Trust Is The Foundation Of Every Sale

Tony Hughes


Even in large complex selling, it's individuals who actually make purchasing decisions and they care about value for money and assessing risk. But to even be considered on a short-list we must first earn trust through the way we engage and built on our evidenced credibility, genuine understanding and common values.

If we've successfully engaged early to set the agenda, helped build the business case, and influenced their selection criteria and process; then it will have been because of our ability to earn the trust of the customer. Make no mistake, our online reputation - corporation and individual - is critically important because professional buyers and executives do their research before a meeting.

If the lead has come to us, then the customer will be well advanced in their process (anywhere from 50% to 70% along the 'buyer's journey') and our online presence and credentials will have been pivotal in being included on their list of potential solutions.

Whether we've arrived early to the dance or not, all the laws of strategic selling still apply. The sales person must invest time and energy in gaining, and then demonstrating, an understanding of the customer's business. Anthony Iannarino describes this as 'situational awareness' and it includes becoming aware of their economic and market conditions, internal politics and power-base, problems and opportunities, and most importantly their biggest challenges with their customers. Failing to do the necessary homework before a meeting is a guaranteed way to fail in this regard.

So how do you build trust in a Social Selling 3.0 world where you need to blend online and physical world strategies and activities? It all begins with understanding how sophisticated buyers operate and this formula (informal or codified) is the basis on which they trust.

Trust = (Understanding + Shared Values) x (Capability + Reputation)

Here's the insight concerning this formula: Most salespeople spend way too much time talking about, and seeking to evidence, capability and reputation. This is the obvious and easy thing to talk about because it's the thing we know most about and what our marketing department has invested a fortune honing for us. But there is only one thing the customer cares about when it come to us... it is what we can do for them!

Evidencing capability and reputation is important but don't waste airtime with clients on these topics. Instead use your LinkedIn profile, website and social media presence to tick that box. When you get to engage in a conversation with a customer, make it all about them by focusing on the front-end of the formula: genuine understanding of them, their needs, their constraints, their problems and opportunities, their culture and values.

The best sales professionals focus on gaining understanding and insight rather than pushing features and benefits. They frame what they have to say as thoughtful open questions. They are committed to working in the best interests of the customer and avoid trust-destroying rhetorical questions that are usually perceived as manipulative or redundant.

Plan every sales call and meeting. Lead with insight and strive to talk no more than one-third of the time when engaging with a senior executive. The reason this is so important is that we learn nothing while talking and listening is the most powerful form of influence. Listening and asking insightful open questions are the keys to gaining understanding and building trust in every situation, especially in selling, negotiation and conflict resolution situations.


Tony Hughes is ranked as the #1 influencer on professional selling in Asia-Pacific and is a keynote speaker and best selling author. This article was originally published in LinkedIn where you can also follow Tony's award winning blog. Also visit Tony's keynote speaker website at or his sales methodology website at

Main image photo by Flickr: Terry Johnston


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