Most customers would like to believe salespeople. But they’ve been burned so often they don’t let themselves do it. And that’s why salespeople make the mistake of trying to overcome distrust by “playing the part,” offering phony friendliness, or making exaggerated claims. All of that only further complicates their predicament.
Happily, there are salespeople who refuse to be tainted with the questionable practices of their less-than-reliable peers. They know the value of being viewed as trustworthy. Here are seven ways to go about creating credibility and establishing trust:
1. Never let customers’ doubts taint you
It’s a fact: Customer distrust creates a long tail. It doesn’t go away. If that sounds like an overreaction or exaggeration, it isn’t. It becomes a part of your “resumé” and no matter how you try to paint a different picture or how often you jump from one “opportunity” to the next, it’s still there.
Anything that causes customers to question a salesperson’s integrity does damage. It’s the stuff on which negative reputations are built, and in an increasingly transparent world, it stays as close as a dark shadow on a moonlit night. There’s no place to hide today.
2. Nothing is perfect
The biggest hurdle salespeople face is failing to think like a customer. So preoccupied with how to get a sale, they ignore what customers are thinking: They know the downside to whatever they are selling me — whether it’s a home, a car, a vacation package, or a particular cereal.
Customers know nothing is ideal or flawless and it’s a mistake to paint what you sell with perfection. Being open and objective are the big steps in building trust. This is true, whether low cost or high priced. There’s always a downside to what you are selling. Even if it’s minor, don’t try covering it up or pretend it doesn’t exist. Address it and turn it into an advantage by pointing it out. It shows customers you’re honest and fair.
3. Create a collaborative climate
Every salesperson runs into customers with unrealistic expectations, who are always angling to get more, and who often choose confrontation rather than collaboration. They push as hard as they can to win a concession.
But even with all that pressure, sales pros don’t give up. When they run into a barrier, they’re ready: “I appreciate your concern. If we can find a way to overcome that issue, would that be satisfactory with you?” By creating an atmosphere of negotiation, the customer becomes part of the solution and the salesperson gets the order.
4. Focus on what matters to customers
A customer in the market for a new car made it clear to the salesperson what she was looking for in a vehicle. “Oh, that’s going to cost you a lot more,” was the salesperson’s instant response. This is how sales get in trouble or lost when salespeople think they know what a customer wants or can afford.
Salespeople are often trained how to “read customers,” so they can get the order. Listening to customers and paying attention to what they’re saying is a more helpful path to success.
5. Signal your willingness to work with customers
Customers are not only cautious, but some are even afraid: They don’t want to go too far in buying something until they get a reading on the salesperson. No customer wants to discover they’re faced with working with the wrong person. That’s a bummer and a good reason for caution.
When savvy salespeople recognize a customer’s discomfort, they might respond by saying, “I understand that a buying decision can be difficult, and I want you to know that I will work with you so you get what you want at a price that’s good for you,” or “It seems as if you may be wondering how you can pay for this. I assure you that we will find a program that works for you.” That’s a good way to send the message that you’re willing to work with the customer.
6. Be thoughtful, not just informed
Two physiologists at the University of California at San Francisco found that if rats were allowed to rest once they found their way through a maze, they could go straight through it — from start to finish — the next time. But if they were put back in the maze immediately, it was as if they had never been there before.
Being a sponge soaking up information is not nearly as valuable as understanding how the information applies to customers. A car salesman said to a prospective customer, “Ours is the best-selling SUV in the nation.” He knew all about the vehicle, but nothing he said was meaningful to the prospect. And she walked out.
7. Send the right message
“All salesmen are actors: Their priority is persuasion, not sincerity,” notes Peter Thiel, PayPal’s co-founder and author of “Zero to One.” He’s also right when he points out that the best actors aren’t seen as acting. They’re effective because they’re authentic; they’re good at what they do.
It’s the same with salespeople.
Customer response is positive when they sense a harmony in salespeople between who they are and what they do. They’re real; they don’t put on an act. And that sends a powerful and persuasive message that dispels doubt and attracts customers. It’s called trust.
Customers trust people who come across as genuine. And when a genuine person is in sales, customers may not see them as exceptional, but they like working with them and give them repeat business, as well as referrals.
All of this points to one conclusion: Salespeople, like everyone else, are far more transparent than they may want to think, and that’s why making sure customers say, “This is the right person to do business with,” is the key to success.
John Graham of GrahamComm is a marketing and sales strategy consultant and business writer. He is the creator of “Magnet Marketing,” and publishes a free monthly eBulletin, “No Nonsense Marketing &Sales Ideas.” Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, 617-774-9759 or johnrgraham.com.