Trust me, I am a salesperson!

To some, the words ‘salesperson’ and ‘trust’ do not belong in the same sentence. Worse still, even the mere mention of the word ‘selling’ or ‘salesperson’ is enough to send some people into a spin. Now of course most of us in sales are a touch (OK much) more sophisticated than the old Del Boy image of sheepskin coat, slicked back hair, bling covered hands and the “Alright my son…” opening gambit, however there are still many salespeople who seem to miss some of the more subtle and very impactful ways that trust can be both lost and built.

I was having a conversation with a highly experienced salesperson the other day and we were talking about customer relationships. I asked him why he thought he had a good relationship with his customers and his response was simply that they trusted him. When I asked him to elaborate on what makes them trust him he said “we do what we say we are going to do, when we say we will do it, on spec, at a fair price with no hidden extra costs”. Now there is nothing wrong with this and it is certainly a contributing factor to a good relationship however, it struck me that this description of trust is pretty much ‘table stakes’ or a hygiene factor or whatever other term you might want to give it that describes the bare minimum any customer should expect.

For me, trust is a much more human to human connection. It’s something we ‘transmit’ (or not) every time we interact with someone, whether consciously or unconsciously. Hackneyed though the expression is, ‘people really do buy people’ and so acting in a way that engenders trust is something that warrants great care and attention.

I therefore thought I would share a few lessons I have learned about building trust over the 20+ years I have been in sales and having been lucky enough to work with some outstanding salespeople across the globe…

  1. Learn how to create value….properly! - Terms like ‘value based selling’ or ‘creating customer value’ have been the vogue in salesforce development for years. Most of the salespeople I have met have attended one or more of these programmes down the years and while pretty much every salesperson in the world talks the talk, I can honestly count on the fingers of one hand the number of salespeople I have met who have been confident standing toe to toe with a CFO and walking the walk. The reason….they are not having the depth and rigour of conversations with relevant stakeholders to uncover and substantiate the data with which to construct a solid business case.  If you are going to talk about creating value, then do the hard graft and do it properly! This means doing all the research, meeting all the right people and having all the right conversations to gather all the very specific and accurate data you need - and doing all this BEFORE actually talking about what you sell.
  2. Saying ‘I don’t know’ when you don’t know – There is often so much paranoia amongst salespeople about being asked a question that they might not know the answer to. This is crazy! You don’t have to know everything. What’s wrong with saying to a customer ‘I don’t know’ and then promising to find out? Of course, you can’t do this every time and it goes without saying you should always do your research and be thoroughly prepared however at a human level, most customers don’t mind if you occasionally need to validate an answer. In fact, it can demonstrate emotional maturity and a willingness to show vulnerability which is much more authentic and trustworthy than appearing anxious or even worse, trying to bullshit. It also breeds increased confidence on the part of a customer that when you do say something it is likely to be accurate and true.
  3. Don’t turn up only when a deal is in the air I’ve blogged on this before however trust can be seriously eroded if a salesperson only comes alive when it’s time for contract renewal or the customer issues an ITT. What about the time in between these occasional events? This provides a superb opportunity to demonstrate you actually care about your customer and their business. There might not be any immediate financial payback in terms of an order however you are still putting yourself out to genuinely help them - a highly effective way of building trust. Examples include; sharing insights and information that might be useful or putting them in touch with other departments or organisations who could help them in other ways. Remember.. ’givers create givers’ so find ways you can give without expecting something back in return. There are plenty of possibilities so get creative!
  4. Testing your understanding – I’ve picked this specific behaviour over and above asking questions because I think every salesperson knows the importance of asking questions (and if they don’t, they probably shouldn’t be anywhere near a sales role!). Testing understanding is a specific form of clarifying behaviour  – for example… “Can I just clarify, did you mean X or Y?”. It builds trust in two important ways: 1) It demonstrates to the other person you have been paying attention and are seeking to fully understand what they are saying and 2) It can actually help them clarify their own thinking in their mind. Both parties therefore leave the conversation with minimum potential for any misunderstanding.
  5. Attending to the little things - As Stephen Covey demonstrated when explaining the concept of the emotional bank account, if you take as much care and attention over the little things – for example, sending through meeting agenda’s in advance, keeping to time, sending follow-up/thank you emails etc, it will in all likelihood create an impression that similar attention to detail, care and professionalism will also characterise all aspects of working with you. 

None of this is rocket science. These are simply ways of acting and behaving that exemplify Trustability – the word we use in our work to refer to the ability to earn the trust of others. It significantly strengthens the bond between seller and customer however can often be neglected in the numbers driven focus of the modern day sales operation.