Back about 30 years ago, a close friend introduced me to a small group of people at a party. He jokingly told the group an old cliché: “Be careful with Kelly he can sell ice cubes to Eskimos.”

Well, inwardly that cliché had always bothered me because I’ve always been conscious of never being a slick, smooth talking con man. To the contrary, my opinion of selling is you do what you can as an expert advisor to help your buyer make a well-advised decision.

So, in a jovial tone, I explained, “Of course I’d never try to sell ice cubes to Eskimos—unless they were tired of drinking ice water filled with junk.”

Then I looked at the group and asked, “If you were an Eskimo, would you not like to meet the man who could bring you ice that wasn’t filled with animal and fish droppings, dirt or salt. And after that, would you not want to become his friend?”

At this point, everyone was nodding in agreement. So, for fun I continued with, “Now I’m thinking this would be a great time to introduce the Eskimos to sodas and hard liquor to use up this new supply of purified ice cubes.”

While that got a laugh, it led my friend to say, “See what I mean?” So, once again he missed the point of ethical sales. In my jest, I had proved both sides of selling, unethically (selling dirty) and ethical (selling clean).

If you believe you have something that will help the purchaser and you are fair and honest in how you explain it, you are doing your buyer and yourself a service. But before you can proceed to educate and demonstrate your product or service, you have to have that person either like you or respect you. Hopefully both, but one will do. That’s where “Becoming A People Person” comes in.

Getting a person to like or respect you is easier than most think. First, understand you don’t have to have a charming personality, a quick whit or a wonderful smile to achieve likability. Those traits help, few have them naturally. The rest of us have to develop other skills that include understanding what makes a person like or respect another.

Here’s the short answer: People like people who are interested in them. The great trusted sales advisors always find a way to get clients to talk about themselves. Get them to talk about their children, pets, hobbies or favorite sports team and you have a person who wants to talk to you.

As an example: I was talking to Matt Spieler, editor of Floor Trends, about famous people we had met. Matt told me he had a chance to meet former President George H.W. Bush, who was a guest speaker at retail flooring convention hosted by Beaulieu.

As it turned out, the press from the various flooring magazines were granted 15 minutes as a group to interview the President in a private setting. As you could imagine this was an unusual circumstance and one that put most of these reporters out of their realm.

After a few awkward questions from the other reporters, Matt recognized the questions about world events were boring the President being that it didn’t have any effect on the conference at hand. Matt remembered the President was a big baseball fan and asked him about his favorite sports team.

As the story goes, the bored President perked up and spoke at length—even asking Matt who his favorite team was and then proceeded to tell a story about the time he sat in the owner’s box of that team. Plus, the whole event became fun for the President.

Here was a case where several people were in an uncomfortable situation and someone finally broke the ice by asking a question totally unrelated to the situation and, in the end, got the respect of the former leader of the free world.

On a much smaller level we need to allow customers a way to relax with us. In a recent column, I was shown in a sports car in front of my store. Getting this guy to like me was as easy as asking him if I could get in his classic car.

While I admit that was too easy, it is an example of how easy it is to become a people person. Finding common ground is always my first choice to relax and open up an awkward situation. Most people who walk into a store are uncomfortable and not looking forward to meeting a salesperson.

My other easy openers have always been things like paying attention to what people wear. Do they have a team cap or jersey; are they wearing a medical uniform; do they have kids to have fun talking about; is there a dog sitting in the driver’s seat of their car?

Because guess what? I myself happen to like kids, cars, pets, sports and the people who work at noble professions. Just recently a county sheriff pulled up to my store in his Dodge—in what would I call a fast mobile. So I started out by asking him if he could beat—in a race—our local Loveland police’s new rocket looking motorcycles. With a smile, he said proudly, “They’d beat me off the blocks, but I’d take-’em down the stretch.” Now the cop and the sales advisor found some common interest and a bit of fun.

As a last resort, if you can find no common interest to start out the relationship, simply ask the one question that they have to tell you more about themselves and their situation: “Tell me what you’re trying to achieve?” Then listen and prove why you are now their trusted expert by solving that problem.

Being a people person can be that easy. Thanks for reading.


Based in Loveland, Colo., Kelly Kramer is an author, inventor and owner of Kelly’s Carpet Wagon. He is a 27-year veteran of the flooring industry, with 25 of those years as a retail sales advisor. To contact him with questions or to book him for public speaking engagements, call or email:
(970) 622-0077