I was conducting a workshop yesterday with hotel industry salespeople. We were discussing how to have meaningful encounters with customers, and had arrived at a section of the workshop that focused on getting beyond the facade of business roles ("salesperson" and "customer") to see each other as unique, special people.
One participant commented: "We are now allowed to talk about things beyond business, to ask about our customers' personal lives, so we can get to know them as people."
I loved how she articulated that. Her belief—which I share—is that we have arrived at a point in time where genuine human encounter in business is more valued than ever. It is accepted and expected to go beyond the strict bounds of business to create meaningful business relationships.
And, of course, this means that it is not only appropriate to seek to know a customer as a real person, it is important for the person who is selling to reveal his or her humanity. Salespeople playing the role of salespeople is out. Salespeople being themselves is in.