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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.

In this episode, we’ll be talking about:

  • What is trust
  • How can you build trust with your prospects
  • Acting ethically to build trust

Trust, particularly sales trust, speaks to your integrity as a person. Your own self-worth is built upon being a person who is trustworthy, believable and honorable. As a salesperson, you will look for these traits in your own company and the company will look for you to be dependable and truthful.

Developing trust is essential. Without it, you don’t have a chance to get the business. With it, you’ll have an opportunity to grow long-standing, highly profitable relationships. It’s worth the effort.

Building trust does not happen overnight. It’s the many little things you do over time that help you build lasting relationships. The follow-up calls and visits solved problems, on-time deliveries and myriad thank yous all add up.

Mentioned in this episode:

Nixon Shock
Fiat Currency

For more information on remote selling and a complete list of links mentioned in this podcast, visit this remote selling article on our website.

How to Gain Trust In Sales:

Full Transcript

1971 was a big year, indeed. In 1971, something happened in the United States that is now known as the Nixon Shock. The Nixon Shock was a series of economic measures undertaken by the Richard Nixon administration. He, of course, was the president of the United States at the time, and most notably, he took the United States off what’s now known as the gold standard. Well, what is the gold standard? The gold standard was when the United States dollar was pegged to the value of gold, and in fact, there was a promise that if you lost faith or for whatever reason wanted to turn your dollars into hard gold, you could. Now, I don’t know the likelihood of that actually happening, but that was the promise. The United States dollar was backed by gold, so if we had, let’s just say, $2 trillion of currency floating around the world, at any given time, the government promise that we also had $2 trillion of gold.

This is impractical in a variety of different ways. Of course, gold doesn’t have nearly the value of, say, food, or shelter, or lots of other things that we buy with money, but at least people felt as though there was some physical backing to their money. Now, we left the gold standard in the Nixon Shock as part of a series of changes he made in 1971. Where are we now? Well, we’re on what’s known as a fiat currency, which is to say, the currency is only valuable because people, you, me, everyone who does business with you and me, those people and us, we think it has value. We trust it. We trust that, in effect, if I give you money for something, I will be able to exchange that money for something else. I also trust that, if I hold onto that money, a year from now, five years from now, 40 years from now in my retirement, maybe a little bit less than 40 years, hopefully, but you get it, decades from now, that money will still be worth something. That’s what we’re trusting.

Well, it turns out trust is a pretty darn big deal in sales and the good news is you don’t need to build nearly the trust that the United States government and other governments around the world have built in order to operate on a fiat currency. The level of trust that you have to build is quite a bit more mild than that. And in today’s episode, I’m going to be talking to you about how to build trust from the very get go of your sale.

Welcome to Modern Sales, a podcast for entrepreneurs, business owners, and salespeople looking to have more and better conversations with your perfect clients. You’ll get a healthy scoop of psychology, behavioral economics, and sales studies to help you create win-win relationships. I’m your host, Liston Witherill and I’m pleased to welcome you to Modern Sales.

Building trust, it’s absolutely a necessary part of any sale. It’s not a minor point. I haven’t talked about it before on this podcast, somewhat surprisingly, and the reason for that is as I look around and try to figure out exactly what do we even mean by trust, it’s actually quite a bit more complicated than you might think. But that’s not to say that it’s unknowable or that there are things that you can do to actually start bridging the gap and building a bridge to trust. There are definitely those things. And so, in today’s episode, I want to talk to you about things you can do to build trust. I’ve broken it down into three primary categories. Those categories are, number one, delivering on your promises, number two, demonstrating expertise, and number three, acting ethically. Now, I do want to make a point before I get into defining what I mean by each of these different ways that you can build trust, and that is that there are really two layers of trust that you have to contend with when you’re working with your clients.

The first layer of trust is their overall perception and trustworthiness that they feel in your company. Now, you don’t have a lot of control over this. You have some, for sure, but there’s not a lot that you can do because this opinion is probably well-formed before you even talk to them. And secondly, the other layer of trust is how much your prospects and your clients actually trust you. Now, you’ve probably felt this difference before when you’ve worked with someone who was very frustrated, but they sort of talked to you as if you were separate from your company.

They said, “Hey, listen, I know it’s not your fault. I’m just super frustrated with the way things have gone and I was hoping you could help me.” That’s a clear demonstration that there’s a difference in the way they look at you and your company. Some of the things I’m going to be talking about can happen at the company level, because that’s very important, and I’d even say without a baseline amount of trust or a minimum foundation of trust, no one’s going to do business with you, so that’s pretty critical. But secondly, I’m going to focus mostly on how you can build trust with your prospects and how you can build their trust in you, specifically.

Let’s get to it. The first thing I want to talk about is just delivering on your promises. That is, just do what you say you’re going to do. It sounds simple enough, but it is maybe not so easy once life intervenes. You can imagine a situation where you’re at work and something happens with your family, or a new client fire or re-ups out of nowhere, you have a medical emergency. There’s all kinds of things that would cause you to not deliver on the promises that you say you will. I’m going to come back to how to handle that if you’re not sure what to do there, because you can actually break a promise and build more trust, and I’m going to tell you how to do that towards the end of this episode.

But delivering on your promises really plays on the psychological trigger for persuasion, that is called consistency in the book Influence. What consistency says is that people like other people who act consistent with their word and they are driven to remain consistent themselves, which is just a really simple and obvious shortcut that says, if I can count on people to do the things they say that they will do, I should trust them, because if I want what they say they’re going to do for me, and I know it’s going to happen, obviously, that is a recipe for trust.

Now, there’s all kinds of questions embedded in trust, and kind of the key one that I’m starting with here is can I trust you? Let’s take the word trust out of it for a second. Will you do the things that you say you will? Now, the next layer of that is that if you say you can help me, I want to know, if you say you can help me, can you actually help me?

One of the ways to build trust in this realm is just to give first. Look, since you’re saying you can help your clients, give them a small taste of what that might be like. I offer sales training, and if you wanted some, I’d be happy to talk to you, of course. But that’s beside the point. The point is I can demonstrate some of the ways that I think about sales right here in this podcast, but when I’m on the phone directly with a prospect or a client in a one-to-one situation, I can also give them ideas and my thinking on how I would approach their problems. I’ll be covering that a little bit more in the next section about demonstrating expertise. But before I go there, when it comes to delivering your promises, I believe it’s also quite important to know yourself and to know your company.

When it comes to knowing yourself and knowing your company, do you even trust what you’re saying? I’ve heard this one before. “I have a hard time developing trust with my clients.” I ask, “Well do you believe the things that you’re saying?” And they say, “No, I think my company can’t really deliver on the promises it makes.” You don’t trust your own company. Why in the world should your clients? Now, your response to this may be, “Well, I’m a good liar or I hide it well,” and that’s probably true in some circumstances, but it’s definitely not true in all, and some people will be better at detecting the BS that you’re putting out there and others may be a little bit worse at it. But the truth is you have to get real with yourself about the promises that you can make and you feel you can deliver, and the same is true with your company. When you do get real about that, I would suggest you avoid making any promises that you don’t fully believe you can deliver on.

Which brings me to the second big way that you can build trust, and that’s by demonstrating expertise. Now, when people pay for complicated services, when people pay for large projects that take a long time to deliver and they risk a lot in order to not only pay you the money to deliver those projects, but they risk their reputation, they risk possible promotions, they risk, in some cases, their entire career track. If they’re going to put all of that on the line, they want to be sure that you are an expert, that you can do what you say you will because you have the aptitude to deliver. Let me give you an example.

If you’re talking to a client and they ask you a question that you hear over and over and over again, “How much does this cost? How does it work? What is the process? How many people need to be involved? What kind of resources do I need to provide?” All of these predictable questions. If they ask you those and you don’t have an answer, does that show aptitude? Probably not. Probably does the opposite. Whether it’s true or not, the subtext for your lack of an answer in this situation is that you may not know what you’re talking about or what you’re doing. As you might guess, clients don’t like this kind of thing. Obviously, right? They want you to have aptitude. They want you to know what you’re talking about. They want you to be prepared for these things that predictably will come up over and over and over again.

It may seem silly when I say, of course I’m biased, right? Training matters. But one of the reasons I say that is because if you’re prepared to answer a question that you hear over and over again, what you’re doing in that moment is demonstrating expertise, instilling confidence in your client by demonstrating confidence on your own and deepening their trust in you.

Now, another way to demonstrate expertise is just by having a point of view. I’ve talked about this quite a bit before, but I think it’s critical. The reason it’s critical is because, in any market, there’s more than one option. If you think you’re the only option for a client, you are sadly and gravely mistaken. If you think you are, and you think I’m wrong right now, please email me and I would be happy to prove to you that you’re not the only option. That is an open invitation, by the way. I do mean it. I’d love to have that conversation if you think you’re the only option.

But let’s assume that you’re not. If you’re not the only option, one of the ways that you can build trust is by sharing a point of view that your clients can buy into. Now, that can be a real differentiator because you may not be the only person with the type of solution that you offer, but the exact combination of features, and benefits, and delivery style, and speed, and price. All of that comes down to the point of view you had, the hypothesis or thesis that your company started from. It can also be about your personal point of view. Because we’re in a service based business, if you’re the one delivering the services, your point of view is quite important, and so I would recommend sharing that with your client and making it abundantly clear.

The next way you can demonstrate expertise is just by proving you can deliver based on your past experience. We often call these testimonials and case studies. Why is that so important? Well, no one likes to be first. I have a friend who sold a early Facebook app that allowed people to promote their business on Facebook. This is in the very early days of Facebook’s marketing and monetization strategy, say, in 2010. The way this company started is he would actually go door to door sometimes and ask people, “Would you like more customers coming into your store, into your retail store?” One of them said, “Do you have any case studies to show that your product works?” He said, “Yeah, your neighbors, right next store, the record store. They’re using us right now and they’ve seen a 60% uptick in foot traffic.” The potential client he was talking to heard that information, took it in, and quickly responded. “Yeah, but we’re a shoe store. Do you have any examples of shoe stores using your product”

Now, I love this anecdote because I think it’s so hilarious and it demonstrates a couple things. One is people have a hard time abstracting out and applying information to their specific case. If there’s any difference, some people are going to have a hard time applying it and understanding what the takeaway is and what the possibilities might be for them. The second thing is, the more targeted you can be in the case studies and the more applied you can be in how you tell the story that’s behind those case studies, the more likely people are to believe them and trust, once again, that you have expertise.

The next way to demonstrate expertise is doing what I’m doing right now, and that is to share your thinking. Share the way you think about things. Be available to people for free. My first principle in deliver on your promises was to give first. Related to that is this idea of sharing your thinking, so I’m giving you this podcast, it’s totally free, and if you’ve listened to more than one episode, you probably trust me to some degree. And if you’re not in a position to share your thinking because you work for a company and there’s rules against that, you want to be sure that their marketing department understands what are those things that need to be shared? What are the gaps in trust that your clients are feeling and why it’s important that you can make this case, why do they feel that, and make sure your company is sharing the thinking.

Now, once you’re in a one-to-one interaction with a client, you don’t need to rely on your company nearly as much anymore. You can write your own things, and if there’s rules against that in your company, here’s an easy workaround, Find an article, or a podcast or a video, or whatever form of media that you like to consume, and send it to your prospects, and comment on it, and tell them what your take is, and why you think it’s right or wrong, and how you would build on it, and how they can apply it to themselves. Sharing your thinking demonstrates your expertise, which deepens trust.

Now, the next thing I want to talk about in demonstrating expertise doesn’t perfectly fit in this category. It might be a little bit of a hack, but that’s the role of familiarity in trust. That is, we’re far more likely to trust things we’re familiar with. You may have heard of an artist named Shepard Fairey. Shepard Fairey is considered a street or urban artists. I’m using air quotes, but they don’t translate very well on audio. But yeah, he’s a street artist, and he’s famous, mostly now, for a poster he did of Barack Obama, I believe in the 2008 election. And actually, he was sued by the associated press for the image he used in that poster.

But before that, Shepard Fairey was known for these Obey Giant stickers. It was a derivative picture of the likeness of Andre the Giant, the famous wrestler. Shepherd’s theory is something that, I don’t know if he calls it this or if it’s an actual term, but phenomenology. Like, what creates a phenomenon? One of the things that he noticed was one of the key drivers and values of any propaganda is just repetition and omnipresence. Which is to say, if he could get millions of his stickers up in cities around the world and people could encounter them on a regular basis, especially with no other information, they would be much more interested in those stickers, they would stand out a lot more to them, and the stickers would start to become trustworthy intake on an air of importance, even though there was no real reason for that other than people saw them a lot.

Now, how does this apply to you, you might be wondering. Well, if you can give your clients the impression that you and your company are in a lot of places that they normally go, this is quite a bit easier to do online than in the real world. If you can give that impression, it’s an indirect demonstration of expertise. Because if you are in these places, we use the heuristic that your appearance must mean someone else deemed you credible, and trustworthy, and therefore they should too. So, the role of familiarity actually plays into your demonstration of expertise, even though it’s not necessarily a legitimate source of it.

On that note, I think it’s a nice place to transition into the third big pillar of building trust, and that is by acting ethically. Now, this is really important to me because I think ethics are something that have been lost in business. There’s no benefit that I can discern that anybody would have gotten from losing ethics from business, or at least seeing ethics wane in business. I think in a lot of ways, we’re seeing a resurgence of ethics. But the first point I want to make is just be honest. Admit your faults. Admit your shortcomings. Don’t lie to your clients. If your know that you will be there to tell them the truth for better or for worse, again, that is a big pillar of trust, going back to the initial point, delivering on your promises, will you do what you say you will?

People with ethics, people with values, for example, I do what’s in my client’s best interest. That’s a value. Those people are more worthy of our trust. The reason for that is doing what’s in my client’s best interest isn’t always in my best interest, and if I do it anyway, that builds trust for my client. That shows them that when I said I’m going to do what’s in your best interest, I’m going to help you grow your business. I’m going to help you save time. I’m going to help you make more money. I’m going to help you engage your team. Whatever it is that you do, when you give them honest feedback, and especially if it’s against your own interest, it’s now believable. That is so important. I can’t stress this enough, and it’s really uncomfortable for a lot of people to do it.

But what I want you to do if, it’s uncomfortable for you, is to trust. This isn’t a circular argument. This is to say if you want people to trust you, you have to trust them. And so, if you’re in a position where you’re having to give them bad news, where you’re having to admit, sorry, I screwed up, where you’re having to admit, no, we can’t do that for you, and here’s why. What I want you to do is trust. Some people will hear that and say, “I can count on this person.” Now, in the first section I talked about delivering on your promises, which is just to say do what you say you will, and occasionally you’ll probably break those promises.

Here’s the good news. You’re human. Your clients are, too. There is no possible way that they have kept every promise they’ve ever made in their lives. And if they say they have, they’re lying, don’t trust him. Obviously, right? But what I want you to do is if you do break a promise, be consistent. You’re trying to tell them that you’re trustworthy and that you can be trusted, be consistent. Tell them, “I screwed that up. Here’s why I broke the promise. Here’s why I don’t want that to ever happen again. Here’s what I’m doing about it.” Again, this comes down to acting ethically.

The third way you can act ethically is just to be human. Because, hey, you’re a human and your client is human. I don’t know anybody in my personal life who goes around talking in corporate speak. Now, that may be a thing at your company. It really depends on the culture and the way your company operates, but when you’re working with your clients, talk to them like real people. Drop the veneer of formality. Drop that layer of protection that you put up because we’re in, quote, a corporate environment and we have to behave a certain way. It’s harder to trust you when you do that, because I don’t know who you are. I don’t know what your intentions actually are. I don’t know what you’re actually thinking under there. And so, if you’re human, which is to say, a little bit more transparent and honest, if you do that, it conveys ethics as well.

Which brings me to the last point about acting ethically, and that is to be sincere. It’s totally okay to not be 100% agreeable. It’s totally okay to deliver bad news. We all have to do it sometimes. We all have to hear it sometimes. And universally, I would say, most of us, in the absolute overwhelming majority of cases, are better off if we know the truth. So, be sincere. That is the last way I would say that you can act ethically and help build trust with your clients.

Just to review, there are three big ways that you can build trust with your clients. Number one, deliver on your promises. Just do what you say you will. Number two, demonstrate your expertise. Give some of it away. Number three, act ethically. Be a person who you would want to trust and who you would want to know. And lastly, just be good to yourself, be good to others. This is like the golden rule, right? Do those things that would make you trust someone else. If you can live like that, if you can be like that, if you can bring that to bear in a business setting, first of all, it’s going to be a breath of fresh air and second of all, people will know you are worthy of their trust.

Thank you so much for listening to another episode of Modern Sales. I will ask you for a favor, which is if you got something out of this podcast, please do tell someone else about it. Hit the share button in your podcast app, share it with them, click subscribe so that you don’t miss the next episode, where I’ll be talking about how trust is broken, so it will be very related to what we talked about today.

Finally, as usual, I want to say thank you. I appreciate you for being here. I feel extremely grateful that I can sit here, and talk into a microphone, and you’ve listened to it. Thank you so much. It is a thrill that you share your time with me. I really appreciate it and I hope you have a fantastic day. Bye

Modern Sales Podcast