Trust is the cornerstone of any successful business relationship, and it’s particularly crucial in sales. What is the role of trust in sales? Buyers want to know that they can trust what you’re telling them, that you have their best interests in mind, that you’ll stand behind what your product or service promises to deliver, and that you’ll make things right if any problems do come up. To instill that level of confidence in your buyers, you have to have credibility — you have to be knowledgeable, sincere, honest and dependable.
As sales become more complex, trust and credibility are playing an even more important role in sales success. Customers are increasingly looking for sales professionals who can help them understand the full picture of their needs and enable them to make good buying decisions. This is all part of the more human-centric approach to sales that today’s buyers are craving.
A trusted advisor creates both tangible and intangible value that customers will repay with their loyalty. According to one study, 81% of respondents would likely buy again from a company represented by a salesperson they trust. What’s more, the study found that customers who trust their salesperson are three times more likely to forgive a single bad experience.
Credibility isn’t something you can fake, just as trust isn’t something you can achieve once and then be done with it. With every interaction and engagement, you have the opportunity to earn your customer’s trust and grow your credibility. There’s also a risk at each point that trust will be eroded.
Let’s take a closer look at what it means to be trustworthy and credible and how you can build trust in sales, whether you’re a salesperson or a sales manager leading your team.
The Interplay of Trust and Credibility in Sales
Charles Green’s Trust Equation model is a helpful tool for understanding the interplay between trust and credibility. It states that trustworthiness is equal to the sum of credibility, reliability, and intimacy, divided by a person’s self-orientation. Trust is earned through consistent actions and behaviors demonstrated over time, where you continuously deliver on each of the elements in the Trust Equation.
What makes a salesperson credible in the eyes of a buyer?
Salespeople with high credibility are honest, capable, well-informed and well-prepared. Customers believe what they have to say because they’re transparent and forthcoming. They’re not just repeating polished marketing messages or scripted sales talking points that are designed only to push someone to buy. Instead, they’re upfront about what they know — and what they don’t know. If the product or service isn’t a good fit, they’ll tell you.
Whether in person, on social media or by email, they’re also generous and eager to share insights and trends, not just because they support a particular company point of view but because they’re relevant and significant to the buyer’s needs.
Credibility is in many ways rooted in the genuine curiosity successful salespeople have for their customer. They’re truly interested and engaged in understanding what matters to them, what value looks like to them and what their customer’s customers care about. One way salespeople set themselves apart in this area is by applying design thinking throughout the sales process to become more truly customer-centric.
Curiosity is just one of the superpower skills of credible salespeople. In addition to asking great questions, they have mastered the art of listening. This human-to-human approach breaks down barriers and forms the foundation of mutually beneficial and lasting client relationships.
How Do You Build Trust and Rapport in Sales?
As mentioned above, trust and credibility aren’t “one-and-done” issues. You have to continually and consistently put the effort in. That means being humble, empathetic, punctual and present. It means delivering on what you promised at every step of the way.
Here are some specific ways you can enhance trust and credibility through your daily practice as a sales professional.
Focus on personalized outreach vs. canned messages.
To be credible, you have to be authentic, and nothing says inauthentic like reciting a script or blasting out generic messaging to everyone in your contact list. Personalizing your outreach starts with that all-important sales trait, curiosity. Get to know your clients and prospects, their industries, their issues and needs, and their customers. Share relevant stories that help bring what you’re proposing to life and create emotional connections. The more knowledgeable you are about what’s important to your customers and what value looks like to them, the more you’ll be able to craft relevant messages and connect in a meaningful way.
Ask substantive questions.
Great salespeople ask great questions. Again, this isn’t about rattling off a memorized list or bombarding someone with questions. It’s about bringing your knowledge to the table and asking the kind of “digging deeper” questions that provoke new thinking and “aha” moments, issues your customer may not have even considered before. That’s a powerful way to build trust and credibility — you’re not only bringing more value to the discussion, you’re also demonstrating that you’ve done your homework and aren’t going to waste their time.
Listen. REALLY listen.
One of the fastest ways to erode trust is to listen only to respond — biding your time until that person finishes talking so you can get on to your next question or comment. Great listening skills must accompany great questioning skills. This is part of being present in any conversation you have with another person. We all want to feel seen, heard and valued. By listening to understand, you show that you’re not just there to talk about how great your offerings are; you genuinely have your customer’s best interests at heart. It also allows you to have a more relevant and value-added discussion, and that will, in turn, help you continue to build more credibility with the client.
Spend more time on the sales discovery phase.
The objective of the sales discovery process is less about hitting a goal and more about emphasizing whatever learnings come out of an initial, collaborative discussion. Discovery is just that: It’s finding out what you don’t know — both you and the customer — so that together, you can work towards what the right solution is. Done effectively, this is a powerful trust-building and relationship-building process.
And if it turns out your offerings aren’t the best fit or can’t add real value? Your willingness to walk away from the opportunity will only magnify the trust and credibility you’ve already established. That will often lead to other opportunities down the road.
Calibrate your self-orientation.
This aspect of the Trust Equation model refers to the degree to which your motives and attention are directed on yourself vs. others. Customers sense when you’re going through the motions to close a deal and make more money. Sales is about helping people making buying decisions that are in their best interests.
Keep a track record of promises made and promises kept.
Don’t leave it to chance or assume you’ll get back to it. In sales, you can easily get pulled in a number of different directions. The best way to ensure you’re delivering on your promises is to have a system to hold yourself accountable. And keep in mind, those promises don’t have to be all-encompassing. Making a series of smaller commitments and promises that you can deliver will help you develop a track record of trust and dependability with your customers.
Building Trust Doesn’t End with the Sale
In a more competitive, more complex selling environment, there are more reasons than ever to prioritize everyday practices that build trust and credibility in sales. That also means the process doesn’t end when the deal is closed. Successful salespeople are able to develop long-term, profitable client relationships by creating more value for them, and that largely comes down to the trust and credibility they build through their actions and behaviors that aren’t simply tied to a sale.
Do you check in with your customers just to see how they’re doing? Do you follow up down the road to learn whether what you sold them is actually working and adding value? Are you keeping them apprised of key trends or issues affecting them and their customers — whether or not they’re related to something you can sell them?
If you’re a sales leader, you also play a critical role in making sure everyone is living up to these values. Teaching (training), reinforcing and modeling (coaching) trustworthy behavior is what creates a sales culture that is viewed as credible and trustworthy. Corporate values statements are nice to have, but it’s what customers see that matters.
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