Building Mutually Beneficial Relationships

Thomas A. Freese


If the intangible nature of perceived value is sometimes difficult for customers to quantify, try putting a fence around the notion of trust. Let me pose this question: Who is it that you trust? I bet it’s not some cold caller on the telephone who’s offering a fantastic deal chosen “just for you!” Cold callers are ostensibly trying to offer you an ideal solution, yet they don’t even know you. It’s important to realize that prospective customers may be just as reticent to engage in an open-ended dialogue when meeting a salesperson for the first time.

There’s no doubt that our business culture has grown increasingly cautious toward vendors, especially those with whom we don’t already have an existing relationship. Thus, it stands to reason that being disappointed by one vendor’s actions could very easily erode a customer’s faith in the system, making it that much more difficult for the next salesperson who wants to build a strong business relationship. Our cultural skepticism has evolved to the point where I recently saw a bumper sticker in a church parking lot that read, “Trust in God, but lock your car!”

Understanding the dynamics of how mutual trust is created is particularly important for salespeople because trust serves as the foundation for building solid relationships, whether personal or professional. If someone is not willing to trust you, then it is unlikely that any attempts you make at offering potential solutions will succeed. In fact, without some level of trust, or at least the benefit of the doubt, your conversation with new prospects may never even begin. Trust is also a critical element in maintaining existing relationships. At the point where someone decides they can no longer trust you, the relationship will abruptly come to an end.

Trust has different looks

Once we agree that trust is the foundation of every relationship, it’s important to note that trust comes in different forms. In terms of interpersonal relations, trust can officially be defined as having a firm reliance on the integrity, ability or character of a person or things. For example, I trust my wife implicitly and my two daughters most of the time. I also trust that our clients will pay their invoices on time. I even trust that there will be a rental car waiting for me when I arrive at my next destination, provided I booked a reservation.

Although the sentiment conveyed by the word trust is context dependent, the actual emotion of trusting someone is a highly intangible concept. Trust is not something that you can distribute to a prospective customer.

What are the chances that customers will trust the very next salesperson that walks through their door? To date, I haven’t discovered any magic button that can be pushed to cause someone to instantaneously trust you. Some customers might be willing to give a sales professional some initial leeway, but let’s not confuse common courtesy with an inherent level of trust. Trust is a long-term human emotion that grows out of the confidence one has developed from successive encounters, where the other person’s expectations were either met or exceeded.

Contrary to what you might think, trust is not a good strategic target for salespeople to aim at when interacting with potential customers. Just as you wouldn’t wholeheartedly trust someone after spending a few minutes with them during a job interview, it’s impossible to cause new prospects to implicitly trust you after a single telephone call. Instead, sellers are better served in today’s business environment by focusing their efforts on the concept of building credibility.

While it can take some time to earn someone’s trust, a savvy salesperson with the right approach can begin to establish credibility with prospective customers almost immediately. Fortunately, the concepts of credibility and trust are closely interrelated. As you earn more credibility with customers over time, they will absolutely begin to trust you.

The key is to have a repeatable method that enables you to establish as much credibility as possible early in your sales conversations. Essentially, you want to gain maximum “traction” with potential customers when forging new relationships. Earning credibility quickly gives you an opportunity to convey more value throughout the sales process and ultimately gain an unfair advantage over the competition.

Thomas A. Freese is the founder and president of QBS Research, Inc. and the author of five books, including “Sell Yourself First,” which was published last year by Portfolio/Penguin. This is an excerpt from that book.