Why Trust Matters More Than Ever

David Tovey

I’ve been involved in winning business in the recessions of every decade since the 1970s. During all that time, there has never been a tougher environment for anyone who needs to win business than the present day. It’s not the recession that’s different; things may feel difficult but there have been worse recessions in my business lifetime.

What is very different is that today there is a global crisis of trust and increasedlevel of cynicism never before experienced. The Internet and social media means that negative comments can be sent to thousands of people instantly. No one waits for a printed newspaper; no one waits for the investigation and final report. When a cruise ship hits a rock, the world is told within two hours that the captain abandoned ship and that the passengers had not had a lifeboat drill since joining the ship. Trust is earned and is always fragile. Trust built up over decades can be lost in an instant.

Consider the banking crisis – so many long-established trusted pillars of the establishment dashing our faith in financial organizations that were and are still (in some cases) household names. Millions of people all over the world were affected not just financially but in a way that caused them to question the trust they had in institutions that they had been loyal customers of, sometimes for a lifetime.

The annual Edelman Barometer of Trust measures trust across 25 countries and recently reported yet again a record decline in people’s trust of governments, business and even NGOs.

It seems you can’t trust anyone to be straight any more. We’ve all learned through the hard knocks of life to have a healthy dose of cynicism, but now it seems many people almost expect to be misled or expect everyone to try to get one over on them. The default position is to be suspicious and wary.

Why should this affect your businesses, why do you need to be aware? Becausefor those of you who have to sell a service or a product there is already plenty of suspicion that people who sell things might just say or do anything to get a sale. Sadly the evidence is that there are still plenty of sellers out there who are prepared to do just that.

I’ve asked thousands of people in seminars and conferences all over the world to close their eyes, think of a typical salesperson and then describe them to me.

The responses I hear are rarely complimentary and include:

  • Good at talking
  • Doesn’t listen
  • Too quick at assuming familiarity
  • Insincere
  • Always pitching
  • Uses sales techniques to manipulate
  • Have their own interests at heart
  • Extrovert
  • Cheap shiny suit
  • Always closing
  • Overly prepared answer for everything
  • Gets annoyed if you say “no”
  • Prepared to use pressure

This isn’t what professional salespeople actually do, but the fact that so many people across so many countries use the same words is a serious problem for anyone who needs to win business.

Winning business is your full-time activity. Business owners, professionals, technical experts, administrators and even many marketing professionals love what they do, but many hate the idea of having to sell. I have worked with thousands of individuals who believe the myths about selling – that it is about having the right personality, about being extroverted and being able to persuade or manipulate. Some professional services firms are so uncomfortable about the “S” word that they will not allow the word “selling” to be used, preferring the euphemism “business development.”

Many businesspeople, particularly those with a technical discipline, have oftendescribed themselves to me as being “unnatural salespeople.” If unnatural salespeople believe the myths of selling, they avoid getting involvedin selling. Not surprisingly, avoiding selling does not help you to grow a business. Waiting for the phone to ring has put too many companies out of business.

Critically if you believe the myths, you will put into practice what you think selling is about and will end up selling badly. Selling badly doesn’t help your business grow.

Not everyone selling is like that of course but even when the seller has the best of intentions things have become so bad that anyone who looks like, sounds like or smells like a typical salesperson just isn’t trusted. Just not listening enough can lead a buyer to suspect they are in the presence of someone who has their own self-interest at heart and not the interests of the customer.

David Tovey is the Chairman of The Principled Group Limited, a UK-based sales consultancy. This article is excerpted from his new book, “Principled Selling: How to Win More Business Without Selling Your Soul.”