Trust-Based Selling: Finding and Keeping Customers for Life (2015)
Chapter 1. Trust
The Grease for Sales Success
Technique and technology are important, but adding trust is the issue of the decade.
Yet another book on trust? I know there are several books on sales that discuss trust as a foundation of a selling. However, there is a huge disconnect between the sales processes most companies use today, and reality of selling. Everyone talks about building rapport, but then demonstrate how do this in two minutes at the beginning of a sales call. Trust is not earned in two minutes; it is a continual process that should never stop with your customer.
My goal for this book is to educate you on the importance of developing trust, introduce trust into the sales process, help you develop methods for developing trust over time, and how to maintain trust. In order to drive home the importance of trust, I will lean toward new account acquisition—situations in which you are starting with zero trust from the customer. The lessons you learn here will, of course, apply to all levels of selling and at all times in your career.
The Ultimate Goal and How It Intersects with Trust
What is your primary role as a salesperson? It’s to drive revenue for your company, so the lights can stay on and payroll can be met. While this is true, it immediately points the selling process toward disaster for most salespeople and managers. Conventional thinking is that leads turn into opportunities, opportunities turn into purchase orders, purchase orders turn into invoices, and invoices turn into cash flow. So, where do most sales processes start? Where does most management inspection happen? You guessed right—at opportunity. We will discuss why this is a recipe for disaster in detail in the coming chapters.
For now, let me say that your goal should not be to find and close as many opportunities as possible. Your goal should be to become the customer’s trusted advisor. Without any trust there is no sale, and with trusted advisor status there is no competition. You don’t need to achieve that status in order to win your first opportunity, but why not aim high?
The phrase “trusted advisor” is, however, thrown around too easily. At one company I worked for, we had an account-planning worksheet. The form was used to rate the level of relationship with the customer. The options were:
· No engagement
· Engaged without first order
· Doing some business
· Preferred vendor
· Trusted advisor
I sat through quarterly business reviews for approximately 40 salespeople. We reviewed several accounts for each. Almost half the accounts were marked as trusted advisors. Many of the accounts we reviewed had been through one sales cycle and our company won the business. Management never once challenged the salesperson on the trusted advisor designation. Finally, I could not take it anymore and asked a couple of salespeople to define their definition of trusted advisor. “Well, when the customer wants to buy widget X, they purchase from us.” Or, “I have a customer security badge.”
Neither suggests trusted advisor status. Trusted advisor is a simple concept; your customer includes you in their business-planning sessions. Acme Technologies is looking to expand manufacturing into South America. Are you at the table with the customer when they are strategizing the feasibility of this expansion? Are you treated like an extension of the company? Do you have the ability to add value above and beyond the customer’s team? If the answer is yes, you are a trusted advisor. Do not confuse this with being told they are expanding, and then being asked to quote something to support that initiative. This status is closer to preferred vendor.
A trusted advisor is not the “relationship” guy or the “people person.” Relationship being an all-encompassing word, it is worth pointing out that I am talking about a business relationship, a valued business relationship. I am not talking about the guy the customer likes. This is not the vendor who buys lunch all the time. It’s the vendor who is part of the customer’s team, at a peer level, the person who brings value. If an employee is not offering value, he is not part of that company very long, no matter how much he is liked. Same goes with salespeople. You are an extension of the customer team. They are looking for someone they can trust and gain value from.
Being the trusted advisor is a lofty goal that you may never get to, but one you should strive for. So, what is the operative word in trusted advisor? Trusted. Your goal should be to establish trust. Trust starts before you set foot in the door and is hopefully strengthened by every step you take with your customers.
What do I mean by trust? In a sales relationship, the seller must demonstrate the core elements of trust. The customer from the beginning will judge you on these trust characteristics. They are:
Let’s define each of these in detail.
Proper intent makes sales a noble profession. There are so many negative stereotypes regarding sales, all of which come from salespeople with wrong intentions. The major theme of this book, shifting from opportunity focus to customer focus, is a shift of intention.
I never thought I would be in sales. I am an educated electrical engineer. I was a nuclear-trained naval officer. I was waiting for a job to open up in a local nuclear power plant when I took an “interim” sales position 20 years ago. My father was a salesman in the 1970s and 1980s. He always wanted me to do better. So, when I started to sell, and the engineering position I was waiting for didn’t open up, I felt stuck in sales. It took me years to realize that sales is a great profession. When I changed my intention from “sell them something” to becoming a salesperson who wanted to educate and help my customers, my outlook on my career changed, and my sales results skyrocketed. My day-to-day interactions did not change, and my skills did not change overnight, but that small shift in attitude allowed my customers to perceive better intent.
Your customers know your intentions. They see it in the first two minutes of conversation. Are you there to help them or to sell them something?
If you are there to help them, you will sell them something, and if you are there to sell them something, they will help you directly out the door.
Intention and sales skills are tied at the hip.
“We tend to judge ourselves by our intentions; we tend to judge others by their behavior.”
—Stephen M. Covey
If you are talking non-stop about your product or service, the perception from your customer will be that you are there just to sell something. If you truly get to know the customer, by understanding their needs first, the customer’s perception of your intent is to help them. If you lack the necessary skills to ask questions and listen, your first step in changing that behavior is to have good intention. Most people believe they are of good character, and that they have proper intent, but your customer can only see your behavior. If you care, you will listen. First and foremost, the customer must perceive you are there to help them. They want to see you are truly listening to their needs. Do you have a hidden agenda or do you have the best interest of all parties in mind? Your intent is to drive value for the customer. We have all heard the 80/20 rule of sales—80 percent of sales are done by 20 percent of the sales team. Nothing is more powerful in putting you in the top 20 percent than proper intention.
Do you have the necessary skills, knowledge, competence, and abilities to help your customer? In the ever-changing world of sales, capability is increasingly important. Your customers are inundated by requests for their time, both internal to their organization and externally by sales professionals. They want to learn from their vendors and will make time if they believe you have the capability.
You must demonstrate competence. You must show industry and product knowledge. All too often, the focus for sales management is about understanding the features and benefits of your products. It is much more than that. You must demonstrate that you understand how business is done—budgets, project timelines, decision processes, and so on. Are you capable of educating your customers on better ways they can do things? Do you show a propensity to drive results? Do you drive thought leadership? Can you get the customer to rethink their current way of doing things? In other words, do you bring value as an individual? Does your company bring value? Do the products or services bring value?
Your capability as a salesperson is directly tied to your ability to show proper intention. Are you skilled in sales; do you ask the right questions; are the questions good; do you show you care?
Capability is the one area you can control most since there is a wealth of knowledge you can tap into, from peers, managers, the internet, and even customers. While you show capability in front of the customer, it is developed on your own time without pressure.
You do not have to be all-knowing. You can show your competence by being a good resource manager. If you lack in any knowledge area, you can utilize others to fill the gaps. That’s why you should use the resources at your disposal—engineers, managers, partners, and subject matter experts.
Customers want you to demonstrate as much effort toward their success as they do. They want salespeople who follow through on promises. They want salespeople who can help drive the sales process. They have needs that must be filled, and sometimes they are so busy they rely on their salespeople to keep them on track with their own projects. Are you diligent with helping the customer? Are you dependable? Do you take control of the situation? Do you push through with the decision process? Do you follow through with your commitments? Are you dedicated to your own solution?
I ask those questions, because trust, and especially dedication, is about character. If you show weak character in any area of the sales process, you lose the confidence of your customers. The classic place this happens is during negotiations. Most salespeople take the attitude that they must give in to every customer demand, and every pricing request. They believe that is the way to earn customer trust and loyalty. In fact, this weak behavior actually has the opposite effect. What you are showing them is that you don’t believe in the value of your own services, and you lack commitment and dedication to your own company. The customer might be happy that they get better terms and conditions they are looking for, but they will slowly lose their trust of you. Of course, negotiations require compromise, but you must demonstrate strength throughout the process.
All your actions make up your character, which determines the trust your customers have for you. If you are playing golf with your customer and bend the rules, your customer notices. Every aspect of your character counts, so always think through the message you are sending to your customer. While it’s important to remain dedicated to helping the customer, you cannot forget to protect the value of your time, product, or company. Giving in on price, for example, can actually hurt you as much as getting caught cheating at golf.
Intention is shown, capabilities are demonstrated, results are measured, but dedication is where you earn the trust of your customer.
You must deliver the results you promised. You must deliver on time. In order to be fully trusted, you need to measure the return on investment you said would be achieved with your solution. Ultimately it doesn’t matter what your intentions are, how dedicated you are, or how smart you are; in the end you must be able to deliver results. The reason you are there is to help strengthen some aspect of the customer’s business.
You buy a used car. The salesperson and everyone at the dealership were incredibly helpful; they listened to your needs and were instantly able to find a car that fit your requirements perfectly. They knew every specification and feature of every car you discussed. The salesperson understood the purchase process, including leasing, financing, trade-ins, titling, and delivery. You feel that you worked out a very fair deal on the car. In other words, you saw impeccable intent, capability, and dedication. You drive five miles down the road and the car stalls. How do you feel about this salesperson and this dealership now? Without results, nothing else matters. You are not in direct control of the results your company can deliver. However, the act of measuring results—good, bad, or indifferent—will go a long way toward building trust.
The act of measuring results can be just as important as great results. Most salespeople, or companies, do no take the time to measure and share results. I believe most people are afraid to measure, because they are afraid the results might not be as desired. Your customers know whether they are getting value from your solution. By taking the step to measure results, you show you are dedicated to their success. If the results are great, you are in good shape. If the results are bad, you have identified something that needs to be addressed. You will gain more trust by fixing any issues.
A discussion about results can seem a bit out of place in a book about penetrating new accounts. It is true that measurement of results will help you with repeat business with a customer. However, if you know results are an important part of trust, you must figure out a way to show results before a sale. I will discuss many ways this can be done.
It All Matters
When developing trust, you are building a sense of power with the customer. Ask yourself, whom do you trust in a crisis situation? Do you trust the person who makes sure that everyone is comfortable, or do you trust the person who takes control? Authority is powerful. Authority is powerful in sales. While you cannot change your personality, as already mentioned, authority is built as you build on the trust elements. Knowledge will also give you confidence, which leads to trust and authority. Confidence is important in many aspects of a sale:
· Confidence in pointing out issues your customer might face.
· Confidence in your solution.
· Confidence to have a peer-level relationship with your customer. You don’t cater to their every whim.
· Confidence to stick to the value of what you are selling and not always giving in on price.
· Confidence in driving your customers to make progress toward their goals.
Each trust element is crucial. If you are missing any one of them, you are not completely trusted. Analyze each of these elements as if you are missing one. It does not matter if you have the best intent, and are capable and dedicated, if you can’t deliver results. Customers are looking for results.
If you can produce results, but your intent is only to sell the customers something, they will sense that you do not have their best interest at heart. Trust will not be established. To establish full trust, each element needs to be addressed. You can go through the exercise on your own. Think through situations where three of the trust elements are satisfied, but one is left out. Think to yourself, “Do I fully trust this person to deliver for me?”
These are the qualities your customers are looking for in a trusted advisor. Figure 1-1 shows your goal with customers.
Figure 1-1. What customers need from the sales team
The trust meter (Figure 1-2) for the trusted vendor is full. That means you have demonstrated or measured each element. It is okay to show how you have delivered results for another customer, but it is critical that you demonstrate you can produce measureable results for them. They need to be shown, not just told. I will use this pie chart as a trust meter. Figure 1-2 shows a completely shaded, or full, trust meter.
Figure 1-2. Full trust meter
During the buyer’s status quo stage, they have vendors they are already doing business with. Each of these vendors has developed a certain level of trust. Although they may not be at trusted advisor status, or have all four core trust elements in proper alignment, you must assume they are farther along than you.
Your alignment stage to the buyer’s status quo is plan and target. The incumbent vendor has demonstrated integrity, has shown their intent is to care, has solved problems, and has measured results.
Figure 1-3 shows what your customer thinks of you when they hear a voicemail from you, or you are on your first sales call.
Figure 1-3. Customer perception of a new salesperson
As a new vendor, the customer has no trust in you. Your trust meter is empty (Figure 1-4).
Figure 1-4. Empty trust meter
I will discuss strategies you can use at each stage of the sales cycle to improve your trust meter.
“People buy from people.” You have heard that a thousand times. Let me take this a step further, “People buy from people they trust.”
The Value of a Personal Relationship
Do not underestimate the value of a personal relationship. I could easily add a “P” section to the trust pie. Some salespeople have that natural ability to forge quick personal relationships with customers.. However, the P section is one small aspect of the relationship, so people skills get you only so far. At the end of the day, the customer has a job and goals to meet. Here is a direct quote from a customer I know, “He is a great guy, but I can only have so many lunches before I feel like I am wasting time. I have a job to do.”
As mentioned earlier in this chapter, your customer evaluates trust with everything you do. If you are establishing a personal relationship with a customer, do not compromise the business trust you built with low-character activities, like cheating in golf, drinking too much over dinner, or acting unprofessional, to mention a few. There is no distinction between personal and business character—it is just character.
I was working for the industry leader in data storage and trying to break into an account that was held by my competitor. I did most of the right things. I even called high and met with the CIO. I found an issue that my competitor was not in a position to solve.
It was a hotly contested sales cycle, and I was competing against a trusted incumbent. The customer needed more performance in their computing systems, and they determined that the type of technology installed from my competitor was not the proper technology. The incumbent did nothing wrong; over time, new computing needs out grew this particular technology. The customer needed to improve performance. In order to do this, they were convinced they needed a certain type of technology, a technology in which my company was the industry leader. We had thousands of customers running this technology in their environments who experienced great improvements to system performance.
My competitor, the incumbent, was just entering the market with this technology, and it was widely known in the industry that they had a ton of bugs. They had one reference customer—themselves. The referral they used was their own internal IT department. We had better technology and references, competitive pricing, and a powerful position within the organization. Slam dunk!
On a Monday night, I was eating pizza outdoors at a restaurant, and I get a call from the customer. “Congratulations Dave, we are going with your technology.” Well, dinner became more of a celebration.
The next morning, with my head a bit cloudy, I get a call from my new customer, “Dave, can you answer one more question?” I was thinking, “Where is this going? Something is not right.” They had already said I had won, why another question?
I answered the technical question to the customer’s satisfaction. That afternoon, I got another call. “Dave, we decided to go with the incumbent.” I had better pricing, technology, references, and so on. Why did I lose? They trusted their incumbent more than me, the new salesperson.
Remember that the sales cycle breaks the Qualify/Develop stage into distinct sections. Establish trust then qualify. In my eagerness to win a “slam dunk” sale, I skipped straight to qualifying the technical aspects without first establishing trust. I sold the product first, then the company, and then myself. But any buyer buys in this order:
1. You. Do they trust you to help them with moving their business forward?
2. Company. Is the company stable; will it stand behind what they sell me?
3. Product. The product needs to meet their needs, but they will not consider product until trust is established.
In this example, I definitely had company and product advantages, so I have to assume I did not have their trust. I lost that opportunity, but using the strategies in this book, I gained that company as a long-term customer.
When you know the customer is looking for trust, and you can break down trust into tangible components, you can shift your strategy at each stage of the sales cycle to address each component. Always keep in mind that you must show that your intent is to help. You must continually improve your knowledge and skill to show proper competence. You must follow through on your commitments, large and small, to your customer. And, most important, your customer is looking for results. You must demonstrate you can deliver what you promise before and after the sale. In coming chapters, I will explain how trust evolves through a typical sales cycle. However, first we will lay the foundation of selling 101—the psychological process used by every buyer regardless of the size of the purchase—then how the salesperson must align to the buying process, and finally how most sales processes are broken when it comes to acquiring new accounts. Naturally, I will then demonstrate how you can use trust to overcome poor processes and hone your sales skills.