How To Build Trust

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How To Build Trust

“So, what do you think of him?”

“Hmm, not sure. Something doesn’t seem right. “

“What do you mean?”

“Not sure. Something tells me that he can’t be trusted.”

“Can you be more specific?”

“I don’t know. Maybe it’s the way he came across. I just don’t believe that he will do what he says.”

Have you had such a discussion before? We have all met someone new and walked away thinking that something didn’t feel right about that person. They weren’t hostile, but you got this feeling that something wasn’t quite right.

Early in my sales career, I asked my director, Tony Pearson, what he needed to see in me to be considered for a sales management role. His answer, “I need someone I can rely on.” When I asked him for an example he mentioned one of the other sales managers. He said, “Chris is stable. He doesn’t go through peaks and troughs of emotions when he is at work. He is consistent in his approach every day, and I know he will deliver for me no matter the circumstances.”

For Tony, consistency equalled reliability, and reliability equalled safety. This interaction got me thinking, “What makes someone trustworthy? How can I make sure that I am doing the right things so that my clients and prospects see me as trustworthy?” This topic became one of my core research pillars. After about 10 years I have spoken with:

  • Almost 400 buyers across 10 industries and over 8 different job roles
  • Almost 100 salespeople
  • University professors and researchers who work to understand what trust is
  • Investors I know in the private equity space
  • High net worth individuals worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

I have also read books by experts about trust and creating long-term successful relationships. This article summarises my findings.

2 Pillars of Trust

Steven Covey, the famous author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People once wrote that “Trust is where character and competency converge.” When I read this, I asked myself, “Is one more important than the other, or are they equally important?”

It turns out that although you do need both for long-term trust, one of them is considered far more critical. In fact, if someone misses that specific one, it is a showstopper. Some of the most successful and wealthiest people in the world won’t even consider the other aspect. Warren Buffet once said that when he is hiring someone, he looks at three things: integrity, energy, and intelligence. But, if that person doesn’t have the first one, then the other two will “kill you”.

It would seem that Warren Buffet puts more stock in character over competence. Warren Buffet is not the only one who places character above competence.  There are plenty of quotes from titans of industry who state that it is more important to have the right attitude, character, and integrity. This doesn’t mean that competence is not essential. You need both to be trustworthy. But, it seems that having the right character gives you the traits and approach to develop your competence.

When I was a commercial director in Gartner, we used to consider traits as far more important than skills. If someone had the right traits such as integrity, consistency, tenacity, energy, willingness to work hard, open to feedback, then we would be confident that this person can quickly learn the right skills to be a successful sales professional. However, if someone had the right competencies but was missing those critical traits, we were unlikely to hire them. We wouldn’t trust that this person could consistently achieve their goals. We couldn’t rely on them to deliver when circumstances may not be in their favour, and they may become a costly hire for the business.

8 Characteristics of Trust

I have found that there are 8 characters that make someone trustworthy. Some are well-known, but a couple are surprising. Having all 8 makes you trustworthy in anyone’s eyes. It is important to note that not all 8 are equal for everyone. Some will be more important to different people, based on their experiences, but if you work to develop all 8, you will become more trustworthy in almost any situation.

1.      Authenticity

Authentic people live and speak their truth. You are someone who conducts themselves in line with their values and beliefs rather than someone else’s. You are true to yourself, even in the face of pressure from others to act differently.

2.      Consistency

Are you consistent in your approach? Do you consistently approach your day with the right energy and attitude? Do you consistently perform to high standards when engaging with your prospects or clients? Do you consistently structure and deliver on your sales calls with a buyer, whether it is the first call or the contract agreement? Are you consistently thorough and professional with a client even when you have a close relationship with them? Some salespeople become complacent when they know they are working with a loyal client. They become lazy in their approach. Trustworthy professionals do not fall into this trap.  

3.      Integrity

Does your buyer, manager, or investor feel that you are truthful, or are you stretching the truth by delivering promises that you cannot fulfil? Too many companies force their sellers to say yes to any buyer requests or to say that their product has specific functionality that the buyer seems to desire, even if it does not.

One of the biggest indicators for lack of integrity is if you have only great things to say about your product or service. Nothing is perfect, and your buyers know this. There is no such thing in our world. The best sellers proactively share the negative aspects of their offering before the buyer asks them. It does not mean that you bash your product but, you should be honest about what you do very well and what you don’t do that your competitors may have. The best sellers don’t just state the “negatives”, they go on to explain why clients still decide to work with them and explain why those “missing components” don’t add business value to the buyer.

What I have just explained has been proven by science. We are wired to look for inconsistencies. If we see something that claims to be perfect, we instantly don’t trust it, and we are less likely to purchase it or invest in it.

4.      Responsible

Does your buyer, manager, or investor feel you are a responsible person? Do they believe that you feel great accountability towards them and do everything you can to deliver on your promises? People want someone they can trust to solve current and future problems. Too many people are available and present when things are going well but suddenly disappear when there is a problem or a tough situation.

In sales, the top performers are those who feel accountability towards their goals. They will do whatever is necessary, as long as it is also ethical, to find a path towards their objectives. They will do whatever they can to achieve their goals, often going beyond what is expected of them. This can include working longer hours, but it also includes using different channels to reach buyers, implementing new approaches, or even working closely with their partners in product and marketing to deliver value to their buyers.

5.      Reliable

You might think that this comes under responsible, but there is more to just being reliable in delivering on your promises. Can buyers rely on the information that you are giving them? Can they trust that you also have their best interests at heart and that the information you provide them is not biased towards just your selfish goals? Can they rely on you to give them the right advice and to remain up to date on critical market/industry/product developments so that they aren’t left chasing their competitors? Can they rely on you to give them the right advice, even if it may not advance your sales objectives?

I spoke with a sales leader who gave a great example of reliability. His story also incorporates integrity, consistency and responsibility. He was planning to renovate his new house and sought out quotes from 3 different contractors. Two of the contractors gave him quotes that required the most amount of work. Whenever he asked for their advice on a particular job, he felt that they gave recommendations that led him to more work and therefore having to pay more money. But, one contractor stood out. He gave advice that often went contrary to increasing his price. He gave him sound advice by stating that some work was not needed and gave reasons for why. He gave him options and explained why some extra work was not required, with explanations on the impact if he chose to conduct that specific work or not.

His approach gave him instant credibility over the other contractors. He didn’t dismiss the sales leader’s request but rather provided him with options and pros and cons, so he had all the information he needed to make a decision. He may not have charged as much as he would like, but he gained that sales leader’s trust. He was deemed far more reliable than the other 2 contractors. Does this mean he made less money? In this instance, no. Now that he had gained the sales leader’s trust, he delivered on his promise (consistency and responsibility). During his work, the sales leader had other work that he wanted to be done. Who do you think he went to, the contractor he trusted or did he risk going to someone else? Even if that contractor didn’t have the expertise for the additional work, he would recommend someone else he knew for the job. That sales leader trusted his recommendations and hired them for the additional work.

6.      Guilt Worthiness

This was a surprising one. Research conducted by the University of Chicago found that people who feel guilty about certain actions inspire more trust than those who do not. Everyone has done something in their life that they would regret. Those who feel guilt are more likely to reflect on their actions and change their behaviour for the better.

You may have heard stories from others where they expressed regret from past actions. They will explain why they regretted those actions, what they learned, and how they improved themselves to avoid repeating that action. You may not realise it, but this increased your feelings of trust towards that person.

People who don’t feel guilty about wrongful actions are contrary to integrity. We start to doubt their intentions, and we worry that they will not feel accountable for having our best interests at heart.

7.      Generosity

This is a relatively new addition to the list. Recently I had a neighbour who was planning to undergo some significant extension to their home. This work would inconvenience us a significant amount. The work would take at least 3 months, and they needed to use heavy machinery for the foundation work. The noise was going to be very disturbing, to say the least, especially during the Covid lockdown when my wife and I are conducting our client calls. Our neighbours inspired trust in us by doing several things:

  • Responsibility – they informed us in advance of the work, and they even spoke to us personally to ask us about any concerns we may have.
  • Consistency – they heard our concerns and offered solutions to eradicate those concerns where possible or minimise them.
  • Reliable – they connected us with their contractors so we got to speak with them and ask any questions. They were the experts and better able to explain things to us.

But their final act really raised our feelings of trust in them. Before the work was due to start, they arranged to give us a £50 Amazon voucher. On the note, they once again acknowledged the inconvenience the work would cause, and they gave us the voucher to go towards earplugs or anything else we wanted. This was an incredible act of generosity that made us feel far more comfortable that if there was any damage to our own property, we trusted them to handle it efficiently and painlessly. We trusted that they would take ownership, and we wouldn’t have to argue or pursue them for fixing any damage.

That generous act went a long way to establishing trust between us. Now, they could have established that same level of trust by just providing us with the earplugs. It would have had the same effect.

Think about how you can be generous with your buyers. What can you offer them that will be valuable without costing you too much? You don’t have to be a samaritan and give generously without seeking anything in return. We knew that the neighbours were not selflessly doing this without any benefit to them, but the simple act went a long way.

8.      Agreeableness

This does not mean that you have to be a “yes person” or a pushover. This does not mean that you do whatever the buyer asks of you. This is about tactfulness. In her book, The Influential Mind, Tali Sharot explains that we won’t accept all the data in the world that proves we are wrong. Have you ever come across someone who stubbornly sticks to their opinions even when you show them all the logical facts and information to the contrary? That is because their brain has decided on an opinion and will filter out anything that contradicts that belief.  Instead, you should be tactful when challenging someone’s belief.

The word influence comes from the Latin word influer, which means to flow with. Imagine that someone’s opinion is a river. Do you try to block the flow of that river with the large dam of your own opinions? You probably could, but it would take a considerable amount of effort, and water may still break through or flow around your dam. Instead, you should get into the river and flow with them. Empathise with them by seeking to learn why they have that opinion, and then you can slowly show them a different perspective and change the course of “their river”. By doing this, buyers will consider you more trustworthy because you have taken the time to understand them. As Dale Carnegie states in his famous book How to Win Friends and Influence People, people ultimately want to feel heard and understood. When they feel that you are interested in them, they will find you more likeable and are more likely to be open to what you have to say.

You cannot judge someone and influence them at the same time. To be agreeable means to set aside your judgement. Sales professionals are often advised to actively listen to a buyer in order to understand them. But agreeableness is more than that. You should also open your heart and seek to understand their perspective. Try to understand why they have that opinion and why it is important to them.   

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