In the Aesop’s fable “The Fox and the Crow,” a crow is eating a piece of cheese on a branch when it is approached by a fox who wants the cheese. The fox flatters the crow, calling it beautiful and asking whether its voice is as sweet to match. When the crow lets out a caw, the cheese falls and is devoured by the fox.
One of the most commonly used techniques in selling is flattery. It’s not unusual for a salesperson to compliment someone and say, “That color really suits you,” or “You have a great smile.” Customers still like this flattery even though they know it may be insincere.
Catholic Bishop Fulton J. Sheen said: “Baloney is flattery laid on so thick it cannot be true, and blarney is flattery so thin we love it.”
Flattery works because it boosts a person’s sense of identity and makes them feel good about themselves. Flattery makes people feel special. Who doesn’t want to hear good things about themselves?
Flattery can be a valuable business tool when you know how to use it properly. First, flattery can and should be as genuine as possible. But be careful because you can flatter and compliment people too much. If you say you are in awe of something, act that way. Don’t exaggerate.
Keep in mind that flattery doesn’t work on everyone. Some people are suspicious and don’t believe it. Others are modest and embarrassed. Watch body language like a smile to see if your flattery has worked. Flattery can create a negative impression if people think you are advancing your own interests. If it isn’t sincere, flattery will fall flat.
A recent study at the Hong Kong University of Science revealed that all forms of flattery, sincere or otherwise, create a positive image of the salesperson in the mind of a customer. As a result, we unconsciously begin to trust the salesperson more and make it easier for them to push us into making a purchase.
We have a tool at MackayMitchell Envelope Company that helps our sales force learn all kinds of interesting facts about our customers. We call it the Mackay 66 Customer Profile. We try to include all kinds of information because we aren’t just doing business; we are doing business with people. I call it humanize your selling strategy because I believe it is critical that the people we do business with understand that we see the personal relationship first and the business relationship second. (If you want a free copy of the Mackay 66, go to my website: HarveyMackay.com.)
Flattery is effective not only in sales, but in marketing and advertising. Any commercial that argues that you would be “smart” to purchase the product is a form of flattery.
Flattery can also be used at work. Genuine compliments will almost always have a positive impact. If you tell someone that they have the Midas touch, you are saying that everything they touch turns to gold, which makes people feel valuable. Other positive comments include: You made it look easy. You get things done. I can count on you. You did it with a smile. I appreciate your enthusiasm.
You can even use flattery at home. I used to praise my mom for a wonderful dinner just before I asked if I could get out of doing the dishes that night.
Charm is another form of flattery. Charming people are less interested in themselves than in the people they are with. It’s a life lesson, not just a business strategy.
The wind and the sun were having a conversation one day, which turned into a friendly competition about who was better at making things go their way. The wind said, “I am so strong, and so good at what I do, that I can blow the coat away from that man down on the ground.” So the wind blew hard, bending trees and rattling windows. But the stronger the wind, the more the man clutched his coat, wrapping it tight around him.
The sun praised the wind for its mighty power, which made the wind blow all the harder. But when the windstorm ended, it was the sun’s turn. With a smile, the sun beamed down its warm rays, until the man took off his coat voluntarily.
What the wind couldn’t do with brute force, the sun accomplished with warmth and charm. It’s a valuable lesson for anyone who has contact with people. Now wouldn’t that be just about all of us?
Mackay’s Moral: Sincere flattery can recharge another’s batteries.