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Why Building Trust Should be a Top Priority

Trust is at the core of all business activity and business productivity. In an open and trusting environment, groups of people can depend on one another and rely on each other's word. If the economic environment lacks trust, transaction time is slowed. As a result, transaction costs rise, and so does unemployment.

Zig Ziglar once said that every sale has five basic obstacles:

no need
no money
no hurry
no desire
no trust

While most companies teach salespeople to overcome top four, there are very few companies that teach salespeople the foundation of trust.

Trust is a basic human need, and it begins the day we are born. Eric Erikson, a noted scientist who deeply influenced the field of contemporary psychology, wrote that in the first stage of life (from birth to the end of the first year), a child learns the difference between trust and mistrust. According to Erikson, the quality of the relationship with the parent becomes the precursor of a person’s ability to interact constructively with other people. Research shows that babies who fail to form a trusting relationship with a caregiver often fail to thrive. The same developmental requirement applies to creating new business.

Dr. David Shore, associate dean at Harvard University, told Selling Power in an interview about trust, “If I don’t trust you, I may not do business with you. If employees don’t trust management, the business fails to thrive. If a head of state fails to trust the words of another head of state, the relationship between nations will be in jeopardy. Growing distrust between nations can often lead to war.”

Trust – A Tribal Need

Trust concerns everyone; it transcends language, gender, age, religion, and local customs. Trust is a universal and tribal need. In 1890, William Sheppard, a native of Waynesboro, VA, set out to become a missionary in the Belgian Congo. He was impressed with the indigenous people and quickly learned their language. After finding his way to the secret kingdom of the Kuba tribe, he was captured and faced execution. When Sheppard was brought before the king’s son, he spoke with such sincerity and conviction that he immediately earned the trust of the royal court. Instead of killing the intruder, the king declared Sheppard a royal ancestor who had risen from the dead and was returning as a spirit. Sheppard, the eloquent missionary who earned the nickname “Black Livingstone,” wrote about his experiences in a book published in 1917, titled Presbyterian Adventures in Congo.

In the world of marketing and selling, the brand that earns the most trust owns the marketplace. When people believe that they can trust your brand, they assume that your company is stable. They assume that your service is reliable. They imagine that your product offers the highest quality and that your price is fair.

Trust Busters

While fraud, lying, or cheating are obvious trust busters, inconsistent performance is another. People trust that which is familiar, consistent, predictable, and fair. Inconsistency erodes trust. That’s why franchise businesses continuously promote consistency and predictability. To the consumer, trust comes from the taste experience that shows little difference between fast-food french fries served in a chain restaurant in Maryland and those served in a chain restaurant in Montana, or that the pleasure derived from drinking a Coca-Cola does not change. While consistency in the art of parenting ensures a healthy child, consistency in sales and marketing helps ensure a healthy profit.

Mistakes May Not Create Mistrust

There is an old saying in Washington: “You don’t get into trouble for the deed; you get in trouble for the cover-up.” When President Ronald Reagan made a mistake, he quickly acknowledged it with a disarming, boyish smile. Being open and honest quickly earned Reagan the nickname “Teflon president.”

Open and transparent dealings are critical if a company wants to preserve its reputation for integrity. When Jim Burke, CEO of Johnson & Johnson, the maker of Tylenol, learned that cyanide-laced Tylenol was found in a Walgreens, he set in motion a crisis-management plan that began with a public acknowledgement and an immediate removal of all Tylenol capsules from every store in America. This bold move and others like it earned Johnson & Johnson the top reputation rating in the industry. While Tylenol’s brand emerged stronger after the crisis, such companies as Enron, Anderson, and Firestone tarnished their brands and suffered gargantuan losses by resorting to denial.

A 10-Ppoint Trust Check Up

  1. Review your advertising messages and your marketing materials. Are you delivering on all your promises, or do you overpromise and underdeliver?
  2. Ask your customers how they rate your sales agreements and service contracts. Do your customers give you high ratings?
  3. Are your salespeople fairly compensated? Are your starting salaries the same for men and women?
  4. Ask your salespeople to create a list of the top 10 trust busters they have experienced in the last year. Review that list during your next sales meeting and brainstorm effective ideas for eliminating every trust buster.
  5. Ask your salespeople to create a list of the top 10 trust builders. Publish and distribute that list to every salesperson.
  6. Ask your business partners to rate the quality of their relationship with your company. Are you honoring all your commitments? Do you overpromise and underdeliver?
  7. Review your company’s habits for dealing with mistakes, creating a safe work environment, and managing people in a fair and equitable way.
  8. Check your company’s ability to deliver customer value on a consistent basis. Inconsistent quality erodes trust.
  9. Check your company’s ability to create an open and honest relationship with the press and analysts. How far is the gap between your words and reality?
  10. Check your style and appearance. Gordon Bethune, the CEO of Continental Airlines, said, “If customers see a dirty airplane, they may conclude that our engine maintenance is faulty.”
The Four Parts of Optimal Trust

While many companies suffer from a trust deficiency, some people wonder: Is it possible to overinvest in trust? A customer who trusts too much may be perceived as reckless; a seller who invests too much time in promoting and policing trust at the expense of moving business forward may be perceived as foolish. Optimal trust is the “golden mean” between these two extremes.

Dr. David Shore created a dynamic model for building trust that relies on four interdependent parts:

1. Trustworthy impression

The first step in the model for building deep, personal trust is the development of such positive qualities as warmth, empathy, and genuineness. A salesperson who appears trustworthy will gain favorable attention in the eyes of the customer.

2. Integrity

Second is integrity in all business dealings. Warren Buffett once offered his definition of DNA. He said it stands for “Do numbers accurately.” Remember that customers don’t judge you by what you say when you are visiting face-to-face, they judge you by what you do when nobody is watching.

3. Performance

The third part is your performance. Customers will judge your performance after every transaction. They will know if you delivered on your promise. Companies that overpromise and under deliver are often engaged in a costly struggle to increase customer loyalty. A salesperson’s competence leads to buyer confidence.

4. No hidden agendas

The fourth part is to provide objective advice and impartial counsel. Integrity often comes into clear focus when salespeople offer sound advice without a hidden agenda. Good salespeople know that their customers favor impartial information that allows them to make the right decision without fear or pressure. These sales professionals elevate their role to that of a trusted advisor.

In essence, the goal of optimal trust is comfort. Do your prospects feel comfortable enough with you to trust you with their business problems? Do your customers feel comfortable with your role as their trusted advisor? Do your customers feel comfortable with what you deliver? The good news is that building trust isn’t rocket science. We all know in our hearts what optimal trust feels like, we all know how long it takes to build trust and how quickly it can be destroyed by a careless move. The only thing left to do is to assign a higher priority to building trust.

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