The Limits of Charm in Business

By Bryan Orr

We all know people that have walked up to you, and you just want them to like you. They have a certain mystique or magnetism that quickly disarms any cynicism you may have about them.

I’m not talking about the used car salesman type who talks fast and keeps trying to “close the deal.” Those people are the opposite of the person I’m talking about. This person doesn’t need to ask you to buy from them. You may even find yourself asking them when and how you can buy from them.

When you meet someone like that you are in the presence of a “charming” personality.

Charming means likable, pleasant and attractive but it also means that “to gain influence over,” which is to say that, not only do you find yourself drawn to the charming person, you may come under their influence.

Charm is a valuable asset at all levels of business and personal life. It’s a nuanced ability, and as much a valuable skill as anything else you’ve learned. Heck, there’s even a podcast called “The Art Charm” that focuses on charm as a skill set. If you’re naturally a “charmer,” sure. Many aren’t, and learning this skill will help you.

Learning usually starts by observing people who already have it and emulating them. Humans are creatures of observation and habit, we see things in other people and we begin to act like them over time. You pick up “charming” traits by spending time with charming people.

In my first full time job, I worked for a manager that I looked up to. He spoke with just a touch of country “twang” and before long, I found myself emulating his management style as well as his twang. I still find it comes out in my voice as a completely involuntary reaction to people with that accent. Unless I’m with my wife. I don’t get too far with it before my wife points it out and makes fun of me.

But there is a limit.

While charm may be one of the best tools to get your foot in the door, or even to make that first sale it is not THE BEST tool.

Charm is a “stage-setter.” It influences how a new customer will view your actual abilities, but at the end of the day, it will be your actual abilities that earn a customer’s long-term trust. This is why some business types and segments focus on charm and others focus on execution and reputation. It all depends on the length of the business cycle and the type of transaction.

This is why the automobile sales industry has the reputation it has. All charm, very little substance. There is little repeat business, so the immediate impression has much more value than the long-term confidence from any technical automotive-related knowledge or skills.

On the opposite side of the spectrum would be business to business service providers who have huge contracts with relatively few large customers. There is no way Exxon / Mobile or Walmart are going to ink a multi-million dollar deal with a vendor unless they have a REASON to believe there is substance behind the charm. That trust typically comes from FACTS: Hard skills and proven execution.

In service businesses, your work typically has a payoff in repeat business, either with that particular customer, or with friends that were connected to you by that customer. Being that guy that, they “liked a lot, but didn’t really know what he was doing,” isn’t going to get you many repeat services. Charm is valuable, but unlike technical expertise, cannot carry a long-term business cycle on its own. Being the guy that “Grunted a couple times, but went right in, and it just worked,” is a far better recommendation, if it comes down to one or the other.

More often than not those that rise to the top and achieve excellence start with either charm or execution and learn the other side of the coin as they grow. They can get a new customer by turning on the charm but they, build the business by substance and the reputation that comes along with it.

It’s important to be charming, it’s even better to be dependable.

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Bryan Orr
Bryan Orr is a blue collar business owner who helps executives and business owners use storytelling to communicate powerfully with customers and staff. Bryan is a founder of an award-winning small business in Orlando, Fl as well as sought after podcast producer and consultant. Get to know him at Bryanorr.com.

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