First of all, what is etiquette? For the uninformed, ‘etiquette’ is not a word that means you have eaten a ‘quette,’ whatever that may be. The word is derived a bit from German but mostly from the French language, and, as many of our American English words, adapted for our use.

Some would say that proper etiquette is the same as good manners. They would be partly correct. Definitions vary, but etiquette has to do with knowing what acceptable conventions of behavior and practice should apply in particular circumstances. Good manners are general guidelines put into practice.

For instance, giving your wife or husband, child or parent a warm hug upon greeting them at a restaurant would almost always be both good manners and good etiquette. However, that same warm hug would not be good etiquette or good manners, were that warm hug given to someone not interested in meeting you at all.

“Business relationships come down to having proper etiquette,” said Edward DuCoin, CEO of Orpical Group, during an interview. “In order to have a really great rapport with someone you are working with, they need to not only feel comfortable, but also a level of mutual respect.”

In business, sometimes people fall prey to the erroneous mindset that merely functional roles are good enough. After all, the salesman works for the vice-president, doesn’t he? The receptionist is paid for her time, and that should be enough, right? Wrong!

Regardless what the functional relationships may be, employees, colleagues, prospects, customers, and competitors are still human beings. They have feelings, challenges, schedule pressures, hopes and fears, just like everyone else. Suppose you are the boss. Are your employees more likely to give extra effort to meet goals for the company when they feel as though you really care about them, or when they can’t wait to find a different job?

Of course, your employees will be more productive, efficient, and more highly motivated when they are confident that the boss actually cares about them.

How does business etiquette relate to sales? Ask any seasoned and successful sales professional, and s/he will tell you: you’ve got to not only know your product or service. You must know your prospects, in terms of what they might want to buy at what price point. You must also know why your prospects might want to buy. How can you know those what’s and those whys?

Some practical pointers for good etiquette:

  • Show more interest in the other person than your own goals whenever possible.
    • Before the meeting, whenever possible, learn about the interests and accomplishments of the other person.
    • Ask questions of the other person regarding their interests. Treat them as an expert, and don’t try to display a superior knowledge to theirs about anything.
    • If you are asked questions, answer them accurately and with humility.
  • Use good eye contact whenever possible. If talking on the phone, imagine you are looking at the other person, and speak accordingly.
  • Smile when you first greet the other person, and reveal your genuine pleasure in the experience of having a conversation with the other person. (If that sentiment isn’t genuine, think through and adjust your own attitude before arriving. You’ll be glad you did!)
  • Don’t use flattery, which is vague and generalized praise such as ‘you are so great.’ It might feel good to the recipient of the flattery, but it might also cause them to believe your goal is to manipulate their feelings for some unscrupulous motive.
  • When appropriate (and it will be in some way if you are paying attention) pay specific compliments for behavior, achievement, awards granted, or some other genuinely valid point of congratulation. The other person will feel genuinely appreciated, instead of feeling manipulated.
  • Call the name of the other person a few times during the discussion, and do so respectfully, in a way that expresses the dignity and value you ascribe to them. This will also help you to remember their name!
  • Respect the time of the other person. Whenever possible, arrive early. If the meeting is a phone conference, be as well prepared as possible, and then make the call a just a few minutes early.

What does this all mean? First of all, great sales professional, a great leader, and a great executive have this in common: they know how to ask appropriate, interesting, timely questions and really listen to what is being said, to what is not being said, to the tone of voice and what sort of emotional language is used, and more.

“Open communication is key,” said DuCoin. “The most rewarding relationships stem from being able to give constructive criticism, along with being able to share new ideas with someone you know will be honest with their critique, as well.”

Beyond that, great managers, executives, and sales professionals pay attention to body posture and body language whenever they are physically present with those with whom they wish to have good business relationships.