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How to Build Trust in Sales

Trust Building in Sales

blog author
Written by Mike Schultz
President, RAIN Group

I received a call the other day from someone selling website tracking software. We already use a marketing automation tool like this. I mentioned it to the seller, who went on a rant about how he visited our website, recognized the tool we use, and how we weren't doing it right.

I didn’t know this guy. He knew nothing about our marketing and sales process or the types of customers we're trying to reach. Yet he felt he knew enough to tell me we're doing it all wrong.

There are always ways to improve, but this seller called me out of the blue—without knowing anything about my business—to tell me I was doing it all wrong.

The seller was soon speaking to a dial tone.

Buyers (like me) are willing to accept the advice of sellers, but only to the extent that we trust them. In this case, there was no relationship, no trust, and no reason for me to listen to the seller. The result: no sale.

If you want to influence how a buyer thinks and what a buyer does, you must guide them out of their comfort zone and into riskier waters. Leaving the comfort zone can be, well, uncomfortable. The first step in getting buyers to go there with you is to start building trust.

Sellers who focus on advice, persuasion, and being provocative, without considering how much trust they've built first, see their sales efforts crumble. Trust is the foundation. Without it, it’s too easy to alienate a buyer you don’t know well.

As trust grows and deepens, great things happen.

5 Benefits of Trust in Sales

1. Direct Access to Power

Imagine for a minute someone has been working with you for decades. You've been through thick and thin together. Because of this person, you've achieved some of your greatest successes. You may not talk frequently, but then an email from them pops up in your inbox: "I came across an opportunity you should consider. Can we talk?" You would say yes.

Of course, you can’t go into every sale with a contact you’ve known for years. In these cases, it pays to understand buyer decision roles and which one your contact is. You'll need one or more champions on the buying team to close the sale.

2. Indirect Access to Power

Now picture the same situation, except the email reads: "I believe you know the folks who lead your European division. I came across an opportunity a few weeks ago that I'm guessing they might like to know about. Would you mind making an introduction?" When trust is high, people say yes.

A foundation of trust is one of the biggest factors to generating referrals. When you’ve established yourself as a trustworthy seller, you can tap into your network and expand your connections knowing your reputation will precede you.

3. Your Advice Gets Taken

If you told someone, "This will work, it's a good bet," 27 times and it turned out exactly as you said, the person is likely to accept that 28th piece of advice. If you've proven yourself trustworthy in the past, your advice is more likely to be taken seriously, even if your product or service is brand new and untested.

Sometimes, this means providing support beyond a sales pitch. If you can provide value and insights to your buyers, even when it might not be ideal for closing a sale, you can go beyond the usual buyer/seller relationship and become a trusted resource.

4. You Get Selected

Let's say that buyers have already bought into an idea. Sometimes there's still competition to beat. It's possible that multiple sellers are offering them the same idea. Maybe you weren't the one to bring it to them, but the more trust they have in you, the riskier other options seem in comparison.

5. You’ll Succeed with Difficult Conversations

Sometimes we receive advice that's tough to hear. Imagine someone you trust deeply says, "I know you won't want to hear this, as you're very invested in path A and think it is best, but I have to say: I don't think it's a good idea."

While you might be defensive and upset, you probably wouldn't flat out refuse to hear what they have to say. If you know this person is knowledgeable and has your best interests in mind, you're going to listen.

But now imagine that someone you have just met says the exact same thing (like that seller did about my marketing automation tool). This person doesn't know you and may not know your industry or business strategy. You might just stop listening and toss this person out of the meeting. Same situation, same delivery; different trust, different result.

How to Build Trust

When we talk about trust, sellers frequently say, "Well, my buyers trust me already. I'm trustworthy!" That may be the case, but could the trust be stronger? And while you may be trustworthy, you have to build trust from the beginning with each new buyer.

So when you're selling, first focus on building trusting relationships with buyers. They’ll be more likely to take your advice and move forward with you when the time comes.

This is easier said than done. Today’s buyers are busier than ever and have access to more information and choices. This makes their attention harder to get and their trust harder to build.

While researching our 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 four factors—capability, dependability, integrity, and intimacy. Following are seven ideas for building trust across them.


Every seller thinks they're capable, but not every seller is. 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 capability and buyers don't. They're more skeptical.

Read: How to Build Trust with Skeptical Executives

Trust in a seller's capability 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 capability, they won't accept the advice.

Demonstrating your capability in the following 3 ways will go a long way towards building trust:

1. 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, the market, and the buying process itself. If you want to guide the way, you need to make it your business to be a source of expertise in these areas.

2. Know your impact model

Sales winners craft compelling solutions. The key to making solutions compelling is a concrete return on investment case, though ROI is only part of the equation. Be prepared to discuss, in concrete terms, the results buyers can expect to achieve. Too often, sellers fail here.

In our research, 66% of buyers report their purchase decision is highly influenced when sellers make the return on investment case clear to them. Yet, incredibly, only 16% of buyers find sellers are very effective at doing this.

If you don't know your impact model—how you can affect their business—buyers won't trust your business sense. Your impact is comprised of quantitative and qualitative factors, so be sure to consider both in your conversations with buyers.

3. 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. 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 your advice and they take it, you start a journey. Sometime soon they'll ask themselves, "Was that good advice?" If it was, you now have a track record. They'll be more likely to seek and take your advice from here forward.


To a buyer, a new seller is a complete unknown. They can promise the world, but the buyer has no way of knowing whether they’re capable of fulfilling those promises. If you’re unprepared or undependable, it can undercut any trust you’ve built.

4. Honor commitments

Woody Allen once said, "Showing up is 80 percent of life." Successful sellers build 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.


Everyone has been sold a bill of goods 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—if anything, they're more skeptical of sellers than ever. To establish integrity:

5. 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.


Sellers think they're competent, but buyers might not. Sellers think they have high integrity, but buyers might not agree. These last two ideas for building trust help with both by building personal connections:

6. 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.

This is all about finding opportunities for interaction and collaboration. It could be an in-person experience such as playing a round of golf together, but in-person meetings are few and far between these days. In today's virtual world, you'll have to get creative. This could look like using a virtual whiteboard to work together to define a problem or craft a solution or come up with the strategy to present a solution to a wider buying committee.

7. 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." 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.

The Power of Trust in Sales

Trust can be difficult to quantify. You might not even recognize the point at which you’ve built trust with your buyers. But building trust is a skill just like any other in sales. If you work to cultivate it and back it up with results, you’ll expand your network, create new opportunities, and win more deals.

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.

Last Updated July 25, 2023

Topics: Sales Conversations