Recently I posted about how leaving well-crafted voice mail messages for a prospective customer can be a way to build trust with someone who does not know you yet. This post elicited comments by a number of people including one of the world's top thought leaders on trust-based selling, (and trust in business relationships), Charles Green.
After talking back and forth with Charlie, who is a colleague of mine, he agreed to answer a few questions about how he got so immersed in the focus on trust and offered his thoughts on why trust is so critical in selling.
Charles H. Green is the author of Trust-based Selling, as well as co-author of the classic The Trusted Advisor and the upcoming Trusted Advisor Fieldbook. He is founder and CEO of Trusted Advisor Associates.
He has an MBA from Harvard and a BA in philosophy from Columbia, and spent 20 years in management consulting. In addition to the three books, he has published articles in Harvard Business Review, Commercial Lending Review, Directorship Magazine, Management Consulting Review, American Lawyer, and a number of other publications.
Here are follow up questions I had around trust in our interview:
Lori Richardson (LR): What are a few ways to build trust as a sales professional?
Charles Green (CG): The main answer is to appear trustworthy. And the best way to appear trustworthy is to actually be trustworthy (what a concept, right?). That's why we developed the Trust Equation: (Credibility + Reliability + Intimacy ) all divided by Self-Orientation. Most of what we mean by trustworthiness falls into those four. Credible means they believe what you say; reliable means they depend on what you do; intimacy means they're willing to share sensitive issues with you; and orientation means are you in it for you or for them.
Here are some nontraditional but easy ways to do each:
Credibility – be willing to say what you don't know, rather than just always talk about what you do know.
Reliability – declare a series of small things you'll do, then do them; track records aren't just about the big things.
Intimacy – comment on what the other person appears to be feeling (e.g., wow, sounds like you really enjoyed that weekend!)
Self-orientation – be flexible about your agenda, your milestones – focus on theirs. And, of course, listen.
LR: So if you had to boil it down to one thing?
CG: If you had to boil it all down to one single thing, I'd say it's listening.
LR: What mistakes do sales professionals make that hurt their trust-building with buyers?
CG: I asked that question of Neil Rackham once, and he had a great answer: the biggest single mistake, he said, and I completely agree, is that sales people are in too much of a hurry to get to the answer. It's like we're all still in second grade ("Me, me, teacher, I've got the answer!"). Somehow we think that customers just want us to give them the right answer fast.
The problem is, if you're in too much of a hurry to name the solution, the real effect is you just piss off the buyer. Because the message you send, unintentionally, is, "Hey I don't need any more of your yakking, I've seen your situation a hundred times, I know what the answer is before you're even done talking; I've got this thing nailed down, now hurry up and take my answer so I can move along to my next call."
The really successful salespeople know that the first thing a buyer wants is to know that they are completely heard and understood. Until they know that, they're not going to trust you. After they know that, then you can start using shorthand and jumping to answers – but not until then. That old corny line about "people don't care what you know until they know that you care?" It's completely, profoundly, true.
Again, the single best thing a salesperson can do is to get really, really good at listening. Not listening to figure out the answer, or listening to mirror or paraphrase, but listening as a sign of respect to the other person. We all like to think we're tough-as-nails decisive people, but the simple truth is, we all want respect and understanding; and those few people who are willing to invest a little time to give both end up with far greater sales.
LR: How did you end up focusing on the issue of trust in your work, and why should sales professionals be thinking about trust building? Is it something we do just in the beginning of a relationship, or does it have to be an ongoing effort?
CG: I sort of stumbled into it, actually. I spent 10 years consulting, and then 10 years working within a consulting firm, and it taught me one thing, over and over – you can't make people do what they don't want to. You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink. And so on.
Then after leaving consulting, I lucked into a huge exec ed job with Deloitte, through Columbia and Kellogg business schools. I got to be a non-faculty teacher, and the night before the first session the client asked me if I could do something on the idea of a trusted advisor. Long story short, with two other authors, we wrote The Trusted Advisor two years later in 2001.
And to me, the most interesting example of trust in business was in sales. Because that's where personal psychology meets bottom line results. There's no escaping it, selling is personal. And I was really intrigued by what it meant to have personal influence. You can't get people to buy from you. What you can do is influence them, and the best watt to influence them is to understand them, and help them get what they want. What gets in the way of that is all the goal-driven behavior we've come to see all too often. Metrics, quarterly goals, CRM systems breaking things down into chunks – if you force your customer to fit into your boxes, you'll never be fully trusted. But if you're willing to back off, ease up on the reins, and just trust the human instinct to reciprocate, then you can go help your customers – and lo and behold, the majority of them will then help you. That's just how it works.
What are YOUR thoughts about trust building and being a sales professional?
This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I've been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies or opinions.
Lori Richardson is recognized as one of the "Top 25 Sales Influencers for 2012" and one of "20 Women to Watch in Sales Lead Management for 2012 and 2013". Lori speaks, writes, trains, and consults with inside and outbound sellers in technology and services companies. Subscribe to the award-winning blog and the “Sales Ideas In A Minute” newsletter for sales strategies, tactics, and tips. Increase Opportunities. Expand Your Pipeline. Close More Deals.