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Powerful Ways to Build Trust in the Post-COVID Selling Environment

Customer conversations

critical sales skills


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The current environment has made trust building difficult. The global pandemic has surfaced anxieties across businesses. Stakeholders are discovering that the unforeseen represents a much larger range of possibilities than previously thought.

As a result, business leaders have less trust in nearly everything. They have less trust in their assumptions, the economy, and the future. Unfortunately, this diminishing trust has extended to business relationships because when stakeholders have less confidence in their ability to forecast the future, they also have less trust in the sales professional’s ability to meet their needs.

This setting presents a unique challenge for sales professionals because they must reestablish trust, which has diminished due to factors outside of their control.

Responding to these circumstances means taking a proactive approach.

That is, sales professionals must recognise that while there are no outward signs of eroding trust, stakeholders are, in fact, less trusting than they were before the pandemic. Sales professionals who see this reality and respond will not only become a trusted voice — they will also become a trusted adviser.

3 Ways Modern Sales Professionals can Build Trust

Fostering trust is difficult today as distractions run high. Therefore, sales professionals need a structured approach. Here, we offer the three key practises underpinning that structure.

Begin by Delivering Unilateral Value

Trust building must be thought of as an investment because the process requires committing a resource — in this case, time — with the expectation that benefits will come later. This basic concept of investing is understood by all, yet too often it is not applied to trust building because many sales professionals provide something of value to a customer and expect immediate reciprocation. For example, the sales professional may offer a piece of information or insight and then immediately ask the customer for something in return like a meeting or information about their company.

The problem with this approach is that it sends an early signal that the relationship is conditional or transactional. A more effective and authentic approach is to provide meaningful value without asking anything in return. This does not mean that the sales professional cannot ask a question or make a request. Instead, this approach is about providing value to the customer over a series of engagements and making those requests later.  Some call this approach “bread crumbing” value. The idea is to rely on the incremental gains that come from repeatedly and reliably offering value to potential customers.

Building incremental value creation is a protracted way to create credibility. The customer learns that the sales professional has the consistency and determination to invest and reinvest in the relationship over the long term.

Consider the Theory of Trust Responsiveness

Trust responsiveness is the tendency for a person to behave in a trustworthy fashion when they know that another person trusts them.

Researchers within the Department of Economics at the University of Oxford studied this phenomenon and drew an interesting conclusion. In their experiment, they learnt that a person can earn the trust of another by “facilitating the transmission of credible signals of trusters’ confidence.” In other words, trust will likely strengthen when a sales professional overtly states that they are aware that the customer’s trust is an important factor.

Sales professionals should feel safe to communicate that they understand that the customer’s trust is important. The more the customer sees that the sales professional has their trust in mind, the more the customer will develop trust. This is why the University of Oxford researchers regularly cite the “self-fulfilling property of trust” in their analysis. The key is for sales professionals to put trust back into the discussion and to normalise it as a topic. This approach is needed now more than ever as customers seek trust as it diminishes in so many other areas of today’s business setting.

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Be Candid about Risks

Honesty is a precursor to trust. Bringing honesty into the sales dialogue means acknowledging the inherent risks associated with a buying decision. In the urge to win the sale, it is tempting to assure the customer that all risks have been identified and eliminated. However, no solution is free of risk.

Therefore, the sales professional must normalise risk by discussing it in a candid manner and showing that is has been calculated, right-sized, and outweighed by beneficial outcomes.

When these concerns are addressed, they become less abstract. As a result, the customer will develop more confidence in their understanding of something that previously appeared threatening because it was undefined.

One way to comfortably surface the topic of risk is to ask reflection questions. These questions serve both parties. The sales professional learns more about what matters to the customer. At the same time, the customer is engaging in an exercise designed to help them crystallise their understanding of the challenges and goals they’re facing. A sales professional can begin to explore the customer’s sense of risk with a question like “What hesitations do you have with regard to this solution?” Reflection questions are a targeted way to check with the customer that the solution capabilities are resonating with their needs.

Reducing the customer’s aversion to risk means having an honest conversation about their concerns. This approach not only builds trust, but it also alerts the sales professional to hesitations among stakeholders that would otherwise go unseen and therefore unaddressed. Reflection questions are a comfortable way to explore these nascent concerns because they uproot faulty assumptions. Moreover, open discussions of risk show that the sales professional has enough confidence in the solution to address potential challenges in a transparent way.

In an uncertain and volatile economy, trust becomes a critical part of success. Therefore, a good solution and a strong relationship are no longer enough to compel customers. Trust is also needed to win the sale. However, too many sales professionals leave this critical element unaddressed.

Those who recognise the rising importance of trust are positioned to rise above the competition.

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