Trust-Based Selling: Finding and Keeping Customers for Life (2015)
Chapter 5. Trust Sales Cycle
The Trust Meter Shows the Way
Trust…affects the quality of every relationship, every communication, every project, every business venture, every effort in which we are engaged.
—Stephen M.R. Covey
Focusing on the foundation of the relationship, this chapter analyzes how trust is developed from the beginning of a buyer-seller relationship.
Recall the trust meter I introduced in Chapter 1. Trust naturally progresses through an opportunity cycle. An example is shown in Figure 5-1.
Figure 5-1. Trust progression
It takes a while for your trust meter to fill up. You are an unknown entity to your customer as you enter into the sales cycle. You have not established intent, capability, results, or dedication. Your trust meter is empty (Figure 5-2).
Figure 5-2. Empty trust meter
Let's look at a possible scenario of how trust might progress through one sales cycle. If you are able to gain access to your customers, and you properly engage them, you can quickly start to show that your intent is to help or educate. As customers get more comfortable with you, they will share more as they define their needs. During this process, if you act as a consultant and focus on the customer, you can start to show capability. However, there is still some skepticism by the customer, so elements of intent and capability are shaded in a light grey on your trust meter (Figure 5-3). Capability has been demonstrated via sales skill and knowledge, but you have not yet demonstrated your product’s capability.
Figure 5-3. Trust meter early in the new customer acquisition phase
You start to show your dedication through the evaluation and closing stages. Their evaluation of your product or service is in line with the features and capabilities you sold. You are dedicated through the contract and negotiation process. You remain dependable, but you also show that you value your own solution. You continue to follow through on your commitments. You have not proved you will stick around after the sale yet, so you get only half the marks for dedication at this point. Your capability strengthens as you show more depth of knowledge for your own product and start to understand their business more deeply (Figure 5-4).
Figure 5-4. Trust meter as a customer begins to gain confidence in you
Next, your company implements the solution the customer has purchased. As a salesperson, you stick around through the implementation, ensuring there is a smooth transition from pre-sales to post-sales. So, your dedication quotient goes up. Your intent is now completely in line with the customer. The success of the implementation is as important to your company as it is to theirs (Figure 5-5).
Figure 5-5. Trust meter when you make your first sale
The top salespeople are not afraid to come back after the implementation and determine if the solution they sold to the customer actually produces the business results they promised during the earlier parts of the sales cycle. By demonstrating that you and your company can produce results, you fulfill the entire trust process (Figure 5-6).
Figure 5-6. Full trust meter
You can be considered the incumbent at this point. However, becoming a trusted advisor comes only by repeating this process several times. As trust grows, you get the chance to work on projects that are more important, and that have more impact on the business objectives of the customer.
Almost every sales process falls short when salespeople do not take into account relationships, competition, or timing. Remember, the structure for most models is focused 100% on the opportunity. With a full trust meter, subsequent sales cycles become a non-linear process, as shown inFigure 5-7.
Figure 5-7. The sales cycle with the trust overlay
Once you have earned the customer’s trust, the next time you enter into another opportunity, you do not have to start at the planning and target phases of the sales cycle. You now enter during the needs analysis stage (buyer process) or the qualify stage (sales process). Not only do you enter at a later stage, you don’t have to earn full trust from the beginning. You understand the customer’s business already, so you don’t have to spend as much time qualifying the customer. You can start to analyze the customer’s needs. Having already shown proper intent in a previous sales cycle, the customer will trust you and open up to you with more information.
To steal a phrase from the movie Meet the Fockers, you are now in “the circle of trust.” (See Figure 5-8.)
Figure 5-8. The Circle of Trust
While this all sounds great, the model is missing one huge element—“the guy,” or the incumbent. With the introduction of the incumbent, a model that is focused on opportunity breaks. At the beginning, your trust meter is empty and you must assume the incumbent’s is full (Figure 5-9).
Figure 5-9. Incumbent vs. new salesperson in the sales cycle
Once a vendor has established trust, they enter back into the next sales cycle at their earned status. The incumbent’s existing trust meter is the major challenge you face in your first year of sales, or anytime you’re trying to engage a new customer (Figure 5-10).
Figure 5-10. Incumbent trust vs. new salesperson trust
Even if you try to focus on customer needs during your first sales cycle with a new customer, you may not be invited into the circle of trust. Without enough trust, customers will not always open up to you about their problems. Or, they share much more information with the incumbent. They may engage you with a proof of concept (the testing of your solution against customer needs) in the prove stage, and they may even bring you to negotiations, but the incumbent is trusted and you are not. Look at the close stage in the previous model. While the incumbent’s trust meter is full, your trust meter at best looks something like Figure 5-11.
Figure 5-11. Trust meter that shows what you are up against even when you have proven your concept to the customer
This simply is not enough trust to compete.
Looking at the fully trusted sales cycle of the incumbent, you can see the process is completely condensed. They don’t have to plan and target, nor try to gain access to the customer. They enter into the qualify/develop stage ahead of a new vendor. If the incumbent is smart, they will spend the time qualifying and defining the needs of the customer. Since there is more trust, the prove stage is condensed. There is less scrutiny versus a new vendor. The close stage for the existing vendor is shortened because they have experience with the process. They are set up in the purchasing system, credit lines are established, and relationships may have been built with the people in the purchasing department. It is easier and less work for the customer to continue using their existing vendor (Figure 5-12).
Figure 5-12. The condensed sales cycle of a trusted incumbent
This is a position of power for the incumbent vendor. Early in your relationship, it is like you are playing baseball on two entirely different fields. When the incumbent steps to the plate, they only have to run to third base and then back home for a run.
Knowing it is not a fair game, your strategy must shift away from getting the opportunity and toward building the relationship. The new sales cycle is shown in Figure 5-13.
Figure 5-13. Trust before opportunity
With a new customer, 90% of all sales happen during planning and qualifying. In order to compete with an incumbent, you must build trust in the first two phases of the sales cycle. Ideally, you want to win the first opportunity you engage with a customer, and the only way to do that is to focus on building trust as much as you focus on the opportunity. This is the major focus of the book, so strategies to accomplish this kind of trust are presented at length.
When competing against the incumbent, or the status quo, any sales model that focuses on the opportunity is broken. The simple realization that you’re not playing on a level playing field gives you huge insight—you go into the situation with open eyes, which can help you build trust and ultimately win business. The next chapter discusses in detail the advantages of focusing on establishing trust with new accounts versus focusing only on finding and closing opportunities.