Relationships or Specifications?

It’s a fact which doesn’t sit well with some: the work itself doesn’t matter quite as much as who is doing it.

Especially when we’re talking about service businesses. People buy based upon your likability — not whether you’re the absolute best, or whether you’re the cheapest.

At first glance, this seems unfair. After having this discussion with a few folks, I’ve realized that many more people disagree with this statement than I first suspected. Because, if all things were equal, shouldn’t someone hire for value — getting the best work for the money?

Yes, if all else is equal.

But things are not all equal. And there is a hidden, intangible value to relationships that often trumps specifications.

Let’s take an example. A midsize e-commerce brand is looking for a marketing agency to help them run their ad campaigns. Perhaps they find a few potential agencies, do some research, and set up meetings with a few of them. If things go as they typically do, the brand will quickly filter out the “underperformers” (agencies which can’t deliver, or don’t have the technical capacity) and end up with a couple solid choices. There are lots of agencies out there who do have solid technical skills.

So it comes down to the last two quality contenders. What factor is going to break the stalemate?

It’s how much the decision-maker at the brand actually likes the personality of the marketing agencies that they’re talking to.

Seems unfair, right?

Your personality shouldn’t affect the quality of your work, right? Who cares whether you’re super likable or not, as long as you get the work done? But at this point the work quality is irrelevant — there is always someone better, and there is always someone cheaper. Fortunately for the vast majority of us, who aren’t always the best and aren’t always the cheapest, all things else aren’t equal.

The intangible advantage of personality is trust.

Trust is a complex social factor that every human develops as a skill, over the course of your life. We start to see patterns, remember past behaviors, develop a sixth sense, and eventually learn to spot trustworthy people (and usually, we like these sorts of people).

Hiring a company or person you trust — and like — is critical because it’s insulation against problems down the road. Jiving with someone is critical because you likely understand how they think, and they understand you. Sharing things in common means you can develop an initial social interaction into a lasting relationship, and it suddenly becomes much easier to get anything done. You have support when you need it, and you will gladly give support when they need it.

Marketing and sales can seem very tangible on the surface, but that’s the least important part. The most important part is what’s under the surface, the relationships and trust and brand and authority. The social lubrication that allows things to happen.

An engine can be perfectly functional. But try to run it without oil, and it burns up within a few minutes.

That’s the power of likability.

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