Tag Archives: Trust

How to Gain Trust With Customers

In a conversation a few weeks ago, I heard a phrase that, frankly, I was hoping had made it to the dumpster of old sales philosophies.  There is an antiquated mentality in sales that says “Buyers are liars.” This mindset teaches salespeople to be skeptical of everything a customer says and to never fully trust them. The logic is that if you don’t trust the customer, you won’t get taken advantage of or misled.  It’s a fear-based mentality, and as you know if you read my work, “Fear” is the worst four-letter word that starts with “F” in sales.

However, this distrustful approach is fundamentally flawed. You cannot build trust and have an authentic relationship with someone if you start from a place of skepticism and withholding trust. Trust has to be reciprocal – you have to give it in order to earn it. Salespeople who say they want their customers’ trust, but don’t extend any trust themselves, are being hypocritical.  And yet, this is something I hear a lot.  Let’s talk about how to REALLY gain trust with customers.

If you go into every sales interaction suspicious of the customer’s motives and truthfulness, the customer will pick up on that vibe. They’ll sense that you view them as a liar or adversary to be conquered rather than a relationship to cultivate. Why would they then open up, engage authentically, and place their trust in you?  Short answer:  they won’t.

The role of a salesperson should be that of a trusted advisor and solutions consultant, not someone just trying to tap the customer’s wallet, regardless of the result. When both parties enter the relationship with trust and authenticity as the foundation, better solutions are reached that serve both sides’ needs.

I’ve said before that “You can either embrace transparency or have it forced upon you.”  Well, if you want to gain trust with customers, you’d better embrace it.  In other words, you need to lead by example and be the first to extend trust to the customer. This means:

  1. Asking Open-Ended Questions & Really Listening: Too often, salespeople fall into the habit of talking at the customer instead of having a dialog. They make assumptions about what the customer needs instead of taking the time to truly understand through asking open-ended questions. Asking and sincerely listening shows you trust the customer to openly share their real needs, sources of dissatisfaction, desired future state, and thoughts.  In fact, let’s take this to another level.
  2. You must ask open ended questions, even when the answer might harm your ability to make a sale:  I’ve seen salespeople who are normally good questioners shy away from asking certain questions, because the answer might disqualify them as a solution to the customer’s needs.  Don’t do that.  “Putting yourself out there” in this way is a way to gain trust with customers – and it’s a way to avoid making deals that you’ll regret down the road.  Don’t ever be afraid to walk away from deals that will have a negative result for you or for the customer.  Many times, you’ll win that business back down the road.
  3. Being Fully Transparent About Your Business Process: Instead of obfuscating next steps or giving vague half-truths about pricing or logistics, be fully upfront and transparent about every aspect of the process. Lay out the exact path from where the customer is today to ownership and implementation of your solution. Hedge nothing. This open communication demonstrates you trust the customer can handle the full truth.  Keep in mind – your role is to help the customer navigate their Buyer’s Journey.  They already know what THEIR process is and where they are in it; you shouldn’t hide YOUR process from them (and of course, your process and their Journey should mesh).
  4. Being Upfront About Pricing & Value: Manipulative tactics like holding back pricing until the end, or overpromising value and downplaying costs, demolish trust. Be accurate and upfront from the start about pricing and quantify the concrete value/ROI. Trust the customer can make an informed decision in their own best interest.  Keep in mind:  Your customer CAN discover a price for your stuff – or your competitor’s – without a salesperson’s intervention these days due to technology.  If they have to resort to technology, you have made yourself unnecessary.  Don’t bitch when they treat you that way.

In today’s world of open information access and buyer empowerment, trying to “control” the sales process no longer works. In truth, it never really did – the customer always had the real control – but it’s definitely easier for customers to kick you out of their Buyer’s Journey now.  If you want to succeed in this world, you have to get rid of fear-based techniques, embrace transparency, build trust, and engage customers in an open and authentic sales conversation. When you lead by demonstrating mutual trust and transparency, you’ll get the right deals done – deals that make everyone happy that you did business, and deals that make the customer look forward to doing business with you again.  And isn’t that what we’re really after?

The Most Valuable Commodity You Can Market

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.