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9 Ways to Lose Your Client's Trust

Liston Witherill
Liston Witherill
16 min read

Building trust is critically important in every sale, and there are three main ways that you can do that. But there’s a flip side to building trust: breaking it.

In this episode, you’ll learn the three main mechanisms to break – or build – trust, and the most common ways it’s broken. Trust comes down to three main components:

  1. Ability – are you capable?
  2. Integrity – are you honest?
  3. Benevolence – do you care about me?

You’ll easily break trust if you prove yourself to be incapable. So if you can’t talk intelligibly about your products or services, or if you give demonstrably bad information, or you just say “I don’t know” too often…your clients won’t believe you have the ability to help them.

You’ll also break trust if you’re dishonest. The easiest ways to do that is to fall short on your commitments, deceive your clients about you stack up to the competition, or just pretend you have no faults or shortcomings.

Lastly, you’ll certainly break trust if you can show you don’t sincerely care about your clients. The easiest way to do that is to not understand their business, not pay attention when they’re talking, or never act against your own self-interest.

Of course, avoid all of these pitfalls if you want to keep your clients’ trust. I recommend it.

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

9 Ways to Lose Your Client’s Trust:

Full Transcript

Cross-selling is the practice of selling additional products or services to existing clients. You know this already probably, it’s a really good idea too. Cross selling, it allows you to raise your average client value without changing your acquisition costs, which are very, very high and selling to existing clients is really profitable, because you’ve already paid to acquire them, you’ve already gone through the hard work of establishing trust, and so it’s really profitable to cross sell. Now, this is nothing new. Businesses have known this for hundreds of years and it’s a core part of their strategy, but, and this isn’t a surprise I’m sure, it can be done the wrong way.

Coming out of the financial crisis in 2008, Wells Fargo emerged as one of the healthiest banks in the US. They took far less risks along the way, they weren’t as leveraged, and they were poised to overtake many of their biggest competitors afterwards. In 2011, just three years later, and under the legacy leadership of Richard Kovacevich, Wells Fargo began to change. See, Kovacevich took over in the early 2000s and implemented some very strange new ideas in the world of finance.

Kovacevich believed banks had customers, not clients, and stores, not branches. He emphasized sales more than any other leader in the financial industry to the point of putting his own interests and Wells Fargo’s interests above their clients. He quickly implemented a cross selling policy whereby Wells Fargo employees were incentivized to pitch additional products and services to existing customers. The pressure for them to cross sell was so high and the quotas so ridiculous that some of the employees began to cheat. The amount of cheating and the types of cheating they were doing were pretty mind blowing. Employees began ordering credit cards on behalf of their customers and without their knowledge. Wells Fargo employees also opened unauthorized deposit accounts, which required them to even make transfers of their customer’s money from their existing account to the new one without their knowledge or approval. It’s estimated that over 3.5 million fraudulent accounts were opened.

By 2016, a national news story hit the LA Times and the US government sued Wells Fargo. According to a recent report in CNN Business, the bank is at risk of losing up to 30% of its customers today. This is being recorded in June of 2019. That represents $93 billion in deposits, or about 7% of their total assets. This trust issue is a big one. Now clearly they broke the trust with their customers, who I will now be referring to as clients as I normally do. Less than three years later, Wells Fargo still has a massive market cap, but they’re losing clients and continue to have a broken culture that further undermines the trust that they’ve worked so hard to build since their founding in 1852.

Breaking trust with your clients can jeopardize your sale or even be an absolute catastrophe. In today’s episode, I’ll share with you the absolute best ways to break trust with your clients, and of course what to do instead.

Welcome to Modern Sales, a podcast for entrepreneurs, business owners, and sales people 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.

Trust is more important than ever. You might think the glut of trust signals would build trust for you, but you’re only partially right. And what do I mean by the glut of trust signals? Well, with the internet, your company has online reviews, they have a whole history of press releases and reputation building. There are new stories about your company if you’re big enough and you’ve been around long enough, but even if your company has all five-star online reviews and a century of reputation building and a sterling public record, selling services partially comes down to you. Not to mention that all of those factors that I previously mentioned can be faked. Online reviews are often paid for, reputation management and damage control are full time careers, and the public record can be scrubbed of wrongdoing, and, let’s be honest, people can forget, especially after a few years pass. All of this means that building and maintaining trust in the sale is absolutely critical and it is your job and it is the job of the people on your team.

Now, in the last episode, I reviewed the three primary ways you can build trust with your clients. In today’s episode, I’ll go over the primary ways you can break trust with your clients. So if you want a primer on building trust, go back and listen to the last episode. Today, I’ll be talking about how to break it very effectively.

So let’s start with a bit of review. Perceived trustworthiness includes three main elements, ability, are you capable? Integrity, are you honest. And benevolence, do you actually care about me? Going back to the Wells Fargo example from the beginning of the show, they systematically broke all three of these elements with at least a subset of their clients. They showed themselves to not have integrity. Now that’s obvious because they were lying and committing fraud, that’s a pretty easy one to see. Were they benevolent? Not so much. They didn’t care about me as much as they cared about themselves. And were they able to demonstrate ability? Well this one’s a little trickier. Plenty of people still believe Wells Fargo has the ability to manage money, but ability is questioned when the mandate is to sell rather than serve, as in do people even remember how to do their job properly?

In this way, Wells Fargo has a huge problem and if you work for them and you’re listening to this, you’re probably aware of all these things. I would recommend to you you address them head on. And hopefully your company doesn’t have this in common with Wells Fargo, and that is they broke trust at the corporate level. And as I stated in the previous episode, there are two levels of trust, the trust your client has in the company that you work with and the trust they have in you. Now, I want this episode to be really practical and so I’m going to be talking to you about the things that you can control expressly.

And so here are the ways, the nine ways, that you would do really well to break trust with your clients. If you want to do that, just follow my advice here. Do these nine things and I promise you no one will trust you. So the first category of trust is ability. Do you demonstrate ability? And so a great way to break trust is obviously to do the opposite. Number one, you can’t talk intelligibly about your products and services. So a great way to bring trust into question is to show that you don’t know a whole lot about what you’re selling. You don’t know how it works, you don’t know what it’s done for people, or even worse yet, the clients that you’re talking to and the potential clients you’re talking to know more about your products and services than you do. This is a great way to break trust with your clients.

The second way to bring your ability into question is to answer too many questions incorrectly. In the age of the internet, our clients have access to a lot of information. Your company has probably published a whole lot of info about what it is that you do, about your services, about your products, about your case studies and success stories. In other words, it’s often possible for your clients to go out and fact check the things that you say. It’s often possible for your clients to get answers that you either were not forthcoming about or that you got wrong. So, just answer too many questions incorrectly and your clients will not be confident in your ability and that will start to break the trust.

One way you can remedy this is if you know you don’t know an answer, you can say the words I don’t know. Now, somewhere along the way, this myth was being perpetuated that saying I don’t know is a sign of weakness or ineptitude. I personally don’t understand it. What human being is capable of knowing everything? And what idiot would believe a human being is capable of knowing everything? Certainly not someone that I would want to work with. You don’t have all the answers and that’s okay. So if you don’t know the answer to a question, tell your client you don’t know, but you’ll find out and you’ll get back to them.

Now with the number three way to bring your ability into question, I’m going to directly contradict myself. And that is by saying you don’t know too often. So what is the threshold for saying I don’t know too often? Really hard to say, but what is clear is on those common questions that you can predict will come up over and over and over again, you should know the answer. Because if you follow the advice that I just gave you when you do say I don’t know, you’ll find the answer and give it to your client. And you should learn from that over time. The key idea here is you should know the answers to the most common questions that come up.

So just to review, if you’d like to break trust by bringing your ability into question, don’t talk intelligibly about your products and services, do answer questions incorrectly, and constantly repeat the phrase I don’t know.

Now, for integrity, there are three really obvious ways to break trust by showing that you don’t have integrity. And the first way is to break the commitments you make. Now I’ve talked before on this podcast about the fact that people buy more than your services and products. They’re also buying reliability, they’re also buying predictability, they’re also buying security, and if you regularly make commitments and then not come through on them, your client can be assured that they can’t trust you.

In my sales training, there’s this idea called consistency, which comes from the book Influence by Cialdini. And the idea is basically people are persuaded by others who are consistent and people are persuaded to act when they have to do so consistently with their previous actions and commitments, which is to say something really obvious, we’re more likely to trust people who do what they say they’re going to do. We didn’t need an academic study for that one. And yet all too often, people do break the commitments that they make. Small things like, I’ll send you a proposal on Friday, and then it shows up two weeks later without notice. Small things like followup emails, small things like I’ll add you to my newsletter, small things like I’ll have my legal department review your NDA. All of these things that are normal parts of the sales process, they’re little micro commitments along the way and so we want to come through on those to show that we do have integrity, that we are trustworthy, that we are honest. We’re going to do what we say we’re going to do.

The second way to bring your integrity into question is to deceive your client about how you stack up to the competition. Now, this is a really common one and it’s been done to me more times than I can count when I ask someone, “Hey, I was also looking at your competitors product or service. Do you think this particular feature is better for me?” Now there are a few ways this can go and I’m sure you’ve dealt with this before.

One way is you can say, “I’m not really sure. Can I ask you some more questions before I answer that?” To me that’s the best answer. We want to make sure we fully understand what this person is asking. Another way it can go is you can say definitively, “Yes, absolutely. We’re way better than the competition for your particular use case.” Now the hollow answer would end there, but a substantive answer would not end there. It would follow up with, “And here’s why I’m confident that this is better for you than the other product or service you’re looking at.”

But there’s another way you can answer this question and that is by saying clearly, “You know what? Actually our competitor is better than us in that one particular area.” Now why would you do that? Well, one reason is because it’s disarming. People don’t expect you to be that honest, but there’s a really practical reason to say that if it’s true, obviously. We’re not playing games here, but if it’s true, one reason that you would say that is because it will demonstrate to your client that yes, you have integrity, you are honest, and it also demonstrates the third category, benevolence, which I’ll be getting to next. But that’s number two. You deceive your client about how you stack up to the competition. Very, very, very bad idea, but a great way to break trust if that’s what you want.

And the third way to bring your integrity into question is that you don’t admit your faults or shortcomings. How dare you be a flawed human being? Now again, I don’t know where this comes from, but some people even, dare I say, managers think that there are human beings in existence with no faults or shortcomings, and therefore words like that should never be uttered. Now, if you’re a manager who imparts this onto your employees, how dare you? Come on. Be honest about yourself. You’re not that great, I promise. And if you personally have a hard time admitting your faults or shortcomings, again, I want you to know that that builds integrity. Admitting a fall or a shortcoming shows vulnerability. It’s not easy to do for a lot of us, and somewhat paradoxically admitting that you’re not perfect actually makes people trust you and like you a lot more.

So the three ways to break the integrity and break the trust that you’ve built. Number one, break the commitments you make left and right. Just willy nilly breaking commitments everywhere you go. Number two, deceive your clients about how you stack up to the competition. People love that. And number three, don’t admit your faults or shortcomings. Pretend you’re perfect. Everyone will believe it.

Now, the final section here, another great way to break trust is this idea of benevolence. And the first way to show that you don’t care about your clients and you’re not acting benevolently, try saying that five times fast, is that you don’t understand your client’s business. Sales is no longer order taking. I know that can come as a shock. I know that there may be some disbelief when you hear that right now, but the fact is it’s really easy to order even very expensive complicated stuff online without talking to people. So why in the world should anybody want to talk to you? This is a question you should be asking yourself over and over again.

If you have any kind of business development or marketing or service as sales role, you need to ask yourself what’s in it for the other person to talk to you? It’s not to simply restate the stuff that’s on your website. We don’t need you for that. What do we need you for? Well, if you can understand your client’s business, you can provide insights and help them understand just how bad the pain is that they’re experiencing and all of the potential upside they would get from doing one of the hardest things there is to do, which is changing the status quo, buying your stuff, taking the risk to work with you. But if you clearly don’t understand your client’s business, and this comes not through strictly talking to this particular client, but it comes through industry experience.

So if you work with manufacturing firms, they’re going to have a similar set of problems that you can help them solve. If I work with people who sell services and technology firms, I know some of the things that they deal with on a regular basis. Understanding our client’s business helps us reach insights more predictably and faster. It’s a pattern recognition technique, and one way to communicate that you absolutely don’t care about your client obviously is to not understand their business and also demonstrate that you’re not that curious or interested in doing so. So that’s number one, don’t understand your client’s business.

The second way to show your clients that you don’t care about them is if you can’t summarize your client’s current situation and core pains. So in the first phone call you have with your client, maybe the first meeting, second meeting, certainly by the end of two hours with them, you should be able to summarize the basics of their current situation. What pains are they experiencing? Why are those so painful? What have they done to try to change them? Why is now the right time to do something new about it? And why in the world of all of the millions, billions, or trillions of things that they could be doing with their time, why are they talking to you? Now, you go to the trouble of learning all of that information, this should give you a template to help understand and customize what it is that you do to sell based on the value that your client would get from working with you.

The only way that they can get value is if they have a pain. People buy to improve their condition, which necessitates the idea that they’re feeling a pain. If they’re not feeling the pain and if they’re not feeling enough pain, they’re not going to buy from you. So one way to show that you absolutely don’t care about your clients is if you go to the trouble of learning all of this stuff and then you can’t summarize for them their current situation and their core pains.

Now the last way to show your clients that you don’t care about them and therefore break trust is if you’ve never acted against your own self interest. Now, I’m not sitting here telling you that you have to act against your own self interest in every sale. That’s definitely not true. The best sales are win-win situations, right? You satisfy your self interest, your client satisfies their own self interest and their company’s interest. You get paid at a price that’s profitable to your company and as a fraction of the value that your clients capture, right? That’s what a win-win situation is.

But there will be times when you’re challenged, going back to section two about integrity, when you’re challenged about how you stack up to the competition, when you’re challenged about your own faults or shortcomings. There will be times when you’re asked to compromise and if you do act against your own self interest, that is a very positive signal that you care about your clients.

One of the ways I do that really often is to tell people if I think they are not yet at the level of maturity that would indicate that they’d be a good client for me. But I also educate them about why that’s the case and what they would need in place for us to be a good fit. Now, why does this make me trustworthy? Well, because I’m telling them I’d love to work with you, but I can’t take your money right now. It’s a bad time for us to do that, and the reason it’s a bad time for us to do that is because you’re not as ready as you could be to be extremely successful. So if you really want to show your clients that you don’t care about them, don’t ever, ever under any circumstance act against your own self interest.

Now that concludes my nine ways to break trust with your clients during the sale. And remember, there are three things you need to do to establish trust, and that is demonstrate ability, integrity, and benevolence. And the nine ways that you’re likely to break trust along the way is if you can’t talk intelligibly about your products and services, if you answer too many questions incorrectly and if you say I don’t know way too often, those are ways you can bring your ability into question.

As for integrity, number one, you break commitments you make. Number two, you deceive your client about how you stack up to the competition. Number three, you don’t admit your faults or shortcomings. And finally, the ways that you can break trust by demonstrating that you don’t care about your clients and you’re not acting benevolently. Number one, you don’t understand your client’s business. Number two, you can’t summarize your client’s current situation or their core pains, and number three, you’ve never acted against your own self interest.

Thank you so much for listening to this episode. I of course, am Liston Witherill, your host of the show. I want to thank you for being here and listening and I wanted to let you know there are two ways that you can support the show if you’re interested. Number one, I’d love it if you went to iTunes and left a review of the show. It’s a little bit of a pain. It works best on desktop or if you’re using an iOS device. You cannot do this from an Android device unfortunately, but iTunes is still one of the places where people can discover this podcast and others like it. And the second thing you can do is just tell someone. Share this episode or your favorite episode of Modern Sales on social media, email it directly to someone, bring up the share button in the app you’re using to listen to this and share it with someone through a text message or WhatsApp or however you communicate. That would be fantastic. If you think this would be useful for someone you know, please do share it with them.

And finally, I wanted to say thank you for listening, for being here, for supporting. I am grateful that you are here and you’re giving some time, and my goal is to make this useful and applicable for you. So thank you so much for listening, and I look forward to being in your ear in the next episode. Have a fantastic day.

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