It’s always the little things, isn’t it? You’ve done hours of research and spent weeks trying to get an appointment with a key decision maker – and then you flub the introduction to your boss. Or a friend introduces you to a great prospect at a busy social function and you promptly forget his name. These kinds of faux pas can easily derail a sales effort, which is why it’s just as important to hone your business etiquette skills as it is to practice your sales presentation.
“Business etiquette isn’t a series of trivial dictates to be tediously memorized,” say Susan Bixler and Nancy Nix-Rice, authors of The New Professional Image (Adams Media, 2005). “Instead, it is the art of appearing poised and gracious while you make others feel comfortable.” Here are some of the most common business etiquette challenges and their suggestions for how to overcome them.
Introductions. In sales, the opportunity to introduce yourself and others occurs almost daily. Here’s the one rule you need to know: First say the name of the person to whom you want to show the greatest respect or honor. For example: Mr. CEO, I’d like for you to meet our newest sales associate, Joe Smith. Joe, this is Mr. CEO. The higher-ranking person always gets the greatest respect with one exception: Customers and prospects always receive greater respect than anyone within your organization, even the CEO.
What about those awkward moments when you need to make an introduction and can’t remember someone’s name, or it seems clear they can’t remember yours? In the latter case, just reintroduce yourself and add a short clarification to help jog the other person’s memory: I’m Todd Rowland with Ace Insurance. We met at the Chamber meeting last week. In the former case – someone joins your conversation group and you can’t remember his or her name – just come right out and apologize by saying something such as: I know we met at the conference last month, but I’m sorry I can’t recall your name. I’m Sam Jones and this is Hal Johnson. You’ll appear thoughtless if you try to gloss over it and make no introduction at all, say Bixler and Nix-Rice.
Remembering names. Of course, better than having to finesse a reintroduction is to remember names in the first place. Here are three things Bixler and Nix-Rice say you can do to improve your memory for others’ names:
Be sure you heard the name correctly. When Mr. Mumble introduces himself, stop and ask for clarification or spelling. “The person will be flattered that you care enough to get it right,” say the authors. By spending this time learning the person’s name, you’re also more likely to remember it later.
As quickly as possible after hearing it, develop a mental picture related to the name. For example: Sandy is a sandy beach; Rich has money sticking out of his pockets; Jim is lifting weights at the gym
Then use the person’s name “naturally throughout the conversation, but not so often that you sound the like the stereotype of a used-car salesperson,” say Bixler and Nix-Rice.
Small talk. The term small talk is misleading because its affect in a business setting can be anything but small, say the authors. “Conversation is a potent means to build cordial and productive relationships,” they observe, “yet many people avoid business social situations because they fear they have nothing to say.” In truth, those who excel at small talk aren’t great wits, they’re great at drawing out the other person with questions that invite discussion, opinion or background. For example, asking someone where he or she lives usually results in a one-word answer. To invite discussion, ask instead: How did you happen to settle in that area? How do you feel about the school-bond issue there? So next time you find yourself in a situation where small talk is demanded, forget about yourself and concentrate on finding out about your conversation partners. When you’re truly interested and engaged in their thoughts and opinions, you’ll find small-talk opportunities to be enjoyable and rewarding.