Olympic Reflections: Aristotle and London 2012

You will often find the expression in books and articles on business development: “People buy from people they like”. Curiously, no one ever seems to suggest that “People buy from companies they like”. No matter how hard a company tries to present a “friendly face” to its client base or target market, the only real faces that people actually get to see are those of the firm’s employees. And in the world of professional services where the sales process is largely face-to-face, the people element is absolutely key to growing the business. If your client-facing staff do not connect in a positive way with your client base, you are fighting an uphill battle.

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I recently had the pleasure of acting as a volunteer at the London 2012 Olympics. Each of the 70,000 Games Makers had their own specific role (I was driving a foreign dignitary) but the impact of the group overall was staggering. Since the end of the Games, it has been said many times and by many different parties that the volunteers ‘made’ the Olympics. Yes, the venues were fabulous, the athletes (especially Team GB) performed wonders and the organisation worked well, but a key element in the overall experience were the smiling faces of the volunteers in their purple and pink uniforms at the various venues around the country – offering a one-to-one connection with visitors from around the globe.
The volunteer idea was something new for the modern Olympics, but the ancients also knew a thing or two about the importance of that ‘human element’. In his ‘Art of Rhetoric’, Aristotle wrote about three key elements in winning over an audience: Ethos, Logos and Pathos. Ethos is all about setting out your credibility, your reputation. Are you reliable, trustworthy? Logos is about the words you use to get your point across as well as the facts and examples you use to support your arguments. Finally, Pathos is about the connection you make with your audience on an emotional level, your sensitivity to their needs and situation.

Do they like you?
There are so many parallels here with the world of selling – after all, what is selling if not an attempt to win over an audience? Let’s quickly look at each of the three elements in turn. A company’s Ethos is established over a long period through its market positioning, the way it presents itself and the way it handles difficult situations. A company’s Logos is effectively the product it offers, and the way it sets out the reasons why you should buy from them and not somebody else. But where does a company get its Pathos from – from its people!
Taking things a step further, think of a formal pitch – written or verbal, it doesn’t matter. The company’s Ethos will typically be set out in an extensive credentials section with all the great deals references and the awards they have won. The Logos is expressed in a detailed explanation of the products or services to be offered, and an assessment of how or why they are better than the competition. But where does the Pathos come in? Well, that will depend entirely on your people. Put simply, Ethos and Logos can be covered off at company level, but when it comes to the fundamental element of making that human connection, you simply have to have the right people on your team. If you do not, all the market reputation and great product design in the world will not to convince your clients to buy from you. And put another way, your corporate brand will count for little unless the individuals on your team are able to express their own personal brands in their contact with clients.
So, if you are looking to make a real success of your business, just reflect a moment on London 2012. You have the market reputation; you have the products and services to offer. Now you just need to make sure that your front-line staff are bringing that touch of ‘volunteer magic’ to their relationships. Some may be naturals, whilst others may need some training. If all else fails, you can always try dressing them in a purple and pink uniform!