When hiring or renewing a contract with a product or service provider, a lack of trust can undermine any other variable and isn’t likely something that can be haggled over, such as price or delivery dates. This is especially true of large, long-cycle, complex sales typically found in sectors, such as financial and professional services, IT, HR, and accounting.
Consider the fears weighed by your buyers:
- Does the seller understand my business?
- Does the seller have my best interests in mind and those of my company?
- If I give them my business, can I trust them to deliver what they’ve promised?
– On time? On budget? Without complications?
- The seller also works for some of my competitors. Can I truly trust them to honor confidentiality agreements and maintain an internal “Chinese Wall” of privacy?
- I’ve built a rapport with the sales rep. Once I agree to the sale, can I trust the team to do the work? Will the sales rep disappear for good?
- They trimmed their ranks not too long ago; do they still have the best people to take care of my account?
- Do I have my sales rep’s full attention, or is he looking past me to his next deal?
- Do I trust this sales rep/provider more than the others we’ve considered?
Skeptical in Financial Services
Each industry has its own set of trust factors, but there are poignant issues found in financial services. One of the lingering effects of what has been called “The Great Recession” is that many clients remain suspicious of financial institutions. The source of this distrust depends on the part of financial services in which you reside: Clients may have been subjected to tighter credit constraints; decisions that seemed to favor the bank’s interests ahead of theirs; exposure to illiquid, non-performing, or opaque assets; more stringent compliance requirements; or they may simply worry that you are the next Madoff or rogue trader. It is as true in your team’s professional relationships as it is in their personal ones that trust is tough to build and easy to lose.
Other recent developments in financial services buyer behavior make it harder for you to build trust: decisions are being made by larger groups, buyers require more transparency into your organization, access to gatekeepers is blocked or limited (including procurement officers), and there is greater intent to shift risk from their organization to yours.
Gaining (or Regaining) Client Trust
Several years after the financial crisis, we find that clients remain skeptical and that client-facing professionals often avoid difficult conversations about that time or current conditions. After all, why open a can of worms? Well, if the can of worms still exists, acknowledging it conveys that your organization is attuned to and cares about what is happening on the client’s side of the table.
Even today, you may have noticed that many of your client-facing professionals and partners favor talking over questioning and listening. By driving a shift in this focus, many sales leaders are prompting their teams to discover (or rediscover) that information is power, enabling them to more effectively frame responses to concerns, as well as offer solutions, ideas, and alternatives. This puts your team in a position in which they are actively engaged in building (or rebuilding) client or partner trust.
Focusing on and strengthening your sales team’s questioning and listening skills also improves the impact and efficiency of your business, allowing your team to:
- Understand and better navigate more complex decision-making groups within client, prospect, and partner organizations;
- Identify gaps that need to be filled in the client’s understanding of your organization or your team’s solution; and
- Identify gaps that need to be filled in their understanding of the client, prospect, or partner needs.
All of that listening will help you to know how you can best add value to the buyer, their organization, and your relationship. Concentrate on selling and delivering value to your clients and you’ll earn their trust. Keep your promises, and stay in close regular contact before, during, and following the sale. Nurture the relationship, and beware anything that could undermine the trust you’re striving to build. Mistakes are bound to happen at some point — if you’ve built a strong relationship, you may be able to overcome your error based on its severity and the trust you’ve earned.