. 

However, if the trust is there, a challenging question will be better received, especially if you’re able to ask in a nurturing way.

Building trust versus trying to be liked really comes down to personality more than anything else.

  • People-driven personalities, S’s and I’s, are often going to look at friendliness as an easy path to building trust. 
  • Task-driven personalities, D’s and C’s, focus more on whether or not the salesperson knows their product. Their ability to explain features and benefits and how they directly relate to the prospect’s needs is going to have a much bigger impact towards building trust than friendliness or likability. 

This may be part of the reason why consumers in certain industries look at the importance of likability differently. Specific personalities are more often geared towards specific industries, so the priorities are different. 

At the end of the day, there are ways every salesperson could work towards being more generally likable. We talked about some of them on this week’s Sales Throwdown episode. These include being present and building familiarity, listening with intention to their needs and concerns, and adapting your communication style to theirs. 

But if you sit down and think about the person you trust more than anybody else, there’s probably going to be one big difference between them and your more casual friends. That trusted person is going to be the one that asks the harder questions and makes you confront things you might want to ignore. 

We do this in sales when we ask about pain. Trying to find out what they really need —the deep down needs that they don’t always talk about easily or quickly— will build trust. Most of them will realize that you actually do have their best interest at heart. 

So can you be both trustworthy and likable? Of course you can! But is it important to be both? That depends on the situation and the prospect. But the one that is universally necessary, the one that will set you apart from every other salesperson, is your ability to quickly and completely build trust. 

So you tell me which is more important. I know which one I put more focus on.