There's no rule saying you have to like the people you sell to, but it helps a lot if they think you do. This sales story from the front line illustrates the point.
A major oil company wanted to move from mainframe based accounting software to a package which could run on the cheaper, Unix hardware. The difference in cost of hardware and software combined between the alternatives could be measured in millions of $s each year. Across the 27 countries in the planned deployment that added up to a lot of money. Perhaps $50 million, per year. But the big question was whether the relational database software together with Unix hardware could cope with numbers of users and transactions required.
Project managers from the oil company recruited big name consultants to advise them. A benchmark exercise was the solution they decided. Bring in the software vendor and all the likely hardware vendors and get them to strut their stuff - show they could cope with the volume.
Naturally the consultants were retained to manage the exercise, and the software vendor would build the benchmark test. The hardware boys would turbo charge their machines, and keep their fingers crossed.
Of course the whole exercise turned out to be a nightmare. The consultants sent in a team of guys who knew nothing about accounting, or software, or hardware. The software people didn't want anybody finding out just how fragile their product was, and the hardware boys were sat waiting for something to run. Nothing worked.
Typical in such circumstances, the consultants flew in a crew of senior managers to get the job going. They didn't of course. Those people never do. They just made a lot of noise, threatened everybody with hell fire and brimstone, assured the client of spectacular results, and then left before the next thing could go wrong.
And then two weeks later they did it again. And again, after another two weeks.
Our hero of this story is John. He was the sales rep / account manager for one of the hardware vendors. His software guys knew how to build benchmark tests. John understood the consultants had to win the argument about capability, before the software guys could win the argument about functionality, before anybody could win a deal for hardware.
He had to make it work for everybody, before he could compete for the deal.
For 6 weeks, virtually locked up in an office in Hamburg, John and his team worked on the client, the consultants and the software people, eventually assuming leadership of the whole exercise, and ultimately winning the benchmark competition. They made it work for everybody, despite the consultants and software vendor insisting they were in control.
Along the way John won a lot of friends. He went to dinner with client, dancing with the software team, bought the consulting team drinks and had lots of important sounding discussions with the managing consultant about risk management and account control. He made his main task to help the client, the consultants and the software guys get on with each other.
After the competition was finished, John sat drinking a beer with Steve, the on site consulting manager. Steve had lots of issues with his managers. Everything which had gone wrong, was his fault apparently. He disliked them intensely, and was frightened by them. If the project hadn't turned out a success he was going to get the blame.
"John" he said "it seems we've done a pretty good job here, with your help, and you and I have gotten along well. What I don't understand is how somebody as straightforward and sensible as you can get on with those managers of mine. To me they're all jerks but you seem to like them well enough, and they like you. What am I missing?"
"Well" replied John "you're absolutely right. We have done a good job, and your management are jerks."
"The point you've missed is I don't have to like people."
"They just have to think I like them."
"OK, now I understand" said Steve, and ordered another beer.
Of course he never stopped for a minute to think the same might apply to him.