How to Build Trust as a Selling Competency

After the most recent sales blogger plagiarism incident two months ago, I had the opportunity to speak with Charlie Green. I really like this guy. He’s always a breath of fresh air and reason in this very challenging market in which I work. Charlie promised to send me his new book, The Trusted Advisor Fieldbookwhich I received two days later. It’s the follow-on to The Trusted Advisor. (Here is an interview I did with Charlie in January 2009.  You should read it as well.)

When you work with companies like Minnesota Life, as I have, where trust is the foundation for unparalleled client satisfaction, you realize how incredibly much value is packed into the pages of Charlie and Andrea Howe’s book.

I felt compelled to share with you some of Charlie’s wisdom and his wonderful communication style, so I asked him for an interview.  Here it is:


Dave Stein: Is trust as important a factor in selling today as it was ten years ago? It seems like price, service capabilities, innovation, and other factors trump trust these days.

Charlie Green: Actually even more so, because with the backdrop being exactly as you say it is – more emphasis on price, capabilities, etc. – the presence of real trust is even more noticeable, and competitively effective.  The importance of trust has not decreased one iota – just its frequency of appearance!

Which means there’s a genuine, honest-to-god competitive opportunity out there for anyone smart enough to recognize it.  Actually, let me be precise; smarts have nothing to do with it.  Professional services in particular, and B2B sales in general, is loaded with pretty smart people who have sold themselves on the idea that what people are buying is smarts, knowledge, capabilities, expertise.  They did not get the memo that says that information is largely available on the web.

Buyers definitely want all that – it’s a necessary condition for buying, if only because they have to say they checked the box.  But it is far from a sufficient condition.  What’s missing from the purely-technical equation is trust, which is always had a role.  All else equal (and it never is), people want to buy from someone who understands them, who they feel has their interests at heart, who won’t abandon them if there are problems, who cares about his reputation.  Depending on the business, trust is worth about 5% or more in price, and a big increase in loyalty and repeat business.

DS: Where do you believe responsibility for the trust gap lies?  Is it management? The people we hire?

CG: It’s in the culture. Which means finding responsibility for it is largely a useless exercise (though I would include business schools, economists and consulting firms as being in the front of the culprit parade).

What’s important to focus is on who can lead the change? And I have three answers:

  1. You can. Anyone can. Trust is remarkably infectious, and rarely is anyone forcing you to be untrustworthy. It can start with you.
  2. Leaders of any stripe are not necessary (see point a above), but they can surely help. We learn values by role-models. Trust is about values.
  3. Education. Our business school thinkers and economists are finally starting to move off the rational-self-aggrandizing competitive model of business, and on to more creative, realistic and socially responsible models of thinking.

DS: For many, integrity is looked at as a trait—something you’re born with.  But your teaching is around building that capability and leveraging it at the point of sale.  Please explain.

Almost all people have some level of social responsibility – we don’t hit babies, we respect our mothers, we shake hands when offered. There are very few genuine sociopaths out there.  The thing is, trust is not mainly about integrity.  Instead, it’s about the way we interact with other human beings.

At root, trust is about relationships, and the killer is fear. The reason we don’t trust others, or they don’t trust us, is our fear about what they’ll do to us or think or say about us. And so we do nothing. Well, “nothing” is a guarantee of failed trust, albeit a slow death.

What we train people to do is to take smart risks, and rely on that natural reciprocal response in others. Put out your hand, and they’ll reach out to shake yours. Smile, they’ll smile back. It starts there. Trust someone to get the job done, without hovering over them or putting metrics on every little detail. For your part, when you say you’ll deliver something, do it.  And most of all: take an emotional risk. If you don’t know something, say so. If you notice someone frowning, comment on it.

This is the way trust is built, and I argue that 95% of people can be taught how to do it.

DS: Of all the benefits cited in your book for trust-based behaviors, what are the biggest short-term and the biggest long-term improvements one might see in their selling practice?

Short-term: you’ll get more call-backs, longer meetings, more returned phone calls, and better results from presentation meetings. That starts with the first call and meeting you do, using these kinds of ideas.

Longer-term: you’ll get way more referrals, your repeat business will increase, you’ll get less push-back on price, more sole-source invitations and fewer RFPs,  higher margins, and increased customer sat and loyalty metrics.

Honest!  (I won’t say ‘trust me,’ because you should never say that; it’s like saying humility is your best quality. Let others say it about you. It’s a way of life, not an advertising slogan).


About Charlie Green (@CharlesHGreen)

As founder and CEO of Trusted Advisor Associates, Charlie is passionate about crafting insights and ideas in ways that are memorable, and that allow people to change.

He specializes in commercial relationships where people in one organization get paid to persuade other people, within or outside their own organization. That includes sales, and it includes advice giving, both internal and external.

Charlie has an MBA from Harvard and an undergraduate degree in Philosophy from Columbia (he also drove a NYC taxi part-time in college). He’s been a consultant since 1976, and has been with Trusted Advisor Associates since he founded it in 1997.

Comments

  1. says

    Thanks for this interview which is both insightful and important. The starting point has to be the mindset, values and culture (where as ever the late Stephen Covey has much to contribute) but I observe from our work in financial and professional services that there is also a teachable skill set which (providing the underlying values are in place) can accelerate and sustain the trusted relationship. Looking forward to Charlie’s new book.

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