Types of Chameleons for Sale
The first time someone told me that a good sales rep is like a chameleon, I vehemently argued against the notion that sellers would ever “change their color.” How disingenuous! My position was that the best sales reps are authentic, true to themselves, transparent and consistent in how they represent themselves and their companies.
I’ve come around. No, I haven’t changed my mind (or my color) on this one. But I have realized that these two qualities are not mutually exclusive. I still hold firm about the need to be authentic in selling because robo-selling just doesn’t work. What I’ve learned, though, is that it is possible and even essential to adapt my style to the people I’m selling to… without giving up who I am or in any way misrepresenting myself. This is a fine line, so let me explain.
In a way, I’ve always understood the need to adapt to others. I did it instinctively. As I defined “being myself, ” I noticed that empathizing with others and modifying my style choices to communicate effectively are parts of me that I value. There have been times when I have withheld adapting to others and times when I have tried too hard and forced myself to adapt in ways that were not comfortable or authentic. Both extremes took me down the path that felt disingenuous.
Being true to myself includes naturally adapting to others, making space for their style and preferences. It makes me (gasp) a chameleon! And I’m okay with that. You see, a chameleon doesn’t really change. Only its appearance changes as it blends into its surroundings. For the chameleon, this is a matter of survival. Perhaps that could be true for sales reps, too.
Sales reps who pitch the same product the same way over and over again fail to connect with prospects and customers. Sales reps who pitch what they want to sell seldom fare better in forming genuine connections. I’ve observed both types, and I’ve heard both types justify their selling style with comments like “This is who I am. Take it or leave it.” Some go further, saying they’ve chosen the selling profession because it’s one with lots of freedom to be yourself.
I’m not buying it any more. I think it actually boils down to a lazy, lackadaisical way of doing business. Being a chameleon requires a lot more effort than doing what you please, how you please.
Buyers want us to be chameleons. This isn’t about being fake or manipulative. It’s about being tuned in and responsive. What we hear from empowered buyers in the new age of selling is that they want (and even demand) sellers they can trust. At the heart of trust is connection. Being a chameleon enables you to connect and, therefore, to be trusted.
At the risk of being misunderstood, let me magnify this distinction even more. I am not talking about putting on an act, turning on the charm, or schmoozing to gain favor. The stereotypical con artist behaviors that give our profession a bad name are exactly the opposite of what I’m suggesting here. Adapting your style does not mean you are trying to fool someone. It is the equivalent of speaking more slowly when you interact with someone who has a different first language than yours. It is a courtesy similar to yielding in traffic even though you’re in a hurry. The purpose of adapting is to make room for someone else to be in the relationship with you.