One reason salespeople fail to win clients is because they have a difficult time building sales trust. Business acumen is a larger variable than most salespeople suspect, and when a contact senses it is lacking, they look elsewhere for help. Most sales organizations believe they are consultative, but few of their salespeople have the business acumen and experience to have the types of conversations this approach requires. Consultative salespeople provide counsel, advice, and recommendations in the B2B sales process.
In enterprise-level sales pursuits, your contacts will look for a business advisor, someone with greater knowledge and experience. We describe the salespeople who have these qualities as being One-Up, and those who lack the business acumen, knowledge, and experience as One-Down.
Trust is critical in sales. It allows buyers and decision-makers to move forward and buy from you. When you are consultative, your credibility is crucial to effective selling. My friend Charles H. Green, author of the book Trusted Advisor, is an expert on trust in sales. He has an equation that explains trust. It is:
Credibility × Reliability × Intimacy / Self-orientation
For our purposes, we need to start with credibility.
Your Credibility as a Business Advisor
One of the primary ways you can build trust in sales is by being credible. You need to have the business acumen and the experience necessary to advise prospects when. The larger the opportunity, the more you can expect your potential customers to assess your credibility.
Because buying from a salesperson commits the buyer to a business relationship, they avoid salespeople that lack credibility. Salespeople can prove they have business acumen by building relationships and talking about their client’s business or industry. I have watched salespeople struggle to answer how their business model differs from their competition. This question is often a test of credibility, so it’s important to be able to answer it clearly and honestly.
Why the Legacy Approach Dooms Salespeople
The legacy approach relies on sales crutches to create credibility, but this approach is no longer effective. Legacy salespeople try to create credibility by talking up their company, their big-name clients, their results, and their solutions. To the client’s ears, this can sound like a sales pitch delivered way too early. It does nothing to establish trust.
Legacy salespeople follow their flawed opening by sharing the features and benefits of their products and services. This is nothing close to effective selling in the 21st century, nor does it create sales trust. Salespeople that ask customers questions they should already know the answer to reveal they lack credibility. Asking about a problem, a pain point, or the implication to their business diminishes a salesperson’s stature as a business advisor.
You may have industry certifications, case studies, and other content that proves your company includes thought leaders, but you reveal your credibility when you speak to your contacts. It is an easy tell when a salesperson avoids eye contact in a face-to-face meeting. It communicates a lack of confidence. This feels like a lack of credibility.
Strategies for Breaking through the Trust Barrier in Sales
Breaking through this barrier to sales trust requires the salesperson to show their credibility and their competence by using information disparity. A good salesperson will use their knowledge and experience to provide insights and perspective to build a buyer’s trust. In our sales approach, we use an executive briefing to establish authority and knowledge in a first meeting.
Another strategy to prove your credibility comes from sharing your experience with your existing customers and their industry. By not using your existing client’s names, you build trust.
The Importance of an Other Orientation
Sales teams don’t get the development they need to be other-oriented. Most of the legacy approaches start with a premise buyers are purchasing a solution from the salesperson’s company. This focus on the salesperson’s company and solution is self-oriented, which leads to a lack of trust in sales. An effective selling approach is customer-centric.
You can build trust in sales through active listening, one of the easiest ways to prove you are other-oriented. You can provide well-researched, effective insights and use a problem-solving mindset to build trust. By citing the data and sources, you create greater credibility. You also provide a better sales experience by asking open-ended questions that show your interest in learning more.
Credibility is tied to reliability, which means keeping your word when you say you will do something. If you can’t be counted on to keep your word, your client will likely remove you from consideration.
Related Read: Trust-based relationship-selling examples
The Nature of Sales Credibility
Anything that creates credibility will cause you to build trust in sales. In the industry I spent the most time in, my clients would ask me if I could ensure their results. The nature of the business didn’t allow for that level of certainty. Instead, I operated under the rule: The truth at any cost, even the deal.
It is easier to tell the truth and keep your credibility than it is to rebuild trust after a breach. Once you have lost your sales credibility, many clients will move on. You need business acumen, knowledge, and the experience that lets you help your prospective clients improve their results.
As you leave this article, assess your sales approach for its ability to prove your credibility. Work on business acumen, improving your awareness of business concepts, and the vocabulary that makes you sound consultative. If you need help, go here: Solve for sales.