From time to time, I enjoy engaging practiced salespeople and sales managers in conversation about selling on a deeper level. One such conversation that happened this week centered around the question, “what is the most valuable quality salespeople can bring to the table?” Answers ranged from “product knowledge” to “likeability” to “good communication,” and on into “expert questioning” before one of the salespeople hit the correct answer – the answer that trumps all of the above.
That answer is trustworthiness. The reason it is the trump card is simple; if the customer doesn’t believe what you say, it doesn’t matter how well you know your subject matter, and if the customer doesn’t trust you, they won’t answer questions honestly. Trust, then, is a prerequisite for all activities that center on communication – selling in particular. In that spirit, this week I’ll share a few methods for building trust with customers, but first I have to share one of the most outrageous stories of a salesperson ruining his customer’s trust in him. It’s too good a story not to share.
It seems that this salesperson was employed by a cleaning company that was providing janitorial services to a group of hospitals. The hospital management liked him a lot, and liked the service provided. They believed in him and the quality and integrity of his company. Then came a charity golf tournament.
As a friend of mine (who happened to be in the same fivesome as this salesperson) explained, “It was a typical five-man scramble; one guy would hit into the sand, one into the woods, one way into the rough, one guy would dunk a ball and one would get stuck in a tree somewhere (sounds like my own lack of a golf game wouldn’t have been out of place – but I digress). The salesman would hit first on each hole, then drive the cart down the fairway to ‘spot’ for the team. When the rest of the group had hit and went down the fairway, a ball would have magically appeared in the middle of the fairway with the salesman explaining that one of the shots ‘kicked’ into the fairway.” Yep – he was cheating in a charity golf tournament. But wait – it gets better.
It seems that the key decision maker for the hospital account was also in this same fivesome, and what was happening wasn’t escaping him. In fact, immediately after the 18th hole, the manager left in disgust, skipping the post-tournament party. Slick Salesman wasn’t done, however. He did the same thing a month later – at a tournament sponsored by the hospital. After getting a feel for this guy’s character, the hospital management began watching everything that the janitorial company did, and lo and behold, they found bad billing, cleaning that was supposed to be done that wasn’t, and other problems. Long story short, the salesman is no longer employed by the company, and the company no longer has the account. The moral of the story? Some salespeople believe that trust is solely generated by work habits and activities; the truth is that anything you do that shows a lack of integrity can ruin your trust. In that spirit, here are some ways that you can build trust with your customers:
Do what you say, and say what you will do: This is so painfully obvious that I hate to even say it, but I encounter salespeople on a daily basis who think nothing of not fulfilling promises in a timely fashion. When you make a promise to a customer, they remember it. When you fail to fulfill that promise, they remember it FOREVER. It’s not that tough; only promise what you can actually do, then DO IT.
Do the right thing, even when you think no one is looking: Someone once said that this was the very definition of integrity. Sometimes, you’ll be tempted to behave in ways that you would never think of doing if you knew a customer was watching; guess what? They might be. Several years ago, I was in Minneapolis making calls with a salesperson as a favor to a branch manager of the company I worked for. On our second call, the customer got a look at my salesman and immediately threw us out. It turns out that, the night before, the salesman had been out at a bar, got a few drinks in him, and started a conflict with another patron over a particular seat at the bar. Huge stuff, right? Well, it turned out to be. The other patron turned out to be the person he wanted to sell to the next morning. Behave like a jackass in public at your own peril; you never know who is watching.
Keep your big yap shut when it needs to be: These days, customer confidentiality is huge. Salespeople are regularly trusted with company secrets of their customers. Unfortunately, many salespeople are “Instant babbler, just add beer.” I’ve seen salespeople who think nothing of telling me incredibly confidential details about their customers – stuff that their customers would probably have a heart attack if they knew the salesperson was repeating indiscriminately. If you want to continue to have your customers confide in you, you must respect and value that confidence by keeping it.
Respect your customer’s boundaries: Sometimes, there are pieces of information that your customer doesn’t want to give, or places they are unwilling to take you. If that’s the case, consider it a measure of the increasing bond of trust when your customer eventually gives you those pieces of information or takes you those places. Continue pressing immediately for them and your customer will back off.
Of course, because trust is such a huge subject, there are many more ways to build it. However, this has hopefully given you some things to look for in conducting yourself and building trust in your customer base.