Developing the customer’s trust

Developing the customer’s trust

What you choose to talk about—and not talk about—with your customers is not only an indicator of trust or its absence but also a driver or destroyer of trust as well. Assume a client hears everything you say internally.

When you are responding to questions, always give the direct answer first; then follow up with modifications or broader responses you need to make. Invite customers to sales meetings. When you rehearse sales meetings, rehearse improvisation in addition to scripting.

In selling, as in life, people watch your daily behaviours more than they watch your infrequent proclamations. We get judged by what we do, not by what we say. Therefore, as Aristotle said, “Excellence is a habit.” So is trust-based selling. Here are a few areas of habit you can cultivate.

Watch your language

The head of sales at a major technology company told me, “We have two strategies: one is to be customer-centric; the other is to increase our share of customer wallet.”

This sounds reasonable enough. But if it were your company, would you, or would you not, tell your customers both of those strategies? If you do, you may offend them. Equating customers at the strategic level with their wallets objectifies them, and people tend to dislike being treated as objects, as a means to your own ends. Yet, if you don’t mention that second strategy, then you are hiding a key strategy from customer. And that violates the value of transparency.

If you wouldn’t want it printed on the front page of the customer’s in-house newspaper, then don’t say it.

I heard a global head of sales of a major company start off his presentation at the company’s annual sales meeting. It was after drinks and before dinner, after a long afternoon of presentations. “Let me just remind all of us here, in the middle of this event, the definition of ‘sales’—the fine art of separating the customer from his wallet.” Do you think the head of sales would appreciate having his joke videotaped and sent to his customer base? While many of his customers would doubtless “get it” and share a chuckle over it, many would roll their eyes and take some offense. And all would on some level know that he wasn’t just being funny, he was being serious too; and it’s a joke that doesn’t make a customer feel good.

The lesson? Unless you think you can hold 500 salespeople at cocktail hour to an oath of secrecy about a joke—don’t tell it.

If you are a salesperson and your manager suggests you stretch the truth, I suggest you ask her directly, “Let me just be clear here; you are not asking me to lie, are you?”

And if you are a sales manager, do you want your salespeople to stretch the truth on occasion? If so, then how do you answer a salesperson who comes to you and says, “Let me just be clear here; you are not asking me to lie, are you?” You could say, indignantly, “Of course not, I just want to you to make sure we come off in a favourable light,” which amounts to dodging the question. Better you think about it and say, “No I am not, and I am sorry I phrased it in such a way that it sounded like an option. Let’s back up and make sure we are being completely aboveboard here. I want you to feel comfortable about being truthful.”

First, answer the customer’s question

Most of the time, buyers ask questions of sellers. And the questions buyers ask are rarely the questions the seller would have preferred. There is a great temptation for us as sellers to reframe, rephrase, and restate the question so it sounds similar, but is in fact a more flattering question for us to answer. This is especially tempting when the buyer phrases a question in a challenging, “gotcha” kind of a way. Don’t give in to the temptation.

Your question may indeed be the better question, one that is more useful to the customer. But the customer won’t be listening for the answer to your question—only for the answer to the question she asked. Any sign of reticence on your part to answer the question will be interpreted as proof that you are avoiding something. If she were suspicious of you before, trying to rejuggle the question will double her suspicion. Instead, simply answer the question straight forwardly and directly. Pause. Then suggest another question.

Here are some examples of how not to answer and how to answer correctly:

Buyer: “One of the criteria we agreed to look at was size or market share of the agency. In this market segment, how big are you? Where do you rank?”

Bad Answer 1

Seller: “Well, size or market share is certainly one important variable; we find that there are others that can be equally important depending on various…”

Bad Answer 2

Seller: “Our market presence in some segments is number one; in others, it’s far less. The same is true for our competitors. Depending on how you define…”

Bad Answer 3

Seller: “I will be touching on market share data in just a few minutes after I…”

Right Answer

Seller: “In the New York metro, in this category, we ranked number three last year according to the trade magazine, with about 15 percent share. The top two were ABC and XYZ, with 55 percent share between them. What else can I help you with?”

If you answer the question directly and forthrightly, several things happen. First, it becomes clear you are not hiding anything. Second, it invites more questions (“Well, do you think market share is an issue? What do you think distinguishes you from the two market leaders? How do you compete with larger market-share players? How do you suggest we think about size and share?”).

Most importantly, it shows the customer that you are not trying to manipulate her agenda. You will respect her questions and give her the answers to the questions she asked. You take the customer’s questions seriously, at face value, not as something to be manipulated.

Excerpt from ‘Trust-based Selling’ by Charles H Green. Reproduced with permission © 2006, Tata McGraw-Hill Publishing Company Limited. E-mail: