Trust Issues (The good kind)
Customers purchase products and services from people they can trust.
Good honest people tend to do business and interact with good honest people. These are well known straight up facts. So, here’s the big question: how does a member of the business community build trust quickly? It’s true that building trust is a long term process. It takes time to build a good reputation, a strong supporting network and the absolute essential one: good financial credit. Entrepreneurs, business startups, and sales people can potentially go bankrupt waiting for the normal ebb and flow of business trust-building opportunities from by-gone eras. Instead, the salesperson needs to be seen as being trustworthy and having integrity within the community he or she is trying to grow within, very quickly. Without the desire to build on those key points, they will be unsuccessful from the beginning, and might consider a different career path.
Several years ago, while making a sales visit with a customer, which included a lunch meeting at a local restaurant, an eye opening, thought-provoking event took place. As we entered the restaurant through the bar area, all the barstools were occupied by members of the company’s engineering team. All familiar faces – a professional line-up of people who trusted me because we had a history from the last 5-10 yrs of working on projects together. Without hesitating, I asked “Hey, what’s going on? Looks like a party!” They held their glasses high and responded in unison, it’s a retirement party!” To which, I asked, “Who’s retiring?” They shouted “All of us!” (Actually it was 5 out of 15 members.)
Apparently, the look on my face was good for a laugh. We were close enough that they knew their trust had been earned over a period of time. But, it had taken several years to get my foot in the small projects to start establishing those relationships. I remember this group being particularly particular when we were in the beginning stages of our relationship: miss a delivery date and it would be awhile before you were invited back. In some cases they would even instruct their Purchasing Department to remove your name from the suppliers list. It was truly a tough crowd! As of this writing, I do wonder how that business made it through those early trust-building years.
Trust-Building Tips, Tricks, and Techniques
Fast forward to the present day where changes in the marketplace seem to happen at lighting speed. Trust has to happen quickly, within the first meeting at the clasp of hands. So how do we build trust instantly? There are a few well-known techniques that many salespeople, for a variety of reasons, under utilize. I have found that the first thing to do is forget the thought of asking for a small project to prove your worth. The bigger the project, the higher level of established trust. In other words, go big or go home.
Another technique is known as third party closing. It goes like this: there comes a time when the customer likes what you are proposing but they just need to hear it from someone who speaks their language. For example, engineers like to speak with other engineers, executives like to interact with other executives etc. Accept this fact, be sensitive to your time and learn to know when to bring in “a closer.” This technique works well when done properly. Remember however: If a salesperson’s ego is so big they must always be the one with magic words that motivate customers to write orders, this technique will be outside of the playbook and many orders could be lost. The risk of losing an order is very high, due to the fact you think you know your customer better than that third party. They’re not in Sales so what could they possibly know? One wrong word out of their mouth and all could be lost! I have felt that pain.
What can we do? We can rehearse with our third party how you need the interaction to go. This is one of my favorite exercises: our in-team role plays. We take turns switching who will play the customer as part of the rehearsal. Now, whenever I insist our team go through this role play, it is usually met with complaining and moaning. But, I normally include a list of questions, which the team often has a hard time believing the customer might ask and pushes back against.
After one real-life meeting where the customer asked every question we rehearsed, my team wanted to know how I knew the questions. It was just putting myself in the customer’s shoes: knowing that this type of customer will always ask: “Why should we trust you and why should we do business with you?”
This leads us into Technique Number Three. Again a technique well known, yet often poorly executed.
When a customer asks for references, most sales people respond with “I will email them to you.” or just provide a couple of names. This can be the worst response due to the references being unaware that they are about to become references! The uninitiated salesperson is foolish enough to believe the new customer just needed to hear or see a few names without actually following up with your references. Here’s a better way: Do your homework. Find a trusted mutual friend or a respected well known Subject Matter Expert (SME). You will be surprised how easy it is to find a connection. It could be a math teacher you both had in school or a mutual LinkedIn colleague, the hard part seems to be mustering up the courage to ask for help. Conquer it! Then, make sure the reference knows the time and date of your meeting and is well briefed on the project scope and customer’s objective. When the customer asks the all-important question; “Why should we trust you will keep your promises?” Say nothing, place your cell on their desk, dial your reference, make the proper introductions and let your connection answer the question that your new customer needs to hear.
Finally, my fourth technique is knowing the difference between a product guarantee, a personal guarantee, and a warranty, and knowing when to use these as excellent closers. A product guarantee means this product will perform within specifications outlined in the legal guarantee section of product or the contract. It is written by the manufacturer of the equipment. Retailers and distributors have nothing to do with product guarantees, although most often have to make things “right with their customer,” regardless of how the product was used in order to keep from losing a good customer. This is completely different from a personal guarantee.
With high risk, personal guarantees are very powerful tools when utilized properly. This means the person making the offer is willing to put themselves in the hot seat and stand solely responsible for product performance and customer satisfaction. Over time, personal guarantees have served me well. I did take a few losses early on, prior to learning how to put in place solutions that benefit both parties involved. I have learned that whenever any person extends their hand and offers a personal guarantee, your response should be “Excellent, I do need to have it in writing then we can move forward with the order.”
Warranties have to do with proper maintenance of equipment. This includes maintenance schedules and procedures to ensure equipment or product performs well (within specifications described in the guarantee section). An example is “bumper to bumper protection as long as an authorized dealer performs the work, and once you take your car to an unauthorized dealer, all bets for the warranty are off. Warranties are most often used to keep customers coming back to places of business and in many cases are sold as standalone products similar to (but not the same as) maintenance contracts. My helpful hint for warranties is always ask your distributors or dealers’ service departments to search their online technique notes from the product manufacturers for any hidden or silent warranties. This often has to do with poor product quality or design. Warranties, when properly utilized, work well to establish trust, build long-term relationships and add to your growing list of references you can call when a potential new customer asks “Why should I trust you and do business with you?” Learn how to utilize these tools and watch your career grow!
Spoiler Alert! Knowing the difference between a good customer and a poor customer is the topic for my next article! Stay tuned!