Sales and Sales Management Blog

July 6, 2009

Boost Your Sales: “Building Trust in Sales: the Win Win Solution,” by Charles H. Green

Filed under: Client Relationships,sales,selling,trust — Paul McCord @ 7:20 am
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Building Trust in Sales: the Win Win Solution
by Charles H. Green

 “Trust and sales” sounds to many people like an oxymoron—they don’t belong in the same sentence.  To other people, trust is something you develop slowly over time, in order to successfully sell later.

The truth is simpler, and much more exciting. You develop trust in sales by selling in a trustworthy manner.  Let me say that again: you don’t develop trust in order to sell—you develop trust in the act of selling. 

This is exciting because it means trust and sales are not an either-or proposition: they actually can go together.  It means the best trust-building is also the best selling; and the best selling, I would argue, builds trust.

To explain how to build trust in sales (and thereby sell more) let me set some context in terms of how people buy, and how salespeople frequently obstruct the natural buying process.

How Customers Buy

Suppose a teenage acquaintance of yours comes to you for advice about dating and relationships.  “What should I say?” they might ask, or “What should I be doing?  What are the big no-no’s?  How do I know if (s)he likes me?  When should I call them back, or not?  Basically, what are the rules of dating and relationships?”

Perfectly reasonable questions, of course.  And if you have some experience yourself, and sincerely want to help this young person, and have a bit of time, my guess is that you will do two things. 

First, you’ll give them a few tips.  But mainly, you will say something like, “You know, the best thing you can do is relax and be yourself. People like people who are genuine, and comfortable with themselves. Don’t memorize things to say, or to do; just be who you are, and ask what (s)he likes to do, or thinks about, and then talk about that.  Enjoy yourself, and assume this will be the first of many conversations.

That would be very good advice.  It so happens that the very same advice applies to another kind of relationship—the commercial buyer/seller relationship.  Because commercial relationships are about money—but they are also, profoundly, about people.  The rules of people engagement don’t change because money is involved—in fact, they become more critical because money is involved.  The more money, the more risk, and the more we fall back on our instincts about who to trust. 

Buying—including modern, B2B, complex-sales situations—is about as emotionally driven as it always was.  There isn’t space enough in this article to cite all the evidence, so I’ll just offer three quotes.

Jeffrey Gitomer is fond of saying, “People buy with their heart, then justify it with their brains.”

Bill Brooks and Tom Travesano wrote, “People vastly prefer to buy what they need anyway from those who understand what it is that they want.”

Finally, some readers may recall the old phrase, “No one got fired for buying IBM.” 

Many more studies suggest buying behavior is heavily driven by emotions like fear and trust, but the best proof probably lies in your own gut instincts.  Most of us recognize that cognitive processes are NOT what drive buyers; they are what allow buyers to claim the real process was justified, rational, objective.  Most buyers won’t admit, even to themselves, that they buy emotionally—but in fact, they do.

How Sellers Sell

If customers buy emotionally, then it would seem obvious that sellers should sell emotionally.  Interestingly, they usually don’t.  Which raises the question—why not?

Of course, some sellers do sell emotionally, but in the B2B space, it is not the norm.  The much more common approach views selling as a linear transactional process—suitable for breaking down into tasks and data, and complete at the transaction level.

By this view, the selling and buying process consists of a series of questions and answers, constantly defining and narrowing down customer needs, features and benefits.  The focus is on efficiency—hence the emphasis on things like, screening, and closing success at each stage.

And deep below most sellers’ assumption about rational process-based decision-making lies one last assumption: the belief that buyers and sellers are locked in a zero-sum competition.  That what the buyer gets comes at the expense of the seller.  That the seller can never be completely honest with the buyer because their interests are opposed.

But what if a seller can free himself of these assumptions?  What if a seller did not feel bound by a linear, cognitive process, but could engage the emotions? And what if the seller did not feel she was in competition with the buyer?

It turns out those are some of the characteristics of trust-based selling.  It is more in tune with how buyers prefer to buy; and it provides better results to sellers.

Building Trust in Sales

As I said at the outset, the best sales don’t draw down on trust—they actually create it.  So—how does one do that? 

Creating trust isn’t a simple set of actions or magic words; would you trust someone who simply did the actions or said the magic words?  Creating trust works at several levels: beliefs, principles, actions.

Selling from trust rests on four principles and one belief:

Principle 1.  Focus on the needs of the customer first.  Seller’s needs are important too, but lead with the customer’s.

Principle 2.  Focus not on short-term transactions, but on longer-term relationships.

Principle 3. Behave collaboratively with the customer, not in opposition.

Principle 4. Behave transparently in all matters, unless to do so is illegal or harmful.

Belief: The principle of reciprocity is very much at work in people, and in buying situations.  People strongly tend to respond in kind.  If they are treated in a trustworthy manner, they will trust.  If they are trusted, they will respond in a trustworthy manner. 

If you conduct yourself in all situations according to the four principles, you will be perceived as trustworthy.  If you are perceived as trustworthy, people will buy from you: more quickly, more often, more easily.  The result of that is higher profitability—for both buyer and seller.

That may sound vague, but let me draw out some sharp implications of those four principles.

•           If you wish to create trust in selling, you must be willing in principle to let go the desire to win every transaction.  If your aim in every transaction is to win the sale, then you cannot be trusted—because your aim is always about you, not your customer.

•           You must be focused on doing the right thing for the customer, even if that means you don’t propose on everything—conceivably you even recommend a competitor, if that’s the right thing to do for the customer.

•           You don’t focus on closing, but on helping the customer make the decision in the right time-frame for the customer.

•           You must believe that if you consistently behave in this way, your economics will be better than if your sole objective is to get the sale. 

At a more tactical level, here are some specific things you can do to improve trust during the sales process itself.

1.         Go find a course in listening 101, and take it.  Then the 201 course.  Then the 301.

2.         Practice doing your thinking out loud, with the client.

3.         If you don’t know something—say so.

4.         Answer questions directly.

5.         Don’t just listen to get the answer; listen for the sake of listening, for the relationship itself—let the customer’s line of thought set the agenda, not just your line of thought.

6.         Don’t consistently exceed expectations—instead, meet them.  Then occasionally throw in a surprise.

7.         Notice and comment on emotions—yours and others.  If you’re upset, say so; if you notice they are upset, say so.

8.         Write your next proposal together with the client, in the same room, on the same side of the table.

9.         Nearly always, tell the truth; and never, never tell a lie.

10.       Don’t say things you wouldn’t want to see on the front page of the newspaper.

11.       If you notice you’re afraid of confronting an issue with someone, figure out quickly how to do so—avoidance of confrontation violates both of the principles of transparency and collaboration.

12.       Mention pricing early—bound if it you must, but get over the awkward hump of not mentioning price.

Let’s go back to the teenager seeking your advice about things romantic.  I guessed that you would advise them to be themselves.  That would mean advising them to be:

– focused on the other

– finding and pursuing joint interests

– focused on the relationship, not on mechanical transactions

– open and honest about themselves.

If that sounds a lot like the four trust principles for selling from trust, it’s no accident.  All relationships succeed by focusing on the same things: other-focus, collaboration, relationship-not-transaction, and transparency.  What works in life works in business. 

The old Godfather movie line “it’s not personal, it’s business” was exactly wrong.  It is personal; it is business.  And treating it personally is good for both.


Charles H. Green is founder and CEO of Trusted Advisor Associates. The author of Trust-based Selling and co-author of The Trusted Advisor, he has spoken to, consulted for or done seminars about trusted relationships in business for a wide and global range of industries and functions. Centering on the theme of trust in business relationships, Charles works with complex organizations to improve trust in sales, internal trust between organizations, and trusted advisor relationships with external clients and customers.

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  1. […] Go To Original Source At: Sales and Sales Management Blog […]

    Pingback by Boost Your Sales: “Building Trust in Sales: the Win Win Solution,” by Charles H. Green | Bizness Geek — July 6, 2009 @ 9:00 am | Reply

  2. Charlie: You’re bang on- but it’s HARD. I have to constantly fight myself in resisting the client’s desire for the solution- which I, as expert, am supposed to provide. Training in business school, then 25 years of corporate experience, taught me that having the answer was rewarded. Clients have had the same training. It takes courage, confidence and fortitude to pause, breathe and and to keep questioning and talking with the client. I am learning this but have stumbled alot along the way. We all want to be the Trusted Advisor and I agree with your approach- really listen, question and be patient. But often we are fighting against the big consulting firms who provide the answer- and apparent risk reduction for the client.

    We are a lone voice out there- at times.

    Comment by deborah nixon — July 7, 2009 @ 3:00 pm | Reply

  3. Deborah,
    It’s been my experience–including very very much with consulting firms–that all else roughly equal, the firm that does the better job of truly listening, empathizing, go with the client’s agenda, focus on the long not the short term–that firm overwhelmingly beats the other.

    Even when things aren’t equal–when the other firm has an edge in expertise or price–the nod goes to the firm that is devoted to serving the client in a way that the client experiences as trustworthy.

    And price? I make it a habit to ask every firm I work with how many lost their last competitive bid on price; and how many won it on price. The answer is very dependable–about 30 – 50% losses on price, and 0 – 5% wins on price. Because–price is a clearing factor, an excuse, a red herring. It is about the relationship–even when, and even especially when, the client says otherwise. Look at behavior–the ultimate test. The winner in consulting is rarely the low bidder. There’s too much at stake for the client.

    You’re right, the b-schools teach process, analytics, short-term, metrics-driven. But what works in the world is still a person’s sense of another.
    So, keep plugging away, it’s right.

    Comment by Charles H. Green — July 7, 2009 @ 8:19 pm | Reply

  4. […] “Building Trust in Sales: the Win Win Solution” – Charles H. Green – Sales and Management […]

    Pingback by Managers Magazine » Generar Confianza Vendiendo: El Decálogo del Win-Win — July 24, 2009 @ 12:11 am | Reply

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