Some of my most pleasant memories as a child are of playing with wood building blocks. Once I mastered the basics of stacking one block on another, my goal was always to build as high as I possibly could. Being the quick learner that I am, I soon discovered that the stronger the foundation, the higher each stage of my skyscraper could be. Sacrificing width for height (I only had so many blocks) would result in skyscraper collapse.
The same building-block rules apply to selling: the stronger and broader the foundation of the relationship and trust, the higher and sturdier your sales success. The question then becomes, “How do we build this foundation?” Especially, how do we begin to build trust with a prospect we meet for the first time?
Building Trust during the Sales Process
In my work with clients at RAIN Group, I often assist in their sales conversations with their prospects. Not too long ago, I participated in a sales meeting for a technology product provider (our client) with the management team of a buttoned-down investment banking firm (their prospect). We were the third of three companies presenting that day (always good to be last) and had arrived a little early for our meeting. Through the glass window into the conference room, we could see one of competitors walking through their dog and pony show scheduled to end at noon. Noon came and went, then 12:15…12:20…12:27…until finally they walked out.
After a five minute break we were ushered in. Following normal introductions, our client asked the managing partner, who was looking a little tired and frustrated, “I know we have an hour, but if we can get through our presentation by 1:05 so you can get back on schedule would that help?” The managing partner replied, “If you can get done in 30 minutes, I will buy you all lunch!”
After 25 minutes, our client noted that he was five minutes from the end of the 30-minute time frame, and asked if his prospect had anything they needed to hear that we hadn’t covered. The response: “Thank you for your sensitivity to our time. This is good stuff, let’s keep going.”
We ended up going through lunch. The meeting ended. We left.
Our client had established both rapport and trust by simply promising and delivering on a timely presentation, and showing concern for the client. Ultimately, the prospect agreed to buy their products.
If I asked most sales people to estimate how long it takes to build trust, I might hear. “Longer than I have.” But true sales professionals realize that without trust, they will sell very little. With trust, their ability to influence and sell is greatly enhanced. These people approach selling with the patience necessary to build trust. However, you can start to build trust in each sales conversation by attending to a few basics.
- Tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Few plan on lying intentionally, but do you ever leave out crucial facts? Do you hedge your answers when it comes to those tough questions? Do you embellish a little too much? If you don’t start with complete honesty in mind, and complete honesty in communication, the prospect will sense it, and if you do win the deal, you might find yourself getting ‘found out’ later.
- Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know.” Sometimes you might not know the answer to a question, the right path to take, or how something might work. By admitting you do not know, but communicating your willingness to get the answer, you establish credibility and honesty.
- Deliver on your promises. How many times do you hear “Underpromise, and overdeliver?” Great advice, but not just for the delivery of your product and services. Keep your promises, starting with showing up on time and prepared for the first meeting. After meeting, follow up as promised. Send the proposal on time. All these actions during the sales process help the buyer to see that you are someone on whom they can rely.
- Demonstrate (don’t just talk about) your expertise. Actions speak louder than words. When prospects experience what you have to offer, it speaks volumes. Whatever you sell, the buyer has to build trust in you and it. White papers, demonstrations, case studies, testimonials, examples…all help the buyer to trust in the outcome of what you have promised.
- Leave self-interest at the door. The more a buyer perceives you to be self-interested, the less inclined they are to trust you. There is nothing wrong with sales person self-interest. People may find their sales careers fulfilling, but they don’t come to work for charity. They come to make money and have success. It’s OK for you to win, but it’s not OK for you to put your win ahead of the customer’s interest. Play to win, but do so in the context of a client win.
It’s no fun having a deal collapse because everything was great except the level of trust. As you work through your sales conversations, you’ll uncover need, craft solutions, and communicate value. Never forget that these must sit on a foundation of trust if the prospect is going to buy anything, ever from you.