Selling is a people-oriented business requiring a customer-focused approach. Sales are made in the dialogue, person-to-person. The conversation may be face-to-face or over the phone, but the very essence of a successful outcome is based on the ability of the seller to build trust in client relationships.
This means that salespeople must be at their very best, bringing value to the table and to their customers. If, instead, they just push products, they sacrifice goodwill and trust. Their sales success is likely to be short-lived, not the basis of a long and mutually productive relationship.
Many articles have been written about the parade of scandals in the financial industry: overly aggressive sales goals leading to the unauthorized opening of accounts, funneling billions of wealthy customer accounts offshore, manipulating global interest rates, and the whole subprime mortgage crisis. And, such bad behavior extends beyond banking into other industries and the political environment in which instability and uncertainty are causing greater distrust among customers. These people are then increasingly wary of salespeople and selling tactics, which is why the importance of building trust and sales ethics is higher than ever before.
How to Build Trust with Your Customers
Building and maintaining trust across the full lifespan of a customer relationship takes attention and focus in the following areas:
- Prepare with the customer in mind.
- Ask great questions — not bad ones — during sales conversations.
- Create value proactively, not reactively.
- Be honest about what you can and can’t do.
- Make your value explicit, not implicit.
- Always maintain a collaborative tone, even when you don’t see eye to eye.
It is a combination of things that we do — and frankly, things that we don’t do — that helps us to manage the emotional tone of the conversation. We have to be able to anticipate, look for, and accurately read the customer’s emotions so that we can be sensitive to the potential emotional response in preparing for the sales dialogue and in navigating the conversation in the moment.
We must remember that while we are reading the customer’s emotions, they are also reading us and making assumptions about our intent. In relationship building in sales, any behavior that evokes a feeling within the customer that we are being self-serving and trying to control, manipulate, or push our viewpoint on the customer will immediately trigger a negative emotional reaction from them. We’re at a disadvantage because our role is to “sell,” and the customer knows it. Our behaviors have to clearly show our openness and collaboration, without necessarily agreeing with the customer.
The Importance of Rebuilding Trust
It can be a difficult task to build trust and credibility with prospects and customers. It is even harder when attempting to rebuild trust after it has been damaged by scandal or misstep. It doesn’t matter which company or sector is making headlines for bad decisions, unethical or illegal practices, or individuals who displayed bad behavior. There will always be some event that triggers a crisis in trust.
During difficult periods, especially when daily headlines keep bad news front and center, you may find yourself spending more time explaining, defending, and deflecting. Most people think of “fight-or-flight” reactions when faced with stressful situations. These natural reactions protected your ancestors back in the day, when conflict meant life or death, but all are ineffective for regaining the trust, respect, and confidence of customers, and in turn, growing sales.
So, what does work? If executed with authenticity, patience, and skill, the following four-step process is straightforward and effective in rebuilding trust with clients and customers:
- Empathize: Expressing empathy will help you to coax out and reduce negative emotions.
- Question: Open-ended questions and effective listening take courage and a strong stomach when trying to rebuild fractured trust. The payoff: the customer is allowed to vent and feels heard, while you show depth of caring and a greater understanding of the customer’s perspective on the issue.
- Position: If you’re like most competitive salespeople, your first reaction when presented with customer anger may be to explain and defend. While accurate, your comments will not be persuasive and may sound defensive, triggering in customers their own fight, flight, or freeze reactions. Instead, maintain a customer-focused selling approach: after empathizing and questioning, your solutions or ideas should be linked to what you learned from the customer’s responses to your questions.
- Elicit Feedback: Only by checking and using open-ended questions can you elicit sufficient feedback to know if the proposed ideas hit or missed their marks.
Trust is a fragile thing — slow to gain, quick to lose, and even slower to regain. Customers want a consistent commitment to themselves and their issues. Your sustained effort, combined with executing successfully on small actions developed in concert with the customer, will enable you to begin rebuilding trust and credibility.
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