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How To Succeed as a Trusted Salesperson

Here’s my second post in a short series about trustworthy selling. One of the “critical few” skills of winning, growing and managing clients is the ability to build trust. I share insights that have helped me from David Maister, Stephen Covey and Stephen MR Covey. You’ll find the books listed at the end of this post

Throughout the phases of contact with your client or prospect, you are looking to take steps towards building trust. You do this partly through demonstrating your character and partly through demonstrating your competence. It is as these two aspects come together that your prospects and clients will decide to trust you.

Small things build trust

Think about the small things that demonstrate character in these early stages being on time, your appearance, the state of your shoes, your interest in them as an individual, the way you carry yourself. These are equivalent to the “clues” that Customer Experience (CX) experts talk about – the classic example that the turned-down end of the toilet-roll in a hotel bathroom is a tiny act, but it gives us a reassuring clue that the bathroom has been cleaned and checked!

Think too how you can demonstrate your competence early in the relationship often this is more in your intelligent and well-informed questioning than in trying to impress them by telling them things they know already.

We need to find ways to accelerate the building of trust in a new business relationship

The trust formula

In his excellent book “The Trusted Advisor” David Maister (known as “the gurus’ guru”) offers this helpful formula that explains how trust is built with clients and partners.

Clients choose to trust professionals for several reasons. The argument here is that clients trust more as they find a professional credible. The key is to be seen as a “deep generalist”. Depth may come from technical, sector or application knowledge. Breadth comes from commercial awareness, “business savvy”, networks.

In Maister’s trust formula, shown in the image above:

CREDIBILITY comes when we can make connections between the client’s issues and our knowledge and experience.

RELIABILITY builds trust when we simply demonstrate that we do what we say we’ll do. It’s about consistency and dependability. It’s about “no surprises”!

INTIMACY comes from frequency of contact and from the nature of that contact. It is not helped by over-familiarity or “product push”. It can be face-to-face or via social media.

SELF-ORIENTATION: All this is reduced to the extent that the client gets the impression that the professional is on their agenda rather than his. It’s all about customer-centricity, not self-centeredness.

So think how your character and competence are building trust. Reflect on how you are demonstrating credibility, reliability, and intimacy with your contacts. And keep on the client’s agenda not your own. All this together builds trust.

Trust dividend or trust tax

One of the most exciting aspects of trust is the way high trust saves time and money and low trust costs. It’s one of the central arguments of “The Speed of Trust” (written by Stephen MR Covey Stephen Covey’s son). He gives an example after example where high levels of trust have meant agreements go through faster, where trusted relationships reduce delays and costs.

As Professor. John Whitney of Columbia Business School puts it “Mistrust doubles the cost of doing business”.

If we can build trust and foster trustworthiness in those around us, then everyone wins. The challenge is how do we do it?

Four cores of trust

Covey talks about four cores of trust:

  • Integrity
  • Intent
  • Capabilities
  • Results

Here are some questions to reflect on as you look to build trust-based relationships.

Trust Core 1: Integrity

The toughest challenge is around integrity. As well as honesty, integrity means congruence (“walking the talk”, humility (“it’s not about being weak”¦ but the opposite of humility is arrogance”) and courage. Covey talks about ways to work on one’s integrity in 3 areas:

  • Making and keeping commitments to oneself.
  • “Stand for something” being willing to live by one’s values.
  • Be open “to be open inspires credibility and trust to be closed fosters suspicion and mistrust.”

Trust Core 2: Intent

Intent matters. It grows out of character. While we tend to judge ourselves by our intent, we judge others by their actions.

Covey encourages us to declare our intent more (“At the outset let me stress why I’m proposing this course of action…”) and to reflect on whether people can easily judge our intent from observing our actions.

Trust Core 3: Capabilities

“Capable people are credible. They inspire trust. It’s that simple”. Here are 3 “capability accelerators”:

1. Identify and run with your strengths.

2. Keep yourself relevant in a changing world

3. Know where you’re going. “At the end of the day, people will follow those who know where they’re going” (Jack Trout)

Trust Core 4: Results

Results matter. We trust people with track records, those who deliver.

Four accelerators of results based trust:

1.Take responsibility for the result, not just the activity. Hear Winston Churchill’s tough words: “It’s no use saying; “We are doing our best.” You have got to succeed in doing what is necessary.”

2.Expect to win (“optimism with its eyes open”)

3.Finish strong – win well and then be ready for the next steps.

4.Be willing to be open about your results not bragging but reassuringly confident.

Foster trust

The last words on building trust are two quotes (from “The Speed of Trust”)to encourage us to foster trust by trusting others more.

“I have found that by trusting people until they prove themselves unworthy of that trust, a lot more happens” Jim Burke, former CEO of Johnson & Johnson

“Even an overdose of trust, that at times, involves the risk of being deceived or disappointed is wiser, in the long run than taking for granted most people are incompetent or insincere” Warren Bennis “On becoming a leader.”

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Further Reading:

I recommend these books that have influenced my understanding of trust-fuelled selling:

David Maister et al. “The Trusted Advisor.”

Stephen R Covey “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”

Stephen R M Covey “The Speed of Trust”

Solomon & Flores “Building Trust in Business, Politics, Relationships and Life.”