According to a recent study, only 18% of clients see sales leaders as trusted advisors. How do we reconcile this if we want to get to the next level of becoming more effective in sales? Have you ever experienced one of the following barriers to being effective and creating trust with clients?
Something doesn’t feel right when you engage with clients, although you can’t discern what it is.
You get a sense from clients that they don’t trust you and will never buy.
You doubt yourself; your inner dialogue constantly asks, “Why should they buy from me?”
You don’t trust yourself: “I’d better hide the gaps in our solution. Otherwise, they won’t buy it”.
You aren’t present to what’s really going on: “I wonder what their pain points are?” or “Does our solution actually work?”
Beyond behaviour and persuasion training or ‘faking it till you make it’, how do you generate trust on a deeper level? This article will go through the areas of focus that support you in discerning what trust with your clients looks like when it is the foundation of your relationship.
Building trust with vulnerability, authenticity, commitment, partnership and presence
Looking at the challenge from an ontological perspective, Ashkan Tashvir writes in his book Human Being, “effective communication has the ability to create trust and create ease and flow with workability and profitability as a result”. So how does that apply to the sales conversation?
Be vulnerable to start trust
In his first book, BEING, Ashkan describes vulnerability as “not being weak, agreeable or submissive. It is when you embrace your imperfections. It is considered the quality of being with your authentic self without obsessive concern over the impression you make”. Let’s consider an example. When meeting clients for the first time, do you raise your guard to protect yourself and show off the company wins, or are you open about what your company can and can’t do for the client and the authentic difference you can make? Are you concerned about your appearance as a sales leader, or are you able to own your imperfections? Especially when presenting a pitch and defining an offer submission, we can easily get distracted by wanting to have everything be perfect rather than admit that there are aspects that do not meet the client’s expectations.
Be authentic to grow trust
Authenticity is paramount for you to carefully consider that your conception of reality – including your beliefs and opinions – is congruent with how things are.
During sales campaigns, sales managers can easily be distracted by the internal view of an organisation and beliefs that their products meet the needs and solve all clients’ problems. Product managers, in particular, might have the ambition to solve a problem but might not be fully connected to the reality of the complexity of client problems. When there is a disconnect, it significantly impacts trust. Why? Because clients would feel cheated after discovering that the solution they paid for does not solve all their problems as they were inauthentically led to believe it would.
Research has found that a salesperson’s recommendations are better differentiated face-to-face when asked to provide fact-based information about their actions. So it is important for sales leaders to not only believe in their product but also ensure it aligns with the reality in that the solution actually solves the customer’s problem.
Put commitment and care first to accelerate trust
Commitment is being dedicated to someone, something, a particular promise or cause you care more about than anything that may stand in the way. Care leads you to address whatever is necessary to nurture the person or matter and dedicate the appropriate level of time, resources and attention to them.
In a sales conversation, being committed causes resources that did not show up before to suddenly appear, while care can unlock abilities within our organisations that make a significant difference. As Goethe eloquently puts it in his poem, Until One is Committed: “That one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help that would never otherwise have occurred”. For a sales professional, this means first committing to a number, target or KPI, then working out where to put the effort required to achieve the desired result and what it will take to get there in terms of how you are being. In this case, you will need to be responsible, committed and so on.
Create long-term partnerships to maintain trust
Partnership, as a Way of Being, is when you are available to join with others who may share the same values, goals or commitments to create a disproportionate outcome in comparison to what each of you could possibly achieve alone. Creating partnerships in sales with clients causes mountains to move. When we create a shared vision and common goal and conspire to solve challenges by actively being in partnership, nothing will stop you as a sales leader, both from an internal and a customer perspective.
A personal example of when I became vulnerable and authentic enough to start building trust
As a sales leader for six years, I generated more than 35 million dollars in sales. However, during that time, I experienced both loss and restoration of trust in quick succession. When I first met some of my clients, I realised that every competitor presented solution after solution, even if it didn’t meet their needs. I discovered this after one client told me, “Markus, everyone wants to sell me something, and they will go to great lengths to close the deal. They even hide their product deficiencies or try to talk me out of wanting or needing a particular characteristic just because they can’t offer it, telling me it’s irrelevant!”
I adapted my approach and decided to be upfront, open, vulnerable and authentic about the solutions we could offer. I asked questions like, “What is the biggest challenge for you?” to understand the client’s pain. Once I understood that, I shared the best practice of how other clients had solved a similar problem using our solution. I also made it a point to be transparent about what the solution would NOT do. I was as upfront about its shortcomings, gaps and readiness as I was about its capabilities. To my amazement, this brought us closer together, and trust was immediately present. These conversations were fundamental in building and growing our partnership, resulting in many different projects.
Being closed, guarded, trying to hide the imperfections of a solution or the company and only focussing on your own interests are all counterproductive to building trust as a sales leader. To address any approach in sales, here are the key steps to start, grow, accelerate and maintain trust:
Be vulnerable to start trust.
Be authentic to grow trust.
Put commitment and care first to accelerate trust.
Create long-term partnerships to maintain trust.
In the words of Goethe, “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it”. If you would like to explore how your life as a sales leader would look if you dared to ‘dream it’ and ‘begin it’, I invite you to contact me to discover what’s possible for you.