The Key To Boosting Trust In Sales? Put The Client First

This article originally appeared on Forbes.com

Your sales force likely has a massive blind spot—and it’s tanking their performance.

Ask a group of salespeople, “How many of you feel that your customers would say you are not trustworthy? That they think you are more focused on your own needs than theirs?” A few people will raise their hands, of course.

But then ask their customers, “How many of you trust the sales professionals you work with?”

And even fewer will raise their hands.

Customers rate a dismal 18% of salespeople as trusted advisors worthy of respect, according to the Harvard Business Review—and sellers are totally unaware. How can there be such a significant disconnect?

Don’t Lose Out On This Competitive Advantage

Most sellers miss the importance of trust, even though it may be the single most impactful thing they could address to improve their business performance—more than lowering prices, releasing better products or providing superior service.

In a low-trust sales relationship, buyers work against their own interests by withholding the very information sellers need to be helpful: key players, criteria, budget, decision-making processes. They think the seller will use this information against them, instead of using it to craft the best solution.

But in high-trust relationships, the customer sees the seller as an advisor. Buyers answer questions, are forthright and share information freely—because they know the seller will use it to help them. Trust becomes a competitive advantage.

Most people would concede that trust is important, and yet common sales interactions destroy it. Recently I was the buyer during a commercial transaction. In the spirit of being candid, I told the seller, “I’m new to this, and I don’t know the players in this space. What other companies should I talk with?”

He shot back, “Why would I give you that information? I don’t want you talking to my competitors.”

Needless to say, he didn’t get my business.

Salespeople like this probably don’t intend anything malicious. They might even think they’re helping the client by keeping them focused on a superior solution. But that’s not how clients interpret these actions—they see it as the buyer serving only their own interests, and just like that, trust evaporates.

Most salespeople have good intent, but poor skills. They don’t intend to be untrustworthy, but they choose behaviors that sabotage trust.

Your Sales Force Can Purposefully Build Trust

If your sales force is suffering from low-trust relationships, take heart—it’s fixable. We often think that people and organizations are either trustworthy or they’re not; they either have trust, or they don’t. That’s a fallacy. Just as you can proactively build trust within your organization, your sales force can learn trustworthy behaviors.

To become a trusted advisor, your sales force needs to exhibit several specific behaviors, but one reigns supreme: always act with the clients’ best interests in mind.

If the salesperson in the previous example wanted to build trust, he would have said something like, “We have several competitors, and based on what you’ve shared so far, I suggest you talk to these companies. If you don’t mind, can we regroup afterward and see where you are?”

It was a golden opportunity to show that he put clients’ success ahead of anything else, shooting trust through the roof—instead, he lost the deal.

Putting the client first can feel risky, and the higher the stakes, the harder it becomes. But if your sales force is acting with their own interests at the expense of clients, they’re going to lose deals anyway.

Challenge for Leaders: Assess the level of trust with your clients—either create a tool internally or choose one from the marketplace. Are you among the 18% of sellers that clients trust and respect?

I’m indebted to my colleague Stephen M. R. Covey for his work on trust. Read more at his website.

This is the second of two articles focusing on trust in business relationships. Click here to read the first column, “A High-Trust Sales Organization Starts At The Top.”

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About the Author

Randy Illig

Randy Illig is the Global Practice Leader of FranklinCovey’s Sales Performance Practice and the co-author of Let’s Get Real Or Let’s Not Play. With more than 25 years of experience ranging from direct sales and general manager to successful entrepreneur, CEO and board member, Randy leads the global sales performance practice team as we help our clients build high performance sales and sales leadership teams. Randy is a former recipient of the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year award, the Ernst & Young “CEO Under 40” award, and the Arthur Andersen Strategic Leadership Award.

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