Lots of things have changed in the world of sales, but some things have not. Building trust was important 50 years ago, and it's just as important today.
When buyers trust sellers, they depend on them, listen to them, give them access, and spend time with them.
Trust is critical for sales success. But today's buyers are busier than ever and, at the same time, have access to more information and choices. This makes their time harder to get, and their trust harder to build.
While researching our new book, Insight Selling, we found that building trust is one of 6 key drivers of client loyalty and one of the top 10 things sales winners do. Yet most sellers agree they could do a better job of deepening and strengthening trust.
Trust in sales is built around three factors—competence, integrity, and intimacy. Following are seven ideas for building trust in each.
Every seller thinks they're competent. Amazing, even. But they're not. This is called "illusory superiority" in academic circles. People think they're better at things than they are. What does it mean for trust? Sellers overestimate their competence, and buyers don't. They're more skeptical.
Trust in a seller's competence means buyers believe you can do what you say you can. We're not talking about trust in the product or service, but trust in the seller as a person. Buyers need you to bring ideas to the table, to help them find solutions to problems, and give sound advice. If they don't trust your competence, they won't accept the advice.
Demonstrating your competence in the following 3 ways will go a long way towards building trust:
- Be an expert. Too many buyers report that they don't trust sellers because the seller doesn't know their stuff. As a seller you need to know your buyers' industries and businesses, competition, marketplace, full set of customer needs, and more—inside and out. You must answer buyers' questions about your offerings and the market, as well as about the buying process itself. If you want to guide the way, you need to make it your business to be a source of knowledge in all of these areas.
- Know your impact model. Sales winners craft compelling solutions. The key to making solutions compelling is a concrete return on investment case. Be prepared to discuss, in concrete terms, what results buyers can expect to achieve. If you don't know the impact model—how you can affect their business—buyers will not trust your business sense.
- Develop and share a point of view. Let's say a buyer says, "Ok, so what should I do?" If you don't have an answer for that—if you're unwilling to develop and share a point of view—they won't see you as a trusted advisor. Part and parcel of being an advisor is, you know, advising. If you know your stuff, and you know your impact model, buyers will start to trust your competence. Then they'll want your opinion.
Once you give it and they take it, you start a journey. Sometime in the near future they'll ask themselves, "Was that good advice?" Let's say it was. Now you have a track record. They'll be more likely to seek and take your advice from here forward.
Everyone has been sold a bill of good and then not gotten what they were promised. You may think your integrity is off the charts, but buyers have been burned before and are suspicious before they even meet you. It's up to you to demonstrate you have integrity. Buyers won't just assume it. To do so:
- Demonstrate moral principles. Successful sellers always do the right thing, even in morally ambiguous situations. This can mean turning down business, suggesting alternative (and less profitable) solutions, or referring business elsewhere. Buyers trust sellers who have their best interests in mind.
- Honor commitments. Woody Allen once said, "Showing up is 80 percent of life." Successful sellers earn buyers' trust by showing up and honoring their commitments consistently. Do what you promise and do it well. Make sure buyers have clear expectations for how you operate.
Sellers think they're competent, buyers don't know it. Sellers think they have high integrity, buyer's don't know it. The last two ideas for building trust help with both, and does more:
- Create shared experiences. Shared work experiences expose buyers to your thinking, your work style, and your work product. Also, the more time you spend with someone, the more they tend to like you (assuming you are likeable…but that's an article for another time).
- Be a person. Lots of sellers are told, "Don't talk about politics. Don't talk about anything personal. You can ask about the weather, but that's it. Anything else might get you in trouble." Yeah, it might, but if you don't connect with people on a personal level, you're leaving aside a critical component of building trust. Don't be afraid to connect on a personal level.
Sellers who don't work on building trust are missing out on a powerful differentiator. Trust is a major part of the sales equation, and it never gets old.