The Tao of You

“You may not be in charge of how your company is branded, but you are 100 percent in charge of your personal brand. ”

“What printer are you going to use to produce the new corporate brochure?” Sheila asked.

“I’m trying to decide that now,” Robert answered.

Sheila was in charge of digital marketing at Big Brand. Robert was the director of corporate communications. They had bumped into each other in the elevator of the gleaming glass and steel office tower where Big Brand was headquartered. Both were headed to the sandwich shop down the street for lunch.

“You know the policy,” Robert said. “I have to get three bids on any job costing over $10,000. Two bids were from longtime suppliers. The third was from our newest vendor, Innovative Print. All the prices were in line.”

“Innovative Print, “Sheila repeated. “That’s a name I keep hearing.”

As Robert and Sheila navigated a busy intersection on the way to the restaurant, Robert picked up the conversation.

“I started using Innovative Print last year. We were using a different company, but they just weren’t keeping up with technology,” he said. “I started to meet with new print reps. Natalie was one of them. Something about her impressed me, so I gave her an opportunity. Her company performed, and I’ve been using her ever since.”

Sheila thought, then said, “I think I met her.”

“She was one of the printers who participated in our annual vendor fair last fall,” Robert said. “She’s in her 50s with short dark hair.”

“I do remember her.” Sheila frowned. “Though, I’m not sure why. I couldn’t have described her as you did.”

Robert shrugged. “Most people who meet Natalie remember her, but I don’t think it has anything to do with her appearance. It’s more how she acts.”

Intrigued, Sheila said, “It’s hard to put into words, but there is something about Natalie that makes a positive impression, and she reinforces that impression every time you meet her.”

“I like Natalie, but that’s true for all my vendors,” Robert said. “There’s just something different about how she presents herself, and whatever that difference is, it makes me think she is the right person to handle our new corporate brochure.”

No matter how much companies vary, one factor remains the same in the majority of printing transactions. A sales professional plays a role, and many sales maxims speak to the importance of that role such as:

  • First, they buy you
  • People buy from people, and they buy more from people they like
  • Customers buy on emotion and justify with logic
While sales professionals must provide real business value in selling situations, how the buyer perceives a salesperson can be a tie-breaker when closing a transactional opportunity.

Buyers, especially new ones, are looking for a company – and a person – who’s easy to deal with and who can meet their needs. The buyer is searching for products and services, along with an enjoyable customer experience. Multiple touch points at your company create perceptions, and often these are outside your control.

How you are perceived? Well, that is up to you.

Perception Management – A Critical Sales Skill Set
The presentation of self is a concept introduced in 1956 by Erving Goffman, a Canadian-American sociologist and author of “The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life.”

Goffman believed people try to control the impressions they make on other people. He compared real-life interactions to theatrical productions, complete with acting, interaction with the setting, props and an audience. In 1998, The International Sociological Society listed Goffman’s book as one of the most important works in the 20th Century.

Goffman’s theories are supported by another sales maxim: “To succeed in sales, you need to be a chameleon.” To put it another way, you must be conscious of how you present yourself and manage the buyer’s perceptions to win.

While some aspects of the self-presentation are situational, such as the clothes you wear or the props you use (presentations, samples, case studies), certain aspects of high-level perception management extend past a single encounter and relate to your personal brand.

Tom Peters, a well-known author who helped write “In Search of Excellence,” is thought by many to be the first person to use the term “personal branding.” In a 1997 article written for Fast Company, Peters wrote, “Regardless of age, regardless of position, regardless of the business we happen to be in, all of us need to understand the importance of branding. We are CEOs of our own companies: Me, Inc. To be in business today, our most important job is to be head marketer for the brand called You.”

According to The Economist, 3,500,000 American workers lost their jobs in the decade following 1987 as a result of downsizing. When Peters wrote this article, he was reacting in part to help workers who needed to find a job.

Peters offered practical advice to creating a personal brand. “You’re every bit as much a brand as Nike, Coke, Pepsi or the Body Shop. To start thinking like your own favorite brand manager, ask yourself the same question the brand managers at Nike, Coke, Pepsi or the Body Shop ask themselves: ‘What is it that my product or service does that makes it different?’

Give yourself the traditional 15-words-or-less contest challenge. Take the time to write down your answer. And then take the time to read it several times.”

And while Peters wrote those words a decade ago, the exercise still has merit.

Do You Need to Brand Yourself?
Personal branding requires thought and investment over time. The payoff is worth it.

  • You become more positively memorable with clients and prospects, which helps you earn new opportunities.
  • A personal brand differentiates you, and the right differentiation helps you sell.
  • A brand stands for something. When the client likes what you stand for, they are more likely to recommend you.

Actions Get Reactions
Customers categorize to simplify decision-making. When evaluating salespeople, examples of categories where you have already made an impression in the mind of your clients include:

  • Responsive versus non-responsive
  • Friendly versus cold
  • Clear communicator versus vague and hard to pin down

Based on actions, some sales professionals shine brightly, while others are bland and beige. The color beige is neither brown nor gray. It is somewhere in between. When your personal brand is too beige, you don’t stand out, and this can cost you sales.

Thought Transformation’s Brand Triangulation™
Over the years, I’ve read many books on personal branding. In the end, I’ve found most of them heavy on information as to why you should embrace the idea of a personal brand, and light on practical “how to” information about creating one.

To create my own brand, I developed a method called “Brand Triangulation.” The first part of the process is simple:

  • Think of three words that you would want your clients to use to describe you
  • Be clear on why being described with these three words would help you sell
  • Write the three words on a sticky note and post it where you can see it every day

Now comes the hard part. You need to find ways to demonstrate you are the living embodiment of these words through behavior. For example, if you want the client to see you as responsive, acknowledge emails within an hour. If you want buyers to see you as an expert in the industry, offer proof by sharing information on the subjects where you claim expertise. If you want to build a brand that includes superior listening skills, make it an iron-clad policy to avoid interrupting.

With 30 days of active practice, you’ll be well on your way to building your personal brand.

You and your company both are part of the product and experience that customers choose to buy. You may not be in charge of how your company is branded, but you are 100 percent in charge of your personal brand.

How are you presenting yourself and managing customer perceptions? What should your personal brand communicate if you want to sell more? How do you translate your personal brand into behaviors?

Or, as Tom Peters said back in 1997, “What do you want to be famous for?”

Good selling.