Trust-Based Selling: Finding and Keeping Customers for Life (2015)
Chapter 12. Building Trust Before Opportunity
As you go to work, your top responsibility should be to build trust.
The most important strategy discussed so far has been to focus on the customer relationship rather than on the immediate opportunity. This point was driven home with information about improving sales skills, managing opportunities, avoiding becoming column fodder, and handling leads well. You have spent time qualifying and ranking your customers, so now you need to develop their trust. However, what do you do when you are not completely focused on an opportunity?
Why You Can Win an Incumbent’s Business
Assume you qualified the customer and you have established some trust with them. You received a warm introduction and you have successfully shown intent by staying focused on them. Your intent is solid, while your capability, dedication, and results are at best, warm. Your trust meter looks like Figure 12-1.
Figure 12-1. Example of building trust before engaging an opportunity
In the trust-ranking system, you have a score of five, but you need at least a six to compete with a fully trusted incumbent. You need to work on capability, dedication, and results.
I want to remind you that it’s likely that you’re building a trust meter that is actually stronger than the incumbent’s. In the incumbent’s ideal world, the meter is full, but in reality they have probably taken their customer for granted (Figure 12-2).
Figure 12-2. Incumbent not maintaining trust with customer
The smart incumbent realizes that the relationship after the sale is important to the customer, and that selling to an existing customer is much easier than finding new ones. However, this graph shows that the typical salesperson moves on to new opportunities after the sale. I guarantee that your focus on bringing value to the customer will be rewarded once an opportunity is presented.
These elements are easy to change when given a chance. However, your customer has been conditioned over the years to engage with salespeople within the confines of a project. You need to be creative in demonstrating dedication, capability, results, and intent without the benefit of a “natural” sales cycle.
Methods to Increase Trust
The ideas shared in this chapter are only suggestions for actions you can take to improve business relationships. These ideas go beyond, “Can I take you to lunch?” or “Would you like to play golf?” While you can develop a friendly relationship with the customer in order to win their business, you must also establish business trust.
The primary strategy is to stay in front of your customer while offering value. If you focus on product presentations or just grill the customer for information over and over, they will stop seeing value in your interactions, and your ability to secure future appointments will dwindle. In everything you do with a customer, you must make sure you are adding business value. The most powerful tools you have are information and concern. You want to keep your customers educated about your solutions, new trends in the industry, news articles, or information that will help them with their careers. The more you understand your customer from the beginning, the more focused the information can be to that customer. The information must complement their concerns. Sharing information can demonstrate your capability.
Capability is established with industry knowledge more so than with product knowledge. Customers are always curious about the latest industry trends.
Phone Call with Follow-Up E-Mail
This one is simple. As you are maintaining your industry knowledge, you will come across information that your customer will benefit from knowing. Call your customer and leave a simple voicemail. “I came across an article today I thought you would be interested in. I am going to mail (or e-mail) it to you. Let me know your thoughts.” Make these calls personal and specific to each person. An ideal situation is when you come across information pertaining to a specific issue the customer has mentioned. “You mentioned you had X as an issue; I thought this article would be useful to you.” Customers are inundated with blanket marketing e-mails. Make it personal.
The order of calling and then sending the e-mail is important. Do not send a mass e-mail to every prospect. The reason you are calling and then sending the e-mail is to show dedication and dependability. You told the customer you were going to do something for them, and then you followed through. It creates two positive touch points.
You should not do this in reverse order. The information you are sharing is for their benefit. It makes no sense to send an e-mail to the customer and tell them you’ll follow up with a phone call.
You phone in hopes of getting the customer. If you don’t, leave a voicemail. Then send the e-mail with information that’s useful specifically to them. Incidentally, use this tactic only after you have met with the customer, not as part of your cold calling activities.
Lunch and Learn, or the Seminar
The lunch and learn is a different animal than just a lunch. The straight, “Can I take you to lunch?” does not inherently have an agenda. The conversations can go in many directions, and getting around to business can be a challenge. Lunch and learns have built-in agendas. Your goal is to educate the customers and have them view it as an important learning opportunity. The most effective lunch and learns have the following components:
· The lunch is held in a neutral spot—not at the customer site.
· You invite multiple customers at one time.
· You cover elements of industry knowledge transfer, or define a common issue that most customers face.
· You offer a brief description of how your solution can help.
This should not be a product pitch or a 60-minute presentation on your product.
Since the customer is offsite, you create an event feel rather than a disguised sales call. This will have the effect of demonstrating stronger intent, and it will cause customers to lower their guards. You want them out of their offices and away from their computers. Granted, this is harder today, with smartphones. You don’t want them to feel that they’re being “sold to” in a place where their guard is up.
Having multiple customers at the table is your strongest tool. Subconsciously, to the customer, it’s like you were referred to them by these 10 other customers in the room. Chances are, not everyone will meet everyone else. Each attendee has no idea whether they are existing customers or prospects like themselves. Typically, they will assume the others are existing customers. Referrals help strengthen all aspects of trust, and you can multiply that by the number of other customers attending. If you have existing customers at the event, there is a good chance they are there because they already trust your capabilities. There is a natural tendency for customers to network at these events, meaning there is a good chance your existing customers will refer you. You hope your prospect asks, “What has this vendor done for you?” Results!
Your industry knowledge will continue to keep the customers’ guards down. They will be thankful it’s not just another product pitch. Events that educate people about the latest industry trends are the best attended. The lunch and learns that are product-centric have your customers thinking, “Will there be dessert?” Focusing on knowledge transfer will improve your trust meter in the areas of intent and capability.
The follow-up product presentation should be brief, and should be focused on a real-life scenario that highlights a customer’s challenge, a brief description about how your solution helped, and the results you delivered for the customer. The goal behind this approach is to show compassion for the customer’s issues; this is intent. You show capability in solving the issue, and lastly, you show that you can deliver results. Keeping the how-to portion brief will leave the customer with a touch of mystery. Lunch and learns are similar to cold calling in this aspect; the goal is to leave the customers wanting more. You need customers to talk about their specific issues; obviously they are not going to do this in a group setting. You will need a follow-up appointment. Leaving the customers wanting more increases your odds of securing that follow-up.
The event’s topic is the force that drives attendance (a nice venue never hurts either). If you stay with industry trends, or general-knowledge events, customers will attend. You may also want to try some of the cold calling techniques to drive attendance to these events.
When establishing trust with a customer, a huge mistake is to bash your competition, or sow fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD) about the incumbent. Customers make emotional decisions for logical reasons. If you bash the incumbent, you are effectively insulting the decisions your customer has made. Build your trust! Do not try to tear down the competition.
It is okay to position your offerings against a competitor’s weakness. But never bash! We have all done this in the past. I have done it. I have done it after I was told not to do it. However, now that I am better at reading my customers’ reactions, I can see uneasiness in most customers’ eyes when this bashing occurs. I can see the walls go up. It’s just not effective to bash.
When you bash you are not doing one thing to build your own trust. Your customers are judging you more than your product. They want to know if they can trust you. Build your own trust.
It is okay to highlight strengths you know your competitor cannot match. This can be done in a positive manner. If you know of a competitive weakness, you can ask the customer if they are having any issues specifically related to that weakness. For example, if I know my competitor’s product is much slower than ours, I can simply ask, “Have you been experiencing any performance issues?” You want the customer to highlight their issues. It is okay to guide them to issues they may have with an incumbent.
Give to Get
This is a delicate concept. The next example in this chapter illustrates the psychological value of reciprocity; it shows the value of a gift. In today’s world, there are many rules about giving customers gifts; some companies prohibit the use of them; some customers are not allowed to accept gifts. However, when I interviewed customers for this book, there was a sense that they like to see a vendor make an investment in them. So, you must take this concept and turn it into a business value. Instead of tickets to a football game, how do you give the customer something of business value—something that does not infringe upon any employer or legal restrictions?
In the 1970s and 1980s, the Hare Krishnas gained a reputation by hounding passengers at airports across the country for donations. After limited success in gathering the donations they needed, they decided on a new tactic. They would hand the passenger a flower before asking for a donation. It must be noted that most passengers did not want to accept the flower, but when it was extended it was natural for the passengers to reach out and accept it. Sometimes the flower was almost forcefully placed in a passenger’s hand.
Upon the introduction of the flower, the rate of donations went up five times. When they were given a gift, the passengers felt a sense of obligation to reciprocate. It did not matter what the gift was. How do we know that the passenger was not just paying for a flower they wanted? It turns out that 70% of the time the passengers would go around the corner and throw out the flower. (Being concerned with profit, the Krishnas retrieved the flowers from the garbage and handed them to the next passenger.) Think about it—five times the donation rate for a flower that was forced on them, all thanks to reciprocity.
You see this tactic every time you go to the grocery store; it’s called the free sample. The sample has two purposes. First, they get you to try the product in the hopes you will like it. More importantly, there is a sense of obligation to purchase the item.
During my interviews with customers, none ever came out and said they wanted something for free, or a gift. A majority did want to see a vendor deliver something to them as the cost of doing business. Relating this to the concept of trust, ask yourself how you can show them results and minimize the customer’s risk of time and money? You are an unproven vendor, and the customer wants you to stand behind your solution before they have to enter you into their procurement system, seek budget approval, and cut you a PO. They want to see that you can deliver something, and show some results, before they have to jump through their internal hoops.
So what do you give? Like the free sample at the grocery store, your gift should have two purposes. Give the customer a taste for what you can do, and instill a sense of obligation. In order to show value, you need to first put a value on the service or product, rather than present it as free. It does not have to be a large service engagement or an expensive product. With the goal of driving a deeper level of trust, it’s best to choose something unique, and something you know you can deliver. Giving shows intent. You are not just out for yourself; you have the customer’s best interests at heart.
The next two elements you can address are results and capability. Highlight a solution that will demonstrate your company’s—or product’s—capabilities and expertise. Lastly, when the customer perceives an initial value, ensure you show results against that initial perception. Trust has to be shown, not told. If you have multiple offerings and you are trying to gain a foothold, do not go to the most competitive offering you have in your bag. Is there an offering you can lead with that will get your foot in the door? Do you have something that is unique versus going head-to-head with a competitor? Think about niche selling earlier in the book. Pick a niche if possible. Initial deals do not have to be large. It’s your first step to checking the trust boxes (Figure 12-3), so that you can eventually work toward larger opportunities. Demonstrate and show trust.
Figure 12-3. Check off each trust element before a major opportunity
A classic example in the IT industry is to deliver a “gift” in the form of a free assessment. Typically, these assessments lead to roadmaps for orders. In other words, the deliverable from the assessment shows the customers their strengths and weaknesses in a specific area of their IT environment. The vendor then uses the findings of the assessment to propose solutions. The assessment is a formal needs analysis, which is part of the sales cycle. To the customer, it seems like a free professional services engagement.
Let’s put all the elements of this together. First, there must be a value assigned to the service engagement. If you present to the customer a free assessment, the customer will perceive it as having no value. On the other hand, if you say, “We typically charge X for this type of service, but we are waiving the cost for you,” then the perception is one of value; one of getting a “gift.” This can be a tremendous asset to the vendor. The cost to the vendor is typically small. You use people you have on staff already. The customer sees your capability and your intent, and you can show results. And, remember the call to action from the assessment is for the customers to buy something to fix a problem.
Another example, which is much softer, comes from my very first sales job when I was in high school. I sold hockey equipment at a skate shop. The customers were typically parents of the kids who were playing hockey. When they had younger kids, the parents were new to the sport, and they were not always the most informed on hockey equipment. New parents would come into the shop to purchase hockey skates, which range greatly in price and quality. Most parents perceived the price of the skate to be the best indication of value. However, the kids who new to the sport were usually five to six years old, and still growing. The expensive features of the more costly skates were wasted on these younger kids. I learned early on that when I told the parent that their child would be better off with a less expensive skate, they would purchase anything I suggested. The way I analyze the situation is almost like the free assessment. First I “gave” them some free advice, which resulted in a gift of less expensive skates. I showed great intention and implied great capability. There was also a sense of obligation. This tactic earned the customer trust, and developed a sense of obligation to purchase more.
Help the Customer Regardless
If you truly want to provide your customers with business value, and you want to show your customers that your intent is to help them, the number one way to do that is to help them with a solution that you do not sell.
As you start to spend time with the customer, she will start to open up about all sorts of problems and issues. Stay tuned to your customer’s problems. Don’t just have rabbit ears for problems you can solve. As you learn about your industry and build your network, you will have a much bigger set of solutions. Consider your professional network as an extension of your line card, or solutions you can deliver to your customers.
This is exactly like a doctor who has an entire list of specialists that he engages to provide care for his patients. By understanding the compelling events your noncompetitive partners are looking for in the industry, you can help customers. What happens if you hear a customer say, “I really need to solve this problem?” You know you can’t help with it, but you network with someone who you know can help. If you have the chance, line up the customer with someone you have networked with. You just strengthened your position with your customer immeasurably.
By the way, the person you brought in to help the customer now “owes you one.” Reciprocation!
Your goal is to get into the position to win against an incumbent. How do get into the inner circle, the circle of trust? You are creating a sales cycle with no competition, no close, and where the proof is on your dime (Figure 12-4).
Figure 12-4. By giving, you can implement and measure results, without a sales cycle
With the close and prove stages eliminated, you put yourself in the position to build full trust (Figure 12-5).
Figure 12-5. Establish trust before you engage the incumbent on a full sales cycle
Adding value in the first stages of an engagement, for even a small deal or proof of concept, will help you develop trust. You can then enter into a larger deal on an equal playing field. By creating a “sales cycle,” like the one shown in Figure 12-4, you create trust before you have to compete against an incumbent on a larger deal. See Figure 12-5.
Partnering for Trust
This book was written for the person who owns the primary relationship with the customers. Here are some typical statements that are, however, cast in stone.
· Resellers or distributors typically have closer relationships with their customers than manufacturers do, unless the manufacturer is selling to the customer directly.
· Resellers typically make their living based on strong relationships with fewer accounts. Manufacturers typically need more transactions at more accounts than they can handle.
If you are a manufacturer, you have the “luxury” of not having to develop as deep a trusting relationship. You demonstrate capability of self and product. Then you can partner with an incumbent reseller who has already built the other elements of trust. The reseller should be strong in dedication and intent. They do not need capability; you bring that to the table. Their results are proven, but for other solutions (Figure 12-6).
Figure 12-6. Partnering to improve trust
The concept of partnering with these accounts, and possibly choosing the incumbent reseller, isn’t new, but it’s worth pointing out how you enhance your trust.
At the reseller, the opposite holds true. Being new is a lot harder for a reseller. They do not have the ability, most of the time, to partner with an incumbent manufacturer. They are probably partnered with an incumbent reseller. Your strategy for partnering should be to find a niche play (Chapter 10) with the customer, and a niche manufacturer.
By starting a relationship based on understanding and education, you hope to instill some intent and capability. Look for areas where you might not see capability from an incumbent and fill that niche (Figure 12-7).
Figure 12-7. Partnering with a niche manufacturer to increase trust
Now you are matched to an incumbent with a trust meter that looks something like those in Figure 12-8. The incumbent may have a full trust meter, but when you have a solution in an area where they have not shown capability or results, their trust is somewhat reduced.
Figure 12-8. Partner to compete against an incumbent
You now have a four or five on the trust meter. This is in the range to compete.
The ideas in this chapter do not comprise an exact science. The point is to think outside the circle—the incumbent’s sales circle. You can engage the customer outside of an opportunity cycle. Your time is critical. First qualify the customers—are they worth spending time with? If they are worth the time, use it wisely. You need to show value. Use the trust elements as a guide to thinking through your strategy with new customers. Use trust to build business value. In the next chapter, you learn how to manage, compete, and win opportunities.