Sales and Sales Management Blog

July 7, 2009

Boost Your Sales: “A Matter of Trust,” by Randy Pennington

Filed under: Client Relationships,sales,selling,trust — Paul McCord @ 6:28 am
Tags: , , ,

A Matter of Trust
Randy G. Pennington

“Nothing ever happens until someone buys something from someone else.”

I have heard variations on that quote for many years. And it still rings true. Our economy is based on the exchange of value known as sales.

Here is my corollary to that truth: No one every buys anything that is important to them or about which they have a choice until they trust you.

Let’s examine the qualifiers in that statement. I once purchased an auto repair from someone I didn’t really trust because I was stranded on the side of the road. It was a one-time situation in a town where I did not live. Likewise, I am sure that I have made a few minor purchases that did not rise to the level of importance that my trust was actively required. The little glow stick that I purchased at a concert comes to mind, but there are very few of those.

So … unless your business is built on one-time sales to customers with no choice or you are selling something that exists below the threshold where trust is even a consideration, the need to build a reputation for trust is critical to your success.

Building Trust One Person At A Time

Carl Sewell owns car dealerships—ten of them in fact. His Lexus and Cadillac dealerships traditionally rank at or near the top for sales and service in North America. Sewell knows a purchase will be made when I walk in the door of his dealership. There is a solid track record on which to rely – nine automobiles purchased and all the service work that goes along with them. I am loyal to Sewell Motors because I trust them. I trust them—and your customers will trust you—because they have mastered the following five principles.

  • Character: Every discussion of trust begins here. Character defines an individual’s approach for dealing with themselves and others. It is the demonstration of the values adopted for basic living. Individuals who embody basic principles such as honesty, trustworthiness, loyalty, justice, patience, and duty find that their ideas and recommendations are readily accepted. The nagging question of motive lingers when character is in question.
  • Competence: How good are you at your job? How much do you know about your product? Can you answer my questions with confidence and authority? Professionals who earn my trust are competent. They recognize their individual strengths and weaknesses and commit to continuous growth in all areas of individual performance. An excellent reputation for honesty will be rendered useless if it is matched with incompetence.
  • Communication: Outstanding presentation skills contribute to effective communication. Unfortunately, too much emphasis has been placed on the importance of the pitch. Communication that builds trust is about listening. The ability to understand others creates a bond that encourages interdependence and enhances commitment. We tend to trust those who appreciate our goals, struggles, joys and situation.
  • Consistency: The sales professional that sold me my first car from Sewell impressed me with his competence and communication. That, combined with the company’s reputation for character, led to the initial buy decision. Purchases two through nine have been made because of consistency. Every person at every level has continued to perform in a manner that re-earns and maintains my trust. Confidence that your performance will be in line with past experience frees others from worry about protecting themselves from an unpredictable response.
  • Courage: Earning and maintaining trust in an increasingly competitive and demanding world requires courage. Challenges must be confronted head-on in a manner that respects diversity; demonstrates professional business practices; and maintains personal integrity. True courage requires commitment and the willingness to accept personal risk. It fosters admiration and sets in motion a series of events that influence long-term success.

A Special Message to Sales Managers

The five factors for building trust were originally developed in a study we conducted in 2004 about what causes mistrust on the job. Our work since that time has reinforced the fact that character, competence, consistency, communication, and courage are considerations in all decisions to trust another person or company or institution. And that leads us to you—the person responsible for creating the environment that promotes trust.

Sewell Motors has built its brand based on integrity in its products, services, and relationships. That commitment is on display every day through the promises made and delivered. It is about performance not marketing. I asked Joe Calloway, author of the book Becoming a Category of One, to explain why building a brand that customers can trust is important. He said, “The experience of doing business is critical as today’s brutally competitive environment meets a soft economy. A unique brand that others can trust is the only way to set you apart from the competition.”

That is where you come in. The same five factors that cause your customers to trust your sales professionals will cause your sales professionals to trust you. Carl Sewell understands that and devotes countless energy and effort toward that end. In return, he gets comments like this one from Linda, one of his sales team: “I owe this company a lot. They stood behind me during my mother’s illness. I have a huge sense of loyalty and desire to help them succeed.”

Does your sales team say that about your company?

Do This Now

  • Be very clear about the values for which you stand. What are the principles that are so important that you would never compromise them … even if it meant losing the sale?
  • Be consistent with the messages you send. Communication is everything and everything communicates when building trust. A great sales pitch that focuses on benefits rather than features is nice. A reputation for listening and caring that is communicated through action over time is the stuff of legends.
  • Get better at your job. Customers have always had a choice. It didn’t matter as much when there were more than enough buyers to go around. Today, you have to be better tomorrow than you are today. Learn more, grow more, and invest more in education.
  • Never sacrifice trust for short-term gain. Consistency and courage build relationships that last a life time. Yes, you have to make your numbers today. There is no “long-term” without delivering results right now. I contend that companies like Sewell Motors are still delivering results today for the precise reason that they are unwilling to sacrifice trust for short-term gain. Customers are smarter and more vocal than ever. They will find out and let others know if you took advantage of them.

Looking ahead from 2009, you can count on the following:

  • The economy will eventually turn around and more people will start buying again. It may not be this year, and it will probably be many months before activity returns to the levels we remember from 2006 and 2007.
  • Customer behavior has been altered for the short-term and perhaps longer. Those who experienced the Great Depression saw their purchasing habits altered for many years and often their entire lives.
  • Trust will be critical for your success today and tomorrow.

The question that remains is what you will do about it. A matter of trust is a matter of survival.

Randy Pennington is author of Results Rule! Build a Culture that Blows the Competition Away. He helps leaders build cultures committed to results, relationships, and accountability. For additional information or to schedule Randy for your organization: contact via telephone at 972.980.9857; e-mail at; or on the Internet at or Your comments are encouraged. Please send your ideas to

©2009 by Pennington Performance Group; Addison, TX. All rights reserved. This article may be downloaded for personal and professional development. Copies may be shared within an individual organization. All other uses of this material are strictly prohibited without written permission from the author.


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May 1, 2009

Is Being Liked by Your Prospects Really Important?

Filed under: Client Relationships,sales,selling,trust — Paul McCord @ 9:13 am
Tags: , , ,

“There’s nothing in this world more important in sales than being liked by your prospect.”

“A prospect won’t listen to you unless they like you, so if you can’t get them on your side, you can’t create a sale.”

“If they like you, they may listen to you.  If they’ll listen to you, you may be able to get them to trust you.  If they trust you, they just might buy from you . . . .  Everything positive in the sale starts with them liking you, everything negative starts with them not liking you.”

These three statements about being liked were made by three top sales trainers.  Being liked must be the lynchpin to success in selling, right? 

I’ve attended numerous sales workshops and seminars, listened to a great many CD’s, and read dozens of books that all emphasize the critical nature of being liked by prospects and clients. 

On the positive side it is claimed that being liked:

  • opens doors
  • lowers prospect’s defenses
  • makes them want to say yes to please you
  • allows them to trust you

On the negative side they claim that if you aren’t liked prospects:

  • won’t believe you
  • will be suspect of your intentions
  • won’t give you full cooperation

Sounds like being liked really is the key to sales success.

Except it isn’t.

Certainly, being liked is a great asset and by all means we should do all within reason to be liked by our prospects and clients.

But being liked takes a backseat to being trusted and respected.

I suspect that you, like me, have heard many comments such as: “He drives me crazy and is one of the hardest people I know to get along with, but I wouldn’t trust my money to anyone else,” or, “I have to have my assistant deal with him because I just can’t deal with him.  I’d really love to find someone I can work with, but by gosh when he says something I can take it to the bank, and that’s worth a whole lot more than having to put up with him.”

I’ve seen thousands of situations where the salesperson and client weren’t friendly, much less friends; where the client didn’t like the salesperson but was eager to do business with them because they had earned the prospect’s trust.

We work in a profession that has a reputation for being less than honest—for being downright dishonest.  Many, if not all, of our prospects have had numerous bad experiences with salespeople.  They’ve been lied to, ripped off, and taken advantage of to the point they not only have erected a protective wall between themselves, they’ve also dug a mote and stocked it with crocodiles.  They try to avoid us if at all possible, and when they do have to deal with us, they expect us to lie, cheat, and try to screw them to the wall.

Your prospects have met the eminently likeable rip-off artist, the oh so likeable liar, the loveable conman; and as far as they know, you’re him, and if you are, well, that’s just par for the course when dealing with salespeople.

Prospects aren’t surprised to find likable salespeople whom they don’t trust.  That’s the norm.  They even buy from them because they can’t find someone they do trust.  And if you’re going to buy from someone you don’t trust, why not buy from the one you like?

No, being liked isn’t the key to sales success.

But if your prospects find likeable salespeople all around them that they don’t trust, what would happen if they found a salesperson they did trust?  They’d probably react in the same way as those quoted above—they’d be overjoyed to deal with them even if they didn’t like them.

Trust (real trust, not the shallow trust salespeople try to create by faking interest in the prospect by asking a couple of personal questions to find—or fake—common ground upon which to build likeability) is difficult to build and once built, easy to wreck. 

Although trust is one of the most difficult bridges to build with a client, it is the glue that builds lasting clients. 

Charles H. Green has developed an equation for measuring trust.  In the equation, Trust equals Credibility plus Reliability plus Intimacy divided by Self-orientation.  Although all four factors are important, in a sense the self-orientation is the most important.  The salesperson’s focus, whether on the prospect’s interests or on their own self interest, is the key factor in establishing trust.

By all means strive to be liked, but work to establish trust. 

Trust establishes clients and brings in business, being liked makes it more enjoyable.

February 23, 2009

Turning a Serious Concept into Marketing Pulp

If you’ve been selling for any time whatsoever, I’m sure you’re familiar with the concept of being a trusted advisor.  I’m also sure you’d like your customers and clients to view you as one of their trusted advisors. 

Although the concept of being a trusted advisor has been around for centuries, Charles Green and David Maister in their book, The Trusted Advisor, began the popularization of the concept in the professional sales arena.  Today Charles is still one of the leading advocates and counselors of creating trust-based relationships in business.

Since the publication of The Trusted Advisor the concept of being a trusted advisor has grown to the point that I suspect it would be very difficult to find a professional salesperson that isn’t at least familiar with the term.  Just a few years ago, the concept of trusted advisor was new for many in sales.  As more and more people became familiar with the term, it began to appear frequently in literature and in sales, marketing, and management training sessions and has now entered the marketing world as a sales tool.

The root of the trusted advisor concept is action-what we as salespeople do with and to our prospects and clients.  How we treat our clients, how we relate to them, and who’s good we seek is paramount in developing a trusted advisor relationship.  Developing the trusted advisor relationship has far more to do with what we do than what we say, and it certainly has nothing to do with how we describe ourselves in our sales and marketing materials.

Inevitably, the term is being hi-jacked by salespeople, marketing departments, and companies as a sales tool.  Salespeople and companies refer to themselves as ‘trusted advisors,’ even to the extent that some companies have included the term in their company name.  Marketing departments have worked the term into their marketing material and tag lines.  It won’t be long and the term will appear in some company’s jingle-if it hasn’t already. 

Many of these salespeople and companies believe the term accurately describes who they are or who they wish to be; others, however, simply seek to take a shortcut and proclaim themselves to be trusted advisors in hopes of attracting business without having to do the work.  But whether used by those who seek to become a trusted advisor or by those who simply view the term as a marketing tool, they both are turning the term-not the concept-into meaningless marketing pap. 

Many react negatively to a salesperson who proclaims themselves to be honest and truthful (“honestly, . . .” or, “to tell you the truth, . . .”).  If you have to tell me how honest or truthful you are, I immediately suspect just how honest and truthful you really are.  The same is true for those who proclaim themselves to be trusted advisors.  Just as honesty, truthfulness, and trust are not things you proclaim but are things you demonstrate, becoming a trusted advisor is an earned position.  If you have to tell your prospect or client what to think of you, you probably haven’t earned it-and they probably won’t think of you in those terms anyway.

It’s sad to see a great term turned into meaningless marketing mush.  If you really want to become a trusted advisor to your clients, forget about marketing yourself or your company as a trusted advisor; instead, do the work, earn the position, and you’ll have a client for life. 

October 31, 2008

What Does Your Client Touch Program Say About You?

What are you doing with those prospects that are in your database that aren’t ready to purchase yet?  Are you in the process of establishing trust and good will-or are you demonstrating that you aren’t trustworthy or that you really don’t have anything of value to offer?

Whether you’ve considered it or not, everything you send to a prospect communicates your value-or non-value, and your trustworthiness.  Everything you send.  No matter how small.

Most salespeople, professionals, and companies will put their long-term prospects into a database and keep in touch with them on a semi-regular basis.  They’ll send a monthly or quarterly newsletter, a “how ya doin, ya ready to buy yet?” email or letter on occasion, and make a phone call once in a blue moon.  Some will inundate the prospect with so much junk mail and junk email that the prospect wonders how to get rid of them.

Either way, the prospect is learning about the salesperson or company.  The question is what are they learning?

Let’s look at the three most common negative messages prospects get from salesperson and company communications:

You Aren’t Reliable:

Reliability is a major trust factor and what you send and when you send materials to your prospects will communicate to some extent whether or not you are reliable.  If you promise to send information, do you send exactly what you promised, when you promised?  If not, why should a prospect trust you?

Do you send a monthly or quarterly newsletter?  Is it on time, every time?  If the date on your newsletter is May and it arrives in June because you were too busy to get it out, what message does that send?  Think people won’t notice?  I received the Jan/Feb newsletter from an interior decorator-in April.  Is that how she handles all of her commitments?

You Don’t Value My Time

Are the items you send of real value to the prospect?  If it isn’t of value, why do you send it?

What people will send is amazing.  I get newsletters with recipes, gardening tips, and other information that might be appropriate for some salespeople, but not from the people who are sending it.  Recipes, gardening tips, household tips, etc. might be appropriate in a REALTOR’S newsletter, but not an accountant’s, or financial planner’s, or insurance agent’s, or from an auto repair shop.  If I get something from an accountant, I expect it to have some relevance to my financial needs.  If I get something from an auto repair shop, I expect it have something to do with automobiles.  I don’t expect an attorney to send me an article on how to give a massage (yep, got one). 

What can you send of value?  There is a ton of stuff.  Articles relating to the area you address; special offers; new services and/or products; major company news; and other pertinent information.  All of these items are likely to be of interest to a majority of your prospects.

The key is not to waste your prospect’s time.  Of course, not everything you send is going to be of interest to every one of your prospects.  But if your information is good, all of your prospects will find value in your communications-just not every prospect for every communication.  I get a number of emails after each edition of my newsletter.  Many praise a particular issue; others are indifferent.  But some of those who were indifferent to one issue may email me an issue or two later raving about the latest issue, while the one who was enthused about the first issue emails me to let me know I missed the mark with them on the last issue.  I, like you, have to aim to bring lots of great material to the table, knowing that each reader is at a different place in their careers.  What appeals to one, may not appeal to another.  However, if I bring enough diversity to the newsletter, I can hit everyone’s needs, just not in every issue.  You must aim for the same goal-bring substance to the table, and overtime, you’ll feed the lot.

Every time you communicate with a prospect or client, even with your mass communications, you are teaching them to pay attention to you because you value their time and give them value-or you are teaching them to ignore you because you are nothing but a time waster.

You Don’t Know Your Business

Sending out-dated or erroneous information also will be noticed by many prospects.  If you fail to review and carefully examine your information to make sure that it is up-to-date and accurate, you run a serious risk of convincing your prospect that you simply don’t know what you’re talking about.

The articles and other materials you send, whether written by you or others, must contain current, accurate and trustworthy information.  Never assume that yours is the only information the prospect is receiving about your subject.  Your object is to inform, not confuse.  Your goal is to impress, not show your ignorance or laziness.  Errors are especially easy to miss when dealing with statistics and factual matters of record.

This isn’t to say that you can’t send items that may challenge conventional wisdom.  You certainly can-and if you can back your information up, these may be your most potent communications.  For instance, I work obviously in the areas of sales and sales management.  Most salespeople and managers know there are a great variety of training methods and theories.  Controversy and going against convention isn’t an issue in this industry.  As a matter of fact, many are well aware that many conventional ways of doing things simply don’t work that well.  Consequently, going against convention and finding better ways is welcomed. 

But in other industries, for example, many sectors of the financial services industry, bucking convention many not only raise many eyebrows, but your very competence may be questioned if your ideas are not well documented by independent sources.  Does this mean that you can’t present non-traditional ideas in these industries?  No.  It simply means that you must go out of your way to document their validity because you know upfront that you’re dealing with a subject where innovation is going to be questioned-not just by peers, but by many prospects also.

In addition to sloppy work, overstatements and exaggerations are another red flag for prospects.  It is perfectly permissible to make strong statements about your products and services as long as you are not the author of those statements and you can identify for your prospects exactly who made the claims about your product or service. 

If you use superlatives about yourself, your product/service, or your company, they cannot be from you and you must fully identify the person who made them-meaning they can be checked out.  If you make the claim yourself, you lose credibility.  If you attribute the superlative to someone who is not fully identified, you lose credibility.  If you use an authority in your particular field and give full identification, you gain credibility.  If you use an everyday customer with full disclosure, you gain credibility.

Examine your prospect communications in light of these three most common mistakes.  Don’t allow yourself to lose credibility while trying to build credibility.  Every communication you have with a prospect or client is just as important as your initial communication with them.  You’ve worked hard to gain their trust and respect.  Don’t blow it by teaching them that you’re nothing but a time waster.

August 15, 2008

How to Destory Your Credibility without Even Trying

China wowed the world last Friday evening with their spectacular opening ceremonies for the Olympics. Those ceremonies had been in the works for two years. And for several years prior to that they had been building the sites, preparing their cities, and promoting not just the games but their image. These Olympics were to be their coming out party to showcase China to the world. This was the time for them to shine.

They promised these would be the best games ever held. Not only would the games be the best, the atmosphere and the spectacle would do both China and the Olympics proud.

Although the immediate lead up to the games was shaky with arrests of dissidents, preventing some foreign protesters from protesting, and a number of other issues, the games got off with a magnificent start. The world was wowed and hopes were high that these really would be the greatest games ever.

Then the trouble started–just little signs that maybe all was not what it seemed. Some of the opening night fireworks had been faked-just to make them stand out better on TV. Then the girl who sang wasn’t really the girl who sang. Then questions about the eligibility of some of their athletes. Now questions about whether the kids carrying out the Chinese flag were what the Chinese said they were.

There seems to be new questions daily about what was real and what that opening night wasn’t. As the questions mount, the press is looking more closely at not only the opening night ceremonies but at other aspects of the events–the Chinese teams and coaches, the officiating, and the presentation of China the country is putting on.

Most of the issues uncovered have been relatively minor-fireworks enhanced to make them standout better on TV, a girl substituted for the real singer because they felt the substitute represented China’s image better, kids from a single ethnic group representing all ethnic groups in the country because it was easier to get an existing troupe to perform.

Yet these small incidents accumulate and cause many to question just how much of what they are seeing is real and how much isn’t. Years of preparation and credibility building brought down in just a few days because of a series of small, meaningless, unnecessary incidents.

This on a big scale before the eyes of the world, but this same dynamic can destroy our credibility just as quickly. Ours may not be fakery. Ours may not be smoke and mirrors. Ours may simply be a series of small promises not kept, dates missed, phone calls unreturned. But the damage is the same. Those small promises, those unimportant dates, those too busy to return phone calls can destroy us more quickly than anything else because we think no one will notice. The problem is-they will notice.

July 10, 2008

Guest Article: “Does Your Customer Trust You? The Acid Test,” by Charles H. Green

Does Your Customer Trust You? The Acid Test
By Charle H. Green

The acid test Most salespeople will agree—there is no stronger sales driver than a customer’s trust in the salesperson. Further, the most successful route to being trusted is to be trustworthy—worthy of trust. Faking trust is not easy—and the consequences of failing at it are large.

But is it possible to know if your client does trust you? Is there one predictor of client trust? Is there a single factor that amounts to an acid test of trust in selling?

I think there is. It’s contained in one single question. A “yes” answer will strongly suggest your customers trust you. A “no” answer will virtually guarantee they don’t.

The Acid Test of Trust in Selling

The question is this:

Have you ever recommended a competitor to one of your better clients?

If the answer is “yes”—subject to the caveats below—then you have demonstrably put your customer’s short-term interests ahead of your own. This indicates low self-orientation and a long-term perspective on your part (I’m assuming sincerity), and is a good indicator of trustworthiness.

If you have never, ever, recommended a competitor to a good client, then either your product is always better than the competition for every customer in every situation (puh-leeze), or—far more likely—you always shade your answers to suit your own advantage. Which says you always put your interests ahead of your customers’. Which says, frankly, you can’t be trusted.

Here are the caveats: don’t count “yes” answers if:

a. The client was trivially important to you
b. You were going to lose the client anyway
c. You don’t have a viable service offering in the category
d. You figured the competitor’s offering was terrible and you’d deep-six them by recommending them.

The only fair “yes” answer is one in which you honestly felt that an important client would be better served in an important case by going with a competitor’s offering.

If that describes what you did, and it is a fair reflection of how you think about client relationships in general, then I suspect your clients trust you.

This is the “acid test” of trust in selling. To understand why it’s so powerful, let’s consider the factors of trust.

Why Is This the Acid Test?

My co-authors and I suggested in The Trusted Advisor that trust has four components, and we arrayed them in the “trust equation.” More precisely, it is an equation for trustworthiness, and it is written:
T =  (C   R   I) / S


T = trustworthiness of the seller (as perceived by the buyer),
C = credibility,
R = reliability,
I = intimacy, and
S = self-orientation.

Credibility is probably the most commonly thought-of trust component, but it is only one. Think of credibility and reliability as being the “rational” parts of trust. Believable, credentialed, dependable, having a track record—these are the traits we most consciously look for in screening for vendors, doctors, and websites.

The third factor in the numerator—intimacy—is more emotional. It has to do with the sense of security we get in sharing information with someone. We say we “trust” someone when we open up to them, share parts of ourselves with them. We trust those to whom we entrust our secrets.

But all pale beside the power of the single factor in the denominator—self-orientation. If the seller—the one who would be trusted, who strives to be perceived as trustworthy—is perceived as being self-oriented, then we see him as in it for himself. And that’s the kiss of death for trust.

At its simplest, high self-orientation is selfishness; at its most complex, self-absorption. Neither gives the buyer a sense that the seller cares about any interests but his own.

Self-orientation speaks to motives. If one’s motives are suspect, then everything else is cast in a different light. What looked like credible credentials may be a forged resume and false testimonials. What looked like a reliable track record may be an assemblage of falsehoods. What looked like safe intimacy may be the tactics of a con man. Bad motives taint every other aspect of trust.

The acid test aims squarely at this issue of orientation. Whom are you serving? If the answer is, the client, then all is well. No client expects a professional to go out of business serving them; the need to make a good profit is easily accepted.

It’s when the need to run a profitable business is given primacy in every transaction, every quarter, every sale, that clients call your motives into question. How can they trust someone who’s never willing to invest in the longer term, never willing to compromise, never willing to do gracefully defer in the face of what is best for the client? They cannot, of course.

Passing the acid test suggests you know how to focus on relationships, not transactions; medium and long-term timeframes, not just short-term; and collaborative, not competitive, work patterns.

Flunking the acid test means clients doubt your motives. Whether you are selfish or self-obsessed makes little difference to them—the results are self-aggrandizing, not client-helpful.

The paradox is: in the long-run, self-focused behavior is less successful than is client-helpful behavior. Collaboration beats competition. Trust beats suspicion. Profits flow most not to those who crave them, but to those who accept them gracefully as an outcome of client service.

Charles H. Green is a speaker and executive educator on trust-based relationships and Trust-based Selling in complex businesses. He is author of Trust-based Selling (McGraw-Hill, 2005), and co-author of The Trusted Advisor (with David Maister and Rob Galford, Free Press, October 2000).  Visit his website at

June 16, 2008

Avoiding Uncomfortable Discussions with Your Prospects and Clients Isn’t Going to Build Trust

Are you blind to the political issues and candidates that impact your family, your sales business, and your clients? Even if political, economic, social, and cultural issues aren’t high on your radar, are you going to simply avoid the subject during this election season? Could you if you wanted to? Few of us, no matter how well or ill informed we may be, can honestly say that we have no opinions regarding the candidates and the issues.

As salespeople we spend a fair amount of time trying to develop relationships built upon trust, honesty, and openness with our prospects and clients. We claim that we want to build relationships with our clients, we want to get to know them as people and not just as potential purchasers, we want to create friends, not just accounts. Many of us go to great lengths to learn how to read body language, to communicate in a manner that caters to the prospect’s personality type, to read the unspoken signals the client sends through how they dress, how they decorate their office, what they drive, and what they do for recreation and relaxation. Our goal we say is to treat the prospect as a whole person.

Nevertheless, our holistic approach to sales is one sided. For many of us, there are areas of discussion and interaction that we want to hide from our prospect. Let the conversation get close to the area of political or social opinion and all the sudden many of us no longer are too anxious to build the relationship on honesty and openness. Instead of openness, we seek to avoid; instead of honesty, we seek to muddy the waters to the point our client has no idea where we stand.

Many of us will spend the next few months doing a delicate dance of avoidance, trying to offend no one while insisting that we are open, honest, trustworthy individuals, intent only on meeting the prospect’s needs and becoming trusted advisors. We’ll try to build relationships based on getting to know our client while allowing them to get to know only three quarters of us. We’ll try to balance on the head of pin, afraid that if we reveal ourselves as a political or socially aware person we’ll offend, we’ll step on toes, we’ll lose a sale.

In my opinion–and experience–not only is this behavior ingenuous, but it is itself destructive. Prospects and clients expect each of us to have opinions and they are quite aware that those opinions may be counter to their own.

What are we communicating to prospects and clients when we try to sidestep discussion of the issues or candidates? Many immediately assume we’re avoiding the issue because we hold opinions we believe are counter to theirs—so whether their assumption is correct or not, by avoiding the discussion we risk offending the prospect by unintentionally communicating a contrary opinion to theirs. A few may assume that we’re not informed well enough or care enough to have an opinion. Most will assume that we’re simply trying to play the game, trying to be ‘real’ as long as that reality doesn’t involve anything of substance in our personal lives.

Conventional wisdom has been to avoid political discussion. Conventional wisdom comes from a time when the emphasis wasn’t on building long-term, trust based relationships with prospects and clients.

I’m not advocating you initiate political and social discussion, but avoiding it isn’t going to advance the relationship either.

Seldom have I found discussing these issues to be, well, an issue. I have lost a few sales that I can trace to these types of discussions, but I can identify many more sales I’ve made where the sale had its roots in a willingness to engage in political and social discussions.

As long as you are respectful of the prospect’s point of view, have reasoned arguments for your stance, and don’t engage in inflammatory language, there is no reason to fear alienating a prospect or client. In fact, if you can intelligently discuss the issues in light of how they may impact your prospect’s business, you may find that your discussion instead of being a potential minefield may be one of the most compelling reasons to do business with you. Prospects and clients not only respect honesty, they also respect salespeople who understand their business and the future prospects for their business. By demonstrating an understanding of how political, economic and social issues may affect your prospect’s future, you demonstrate an intimate knowledge of their business—and prospects love to do business with people they trust and who really understand their problems, issues, and opportunities.

May 19, 2008

Brand Confusion=Death in the Marketplace

Companies, organizations and even individuals spend years of toil and treasure to create a brand that sets them apart from their competition. The investment in terms of time, money and creativity can be massive. The impact a well developed brand can have can’t be overestimated.

Some brands are so recognizable that people think they know and understand the company or organization when simply hearing the name or seeing the logo. Organizations that have developed these iconic brands take great care to protect and expand the brand, trying to make sure their every move reinforces the brand’s message.

Our two major political parties have spent decades and vast sums of money building their brands. Both parties have invested both their short-term and long-term success in their brands. And although the brands are associated with particular individuals and events, each is most closely tried to and defined by a perceived political ideology.

Hear the word Republican or just see the elephant and most people have certain images and beliefs that come to mind:
• Conservative
• Budget conscious
• Strong on national defense
• Strong on law and order
• Against big government
• Favors tax cut
• Supports business
• Supports free trade
• “Middle America”

Likewise, hear the word Democrat or see the donkey and most people have another set of images and beliefs that come to mind:
• Liberal
• Supports social change
• Tax and Spend
• Weak on Defense
• Protectionist
• Supported by labor unions
• Supports the weak and poor
• East and West coast “elites”

Most of the images and beliefs we have about these parties have been carefully crafted by the parties themselves, a few others have been foisted on one party by the other in order to sully the brand. Nevertheless, for most of us, when we think Republican or Democrat we tend to think of some or all of the above images.

Because of the strength of the images and beliefs associated with each brand, we believe we know something about a politician when they say they are a Democrat or a Republican. We expect a Democrat politician’s political philosophy and votes to be closely aligned with our concept of what a Democrat is. Likewise, we expect a Republican politician’s ideology and votes to reflect what we believe a Republican is.

When a politician of either party doesn’t act according to their brand, we question whether or not they are really what they say they are. They are viewed as mavericks or independent thinkers. We don’t question whether the organization has lost its way; we simply question whether the individual in question really fits within the organization.

But what happens when a majority of the organization’s members act counter to the brand? We no longer question whether the members are mavericks or independent thinkers; we question whether the brand itself has any meaning, any substance. The dichotomy between the message and the actions creates confusion in the marketplace and if that confusion lasts long enough, the brand loses all meaning.

We are currently observing a brand implosion.

For decades the Republican party railed against the Democrats on taxes, spending, the economy, judges, and a number of social issues, preaching the tenets of conservatism, trying to brand the Democrats as big spending, big taxing liberals as they pointed out the worst offenders, slowly chipping away at the lock the Democrats seemed to have on congress, yet never gaining the upper hand legislatively with both houses under their control.

Then in 1994 they developed the Contract with America, a vision of conservatism that matched much of the brand image that had been created for their party—and they took legislative control of both houses for the first time in 40 years. For a time, their legislation seemed in alignment with their brand. Certainly, they had their share of opposition, but people believed they understood what ‘Republican’ meant–both in terms of the brand and in terms of the actions. One reinforced the other.

Over the past years, many of the party’s actions have gone counter to their brand’s image, at least in the view of a great many Americans. The brand has become confused—what does ‘Republican’ really mean? It doesn’t seem to mean fiscally conservative. It doesn’t seem to mean socially conservative. It doesn’t seem to mean strong on security. It doesn’t seem to be anything other than what appears to be politically expedient at the moment.

Today, we have a Republican party with no meaningful identity, no real brand because of a great chasm between its message and its actions. It preaches fiscal conservatism and spends like a drunken sailor. It preaches homeland security and ignores the borders. It preaches ethics and moral responsibility and has a consistent line of its elected officials resigning in disgrace with many going to prison. It preaches energy independence and refuses to address energy in a meaningful way.

The brand has become meaningless. A decade of confusion between what the brand proclaims and the actions of the party has brought the party to a crisis point. On the one hand, party leaders try to shoehorn candidates into a brand that doesn’t fit, and on other hand, it still proclaims the images and beliefs it worked decades to instill in its rank and file—and wonders why it can’t generate enthusiasm, unity and trust within the marketplace.

The lesson for us is straightforward—once your brand is imbedded in the marketplace, any serious dichotomy between the company’s actions and the brand’s image creates confusion, and ultimately, distrust in the marketplace–and it doesn’t take long to destroy even a hundred and fifty year old brand.

After writing this on Saturday, I noticed a report in Sunday’s San Francisco Chronicle that Arnold is advocating rebranding the Republican Party, generating a debate within the party as to whether or not to rebrand. I think they misunderstand the issue–the problem with the Republican brand is it seems the party thinks it’s simply a brand issue, not an action issue. They lost their brand because their actions didn’t match the brand, not because the brand didn’t work. Arnold is correct in the sense that the brand doesn’t work, but it doesn’t work because it no longer exists, not because it has been rejected by voters.

April 11, 2008

Guest Article: “The Value of Trust, A Client’s Perspective,” by Joe Heller

Filed under: Client Relationships,sales,selling,trust — Paul McCord @ 5:01 am
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The Value Of Trust, A Clients Perspective
By Joe Heller

One of the most challenging, if not the most difficult piece of the business development puzzle in a sale is – Trust. Trust today is truly the pivotal point of building a successful business relationship. Trust is rarely tied to a product or service but it is facilitated by the person interacting with the customer. Why is this important? Because everything depends on trust and in this day and age, trust is difficult to come by.

The “trust” question arises more often with the sale of a service, simply because you cannot see or touch the product. This means, there is no visible brand, other than you, so you become the representative for quality. Because of the downward spiral of ethics in business today, it is no longer simply a matter of a product being trustworthy, you must convince your clients that you are trustworthy. What you do and how you are perceived by a potential client sets the tone for how they view your entire organization.

A recent study found that selling competencies for professional service firms are explicitly focused on defining the element of trust from their client’s perspective. The study also revealed after interviewing nearly one thousand people they found that trust has three essential elements in the eyes of a future client.

Candor: Clients value honesty when dealing with a service provider. They want the person to be straight forward about what will and what won’t work about their solution as it relates to their problem. They respect and appreciate your candor so if you don’t know the answer and let your client know that in fact “you don’t know” creates a foundation for a solid business relationship.

Competence: Clients want and need to believe that you know exactly what you are doing. They need to feel there is a low level of risk involved in working with you. Remember, because they cannot see and touch your service, your ability to solve their problem becomes the focal point for your client relationship. Your competence truly represents the product in the client’s mind.

Concern: From a client’s perspective, the most important element of trust is concern. Clients want to know you not only understand their problems but you have the ability to empathize with them and feel their pain. They want to know you are concerned about them and the business issues that go beyond the typical sales rhetoric it takes to land a new client.

The importance of candor, competence and concern are essential for developing trust. The absence of any one element can lose a deal. The challenge is that most people when engaged in a selling scenario is that they are not very good at demonstrating each of the three C’s. In both the professional services study and in parallel studies conducted with product sales forces, the element of concern was most frequently deemed missing. Clients felt that while most professionals were competent and/or candid, when it came to concern they fell short. They were interested in making a sale as it related to their service. As a result, they failed to really listen for the prospect concerns; and when a trust breakdown occurred? Ultimately the sale broke down as well.

A quick comparison from the study, using a score of 100 as the highest level of trust shows us that service sales people consistently score a 35 on concern versus a product sales person scoring a 53 on concern. As you can see, when compared with product sales, service providers receive an unexpected surprise. They immediately fall 20 points behind a tangible or product sale in the area of concern. Yet, as professionals, they are used to thinking of themselves as deeply concerned about their clients. They are often surprised and offended if anyone suggests they don’t put their clients’ interests first. As the research shows, this is not how they come across to a potential client. Thus, not only do clients give service providers the lowest ratings on concern, they judge professional service sales people to be significantly less concerned about them than product sales people.

Why do clients see you as unconcerned? There are several reasons:

First, service providers listen for what they can solve rather than what is important to their clients. Prospective clients view service sales people including attorneys and accountants as sharks circling for a kill (we’ve all heard the jokes).

Second, service sales people are often too anxious to get to their solutions and fail to listen for the client’s real problem. Service sales people are seen as very seldom viewing the problem from the client’s side of the table. What’s needed is an ability to demonstrate their capability, to see the core business issues, and to drive the results that exceed clients expectations.

To reinforce and ensure success of a service-based sale, the one element of trust where you need to score an A+ is concern. Not only because it is the most important element to clients, it is the only trust element that your client can make a personal valid judgment. Keep in mind, it’s hard for a client to judge whether you are competent; its assumed that you should be sitting in front of him/her because your expertise in solving other client’s problems. Candor isn’t easy to judge either. It is tough to tell who is being totally honest and isn’t exaggerating. No matter what the selling scenario, the client will always decide emotionally whether or not the sale will move forward and support that decision with logic.

Why? Psychologically, if you don’t believe someone is concerned about helping you, you don’t trust them. And, lack of concern translates into suspicions about their competence and candor, which influences all three levels of the trust equation. If you’ve ever wondered why you’ve lost a sale you need to consider how often clients have drawn the same conclusions about you. Trust is not a prepackaged emotion, it is something that has to be earned and it can only be developed through the interactions you have with your clients.

Joe is President of The Sales Samurai, a strategic and tactical field level sales coaching firm, a keynote presenter, and a speaker at corporate sales meetings, executive forums and to sales teams globally. His website is

March 26, 2008

Guest Article: “Trust in Business: The Core Concepts,” by Charles H. Green

Trust in Business: The Core Concepts
By Charles H. Green

Trust relationships are vital to the conduct of business. Some base level of trust is required just to have employment contracts, or to engage in commercial transactions. Beyond such minimum thresholds, trust also plays a major role.

The level of trust in business relationships—whether external, e.g. in sales or advisory roles, or internal, e.g. in a services function—is a greater determinant of success than anything else, including content excellence.

How can we think about trust? What conceptual frameworks do we need in order to intelligently assess and improve on trust relationships, and in particular on our levels of trustworthiness?

This article lays out the core trust models I have developed and adopted over the years. They are taken from The Trusted Advisor (with Maister and Galford, Free Press, 2000), and Trust-based Selling (McGraw-Hill, 2006). There are three.

1. The Trust Equation: a deconstructive, analytical model of the components of trustworthiness;

2. The Trust Creation Process: a process model of trust creation through personal interaction—mainly conversations;

3. The Trust Principles: four principles, or values, which serve as guides to decision-making and conduct to increase trust.

The Trust Equation

Trust is a bi-lateral relationship—one trusts, and the other is the trusted. While the two are related, they’re not the same thing. The trust equation is a model for the second—the one who would be trusted. It is about trustworthiness.

Often we intend more than one thing when we use the word trust. We use it to describe what we think of what people say. We also use it to describe behaviors. We use it to describe whether or not we feel comfortable sharing certain information with someone else. And we use the same word to indicate whether or not we feel other people have our interests at heart, vs. their own interests.

Those four variables can be described as Credibility, Reliability, Intimacy, and Self-Orientation. They can be combined in an equation.

The Trust Equation
Trust Equasion
Credibility has to do with the words we speak. In a sentence, we might say, “I can trust what she says about intellectual property; she is very credible on the subject. By contrast, reliability has to do with actions. We might say, for example, “If he says he’ll deliver the product tomorrow, I trust him, because he’s dependable.”

Intimacy refers to the safety or security that we feel when entrusting someone with something. We might say, “I can trust her with that information; she’s never violated my confidentiality before, and she would never embarrass me.”

Self-orientation refers to the focus of the person in question. In particular, whether the person’s focus is primarily on himself or herself or on the other person. We might say, “I can’t trust him on this deal—I don’t think he cares enough about me, he’s focused on what he gets out of the deal.” Or—more commonly—“I don’t trust him—I think he was too concerned about how he was appearing, so he wasn’t really paying attention.”

Increasing the value of the factors in the numerator increases the value of trust. Increasing the value of the denominator—that is, self-orientation—decreases the value of trust.

Since there is only one variable in the denominator and three in the numerator, the most important factor is self-orientation. This is intentional. A seller with low self-orientation is free to really, truly, honestly focus on the customer. Not for his own sake, but for the sake of the customer. Such a focus is rare among salespeople (or people in general, for that matter).

Looking at trust this way covers most of the common meanings of trust that we encounter in everyday business interactions. Note that the meanings are almost entirely personal, not institutional.

People don’t primarily trust institutional entities, they trust other people. The components of credibility and reliability are sometimes used to describe companies or Websites, but at least as often to describe people. The other components—intimacy and self-orientation—are almost entirely about people.

Trust in selling requires good “scores” on all four variables in the equation. But the most important, by far, is low levels of self-orientation.

Living the four trust values is the best way to increase your trustworthiness.

The Trust Creation Process

Trust typically gets created at the individual level, between people, and usually in conversations. The Trust Creation Process is a five-step model for that process:
Trust Process

1. Engage the client in an open discussion about issues that are key to the client;

2. Listen to what is important and real to the client; earn the right to offer solutions;

3. Frame the true root issue, without the language of blame, via caveats, problem statements and hypotheses; take personal risks to explore sensitive issues—articulate a point of view; create by giving away;

4. Envision an alternate reality, including win-win specific descriptions of outcomes and results, including emotional and political states; clarify benefits—make clear what’s at stake; be tangible about future states;

5. Commit to actionable next steps that imply significant commitment and movement on the part of each party.

The order in which these sentences occur in a conversation has as much impact as the sentences themselves. That is, you could do a wonderful job on framing the issue or on the commitment to action—but if you do them before you do listening, then the trust process breaks down, or freezes. This becomes clearer when we translate the trust creation process into a sales context, as follows:

Engage: I hear X may be an issue for you—is that right?

Listen: Gee, that’s interesting; tell me more; what’s behind that?

Frame: It sounds like what you may have here is a case of Q.

Envision: How will things look three years from now if we fix this?

Commit: What if we were to do Z?

The most powerful step in the Trust Creation Process by far is the Listening step. The two most common errors in practice are:

a. Inadequate listening, and
b. Jumping too quickly to the final, action, step.

The Trust Principles

Being or becoming trustworthy cannot be reduced to pure behaviors. You can’t bottle it in a competency model. Our actions are driven by our beliefs, and our beliefs are driven by our values or principles. Trustworthy behavior is way too complex to fake without the beliefs and values behind them. If your values don’t drive you to behave in a trustworthy manner all the time, you’ll be found out quickly.

Hence, the Trust Equation and the way we use the Trust Creation Process model are really just outcomes of the principles we hold. The way to become trusted is to act consistently from those principles—and not just any set of principles will do. There are four specific principles governing trustworthy behavior:

1. A focus on the Other (client, customer, internal co-worker, boss, partner, subordinate) for the Other’s sake, not just as a means to one’s own ends.

We often hear “client-focus,” or “customer-centric.” But these are terms all-too-often framed in terms of economic benefit to the person trying to be trusted.

2. A collaborative approach to relationships.

Collaboration here means a willingness to work together, creating both joint goals and joint approaches to getting there.

3. A medium to long term relationship perspective, not a short-term transactional focus.

Focus on relationships nurtures transactions; but focus on transactions chokes off relationships. The most profitable relationships for both parties are those where multiple transactions over time are assumed in the approach to each transaction.

4. A habit of being transparent in all one’s dealings.

Transparency has the great virtue of helping recall who said what to whom. It also increases credibility, and lowers self-orientation, by its willingness to keep no secrets.

Applying these principles to all of our actions will develop the fullest possible sort of trusting relationship.
Copyright 2008, Charles H. Green.

Charles H. Green is one of the world’s foremost authorities on building and maintaining trust in business relationships. Visit his website at

Paul McCord of the Sales and Sales Management Blog may be reached at

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