We often forget that the act of selling is about creating a preference to work with us instead of our competitors. Mindshare equals wallet share, and the intangibles that follow are a large part of what creates this preference.

Likability And Rapport

For a very long time we said of salespeople, “You need to be known, liked and trusted.” And for that same very long time this was true. Now it is only partially true. You also need to create economic and strategic value and have insights and ideas that benefit your client and their business.

If you are going to displace your competitors,  a large part of that decision will rest on whether the contacts who own this decision have positive feelings about working with you in the future. Those expectations will be shaped by the early meetings where you share your insights and build a consensus.

Imagine this scenario. There is one salesperson you like. You can easily see working with them on a daily basis, so much so that you would hire them to be on your team if that were possible. A salesperson from another company is smart, but you wouldn’t want to work with them every day. If you have a choice of doing business with someone who is likable and with whom you have rapport, all other things being equal, you choose the person you want to work with, especially if it is over a longer term. Rapport matters because relationships matter.

There is one other area of likability: there is a major difference between being likable and “needing to be liked.” Having a pleasant personality is one thing, being a people pleaser is another—and detrimental to your success. Needing to be liked makes people avoid difficult conversations and conflict at all costs. Being likable means you possess the ability to connect with people, to listen to and understand their needs, to care about them and make them feel important, and to be pleasant to be around. These things make it easier to discuss the difficult issues where conflict is present. Being likable is a competitive advantage. Needing to be liked is an enormous disadvantage.


Your dream client has a choice of working with a self-oriented person who projects that they care more about getting ink on paper than the better results they need, or a person who is bent on helping them drive better results and will be accountable for doing so.

Why would they choose to work with someone who treats them like a transaction? Possessing the attribute of caring makes it easy to prefer to work with you, especially over a complacent provider who long ago gave up caring and believes they have an absolute right to their client’s business.


It’s unlikely that anyone would prefer to work with someone who is pessimistic, cynical, skeptical and unengaged over someone who is the opposite in every way. When you are courting your dream client, they are deciding whether they want you on their team. Who you are matters as much as or more than what you sell. You demonstrate who you are by how you sell. Having a positive, optimistic, future-oriented, can-do, will-do, “I own it” attitude helps to create a preference to work with you. But if you are so unengaged with your work that you have no passion for what you are doing, your prospective client will recognize it.

Many others who write about sales are applauding the idea that you no longer need to be the gregarious, outgoing, smile-on-your-face, shine-on-your-shoes salesperson of the past. Let’s correct this mistake. The truth is that if those attributes are phony and being employed as tactics, they are to be avoided. But know for sure that you do need to have an upbeat, engaged and enthusiastic energy. You need to have a positive attitude that is seen and felt to create a preference for you. One last word: your attitude has to be seen and felt in every client interaction. You can have a day off, but you cannot have an off day.


I once had a prospective client say to me, “I can’t believe you drove all the way out here to see me. You didn’t need to do that.” In fact, that is why I did it; I knew no one else would drive that far for a meeting. As you might expect, we ended up doing business together.

We live in an age when technology is a dominant factor. All of us, without ever making the conscious decision to do so, now live behind three screens. We are almost never without a computer in front of us. If we are away from that screen, we have a tablet close at hand. And we are never, ever more than 36 inches away from our smartphones. Using email for sales conversations is to exchange effectiveness for efficiency—a trade-off you should never make.

If you are trying to create a preference to work with you instead of your competitor, having a presence will tip things in your direction. The person who shows up is the person who is committed to the client and their business. The person who takes the time to see the client’s facility, to meet the stakeholders and develop relationships, and to understand their business and their needs is the person who is stacking the deck in their favor. Showing up is an indication that you care, that your prospective client is important to you. Someone once said that a large part of success is merely showing up. Those words have never been truer than they are today.

Your Process

The process with which you engage your client can be an advantage. I recently received an email from a salesperson who was struggling to win clients. His process consisted of asking the client for the opportunity to give them a quote for his services. His request was continually rejected. This approach is an extreme example of a salesperson in B2B sales transacting as if it were a B2C sale. The process here does not in any way create value for the client.

Think about the opportunities you have to create a preference to work with you and your company and to have the client believe that your solution is the one that will serve them best. The first opportunities are sales interactions with the client. What do you do with those interactions? Do you help them understand why they should change, how they should do something different, what their choices are and how they might produce breakthrough results? Do you serve them by knowing how to help them with a process, ensuring that they know what commitments they need to make and how those commitments serve them? Are you consultative, or are you sometimes something less than that?

Ability To Lead

Leadership is not something that sales organizations train their salespeople in. We don’t think about salespeople as leaders, but that doesn’t mean the client doesn’t recognize and value a salesperson’s ability to lead. If we had to roll up all the reasons that your dream clients may be dissatisfied with their current partners, you could put them all under one label: “a failure of leadership.” That failure paves the way for a competitive displacement. Why? Leadership is taking accountability for producing a result.

If your dream client’s existing partner has not been willing or able to lead their team and the client’s team in producing better results, your leadership creates a preference to work with you. Odds are, your competitor doesn’t demonstrate leadership.

One of the primary questions your dream client is considering when they choose you to displace their current partner is whether they believe you will produce the better result you promise. They want to know that you are going to move heaven and earth to produce that result, working with them to influence their team to make changes, and working with your team to ensure that they execute. They want a partner, not someone who will disappear once they sign on the dotted line and leave it to someone else to deal with the challenges that may arise.


If your dream client knew how to produce the better result they needed, they’d already be producing that result. If they knew how to have the internal conversations and build consensus around that initiative, they’d already have done so. Moreover, if your competitor knew how to help them do better and cared enough to force the issue, your dream client would not need you. But none of these things are true, and this is why you have to be resourceful enough to figure out how to help them produce better results.

Your resourcefulness needs to come with a good bit of initiative. Throughout the process of working to displace your competitor, you have to prove that you are proactive, that you are buttoned up, detail oriented and working to be in front of any challenges.


In life, it is the little things that are really the big things. It is sometimes the smallest of gestures that make the largest of impacts. A handwritten card is something different from an email thanking the client for their time and their help. A text message to ask your dream client for their coffee order on your way to meet with them is caring in action, exceeded by remembering their request and not asking before your next meeting. The call to follow-up consistently made. The small commitments consistently kept.

A Sense of Humor

If there is an intangible that over indexes on producing a preference, it is a sense of humor. I’ll generalize this attribute even more and suggest it is the ability to entertain. Your dream client has to live with you after they hire you, and you need to be someone with whom they want to work. That said, why would they want to work with a humorless bore?

There will always be issues that arise when you are pursuing and serving your dream clients. The person who can inject a little levity into those situations without appearing to minimize the challenge has a significant advantage when it comes to creating a preference. This levity can remove some of the stress and can demonstrate your optimism and the confidence that together you will resolve the issue.


Excerpted from Eat Their Lunch: Winning Customers Away From Your Competition by Anthony Iannarino with permission of Portfolio, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © Anthony Iannarino, 2018.

Anthony Iannarino is an international speaker, sales leader, creator of The Sales Blog, and author of The Only Sales Guide You’ll Ever Need, The Lost Art of Closing and his newest book Eat Their Lunch. He leads high-performing sales teams and speaks to sales organizations nationwide. He lives with his family in Westerville, Ohio.