Trust is the key to making sales in today’s world. Unfortunately, any engagement where a buyer feels they are being sold to results in a feeling of distrust due to a misalignment of objectives.
Your goal is to make money. The buyer’s goal is to deliver business outcomes that boost revenue, improve customer experience, or drive down costs.
Align objectives between the buyer and the seller, and this distrust and reluctance evaporates.
The question, then, is: how do you align your objective with the buyer and build trust?
Risk and Reward
You know that ad that tells you to buy their life insurance because it’s so much better than the one you already have?
Why didn’t you act on it?
Or when that person from work or the PTA emphatically recommends a book that “changed their life.”
Why didn’t you read it?
You didn’t act because those scenarios had an unacceptable risk/reward equation for you at that moment.
The insurance company has an objective that doesn’t align to yours. They want you to spend money. You just want to have your life insured economically (but thoroughly).
The self-help book will require money to buy and (more critically) time to read — time which could be spent on other things with a known return on investment.
This unknown element represents risk for potentially no reward.
B2B sales has long suffered from the same risk/reward imbalance in the eyes of the buyer.
In no buyer scenario is the customer trying to spend more money without seeking some benefit for that spend.
So we have an inherent imbalance in every selling interaction.
Now imagine a serious conversation with a parent where they recommend that you start saving for your retirement, despite you being only 25 yrs old.
Why are you so much more likely to take this advice?
Or when that person at work tells you not to stand where you are standing because the roof leaks.
Why would you move?
That’s because their objectives are aligned to yours.
Your parents want the best for you because they love you. The Defender Of Dryness at work has no vested interest in seeing you get wet and may be paying forward the advice.
This risk/reward balance has another name: (you guessed it) trust.
The less the perceived risk and the greater the perceived reward, the greater the trust you have that it will turn out well for you in any interaction.
The 3 Components of Trust
At a psychological level, trust consists of three elements.
Trust is something that is born out of human relationships. It’s not something that corporations, robots, or rocks are able to use.
You may feel that your company doesn’t trust a certain company, but that’s a reflection of the mistrust you feel for that company (or individuals within it, actually), not a feeling that your company has.
Stability, empathy, shared values, and sacrifice are qualities of great relationships. They’re what lead to an alignment of objectives and create trust.
To build trust with someone, you must give them confidence in you — confidence that you know what you are talking about, that you can do what you promise, and that you want what they want to achieve, that their assets are safe.
Confidence is all about de-risking the engagement for the buyer.
The strongest form of trust includes an element of assurance.
“If this goes wrong, we have got your back. We will catch you and make it right.”
Again, it’s about de-risking for the buyer.
Three Steps to Building Trust.
1. Align objectives.
The first and most important thing you need to do to build trust with your customers is to align your objectives with theirs.
I know you are part of a business, and you need to make money, but that obsessive focus on driving revenue is holding you back.
In fact, the more obsessively you focus on making money in the short term, the more it hurts you in the long run.
This means that you need to let go and give up control by removing sales quotas and targets. Instead, focus everything on… wait for it….
Wait for it….
Being customer centric.
BOOM! Oh wait, that’s not a “Boom.” That’s not even new thinking… Everyone knows that being customer-centric is critical, so why are we all continuing to be so company (your company) centric?
We can’t give up control because control got us this far. There is risk in change.
But try this on for size.
Revenue is the by-product of trust.
The more a buyer trusts you (based on relationship, confidence, and assurance), the more opportunities they’ll send your way.
The more you focus obsessively on delivering their desired outcomes, the better the results. And that will further increase their confidence in you and allow the relationship to grow.
As trust grows, they re-engage you not as a provider, but as an adviser. And now you are influencing their direction because they want your support.
It is a virtuous cycle, and each time you go round it, this wonderful, company-sustaining exhaust product is created — revenue.
Change your culture
So, step one is to work on culturally moving away from obsessing about revenue and control, and instead, create a culture in which doing the right thing for the customer every time can exist.
You do this by securing leadership/management buy-in to your long-term objective. Long term growth is delivered through long term thinking, after all.
Books such as The Trusted Seller and Shiftability can help in framing the argument, and they have tons of examples that can help you show the impact of aligning to the customer’s desired outcomes.
2. Align the infrastructure.
Now that you have leadership buy-in, the next thing to do is to design how it should operate so you can remove the bits that stand in the way.
Throw out quotas and reward your sellers in the same way that you reward the rest of your company. Give them a competitive salary and a proportional ability to receive a meaningful treat based on management performance reviews.
Let them out of their revenue cage so they can spread their wings doing what they do best –- solving customer problems.
When they don’t have tunnel-vision on driving revenue, they will be able to focus on helping the customer and getting that trust cycle moving.
What makes the quota system worse is the fact that the OTE (on Target Earnings) of a salesperson is what they plan their life on.
Can you imagine not hitting your quota because you are doing the right thing for the customer?
OTE sets the size of your mortgage, the amount you save each month, the vacation you plan. Now imagine the fear of missing that quota and not being able to pay that mortgage, having put too much into your pension, or having to cancel that vacation.
It’s a terrible feeling, sure, but it is balanced out by that awesome feeling when they do hit quota, right?
Wrong. Achieving your OTE feels … “meh” because that’s what salespeople expect to make. So all the bonus system does is act as a stick. So get rid of it.
I bet you have a sales process. We do too. It’s necessary to track and report on revenue, and it remains important even in this new, truly customer-centric world you are building.
I also bet you that your process is fixed and progresses from step 1 to 2 to 3 etc. Am I right?
Your rigid sales process is a process that your company is imposing on your customers. It is NOT customer-centric. It is <<insert your company name>> centric.
A customer-centric sales process grows and shrinks depending on the needs of the customer. What happens to you if a customer wants to go straight to the contracting phase, or wants to start with a capability gap analysis? What if they change their mind?
A customer-centric process is non-linear. It cannot have a fixed pathway because that would be your company imposing your process on them.
Similarly, you can’t force this process to be according to your timeline.
I heard a horror story from someone I respect very much, who used to run the relationship between two mega-companies (think Fortune 10 for both).
She sat down for Thanksgiving dinner with her family and was called multiple times by a salesperson from the company whose relationship she managed. Eventually, she picked up, ruining her family moment, only to be told that she needed to sign some contract or other that day.
The seller had a quota to hit, and the sales quarter was ending.
She was furious, and it damaged the relationship with that individual for a long time.
In summary, align with their buying timeline, budget cycles, and so forth. Make it easy and pleasant for them.
3. Activate your sales team’s true potential
One of the most exciting parts of throwing out the sales quota and aligning behind the customer’s desired outcomes is that you can move away from rewarding individual performance and start to reward team performance.
Remember when you were little(er), and you sat in your music exam? Or you did your swimming test? How about when you went to school and did exams?
All of these are measures of individual performance, and it is understandable that when we leave education, we expect life to continue to be about individual performance… but it isn’t.
In all disciplines except sales, we operate in teams. It is like sitting in that exam with your whole class available to help you whenever you need.
So why not activate that for selling too?
Since it’s not about driving revenue any more, but, instead, is about delivering the customer’s desired outcomes, why not leverage a whole sales team to deliver it?
Got through the exam together!
Move from a golf-team, where your success doesn’t motivate you to help me achieve my own success, to a soccer team, where we all sink or swim together.
But lots of the salespeople we employ today are superstar individual performers and want to remain recognized as superstar performers. They are frightened that, in a team, they will be carrying the lower performers.
They might leave if you change your model….
This is, I’m afraid, true. A few may leave, but what you are likely to find if your base salary is competitive is that many stick around to see how it goes.
And they like it.
Being able to lean on colleagues for help, being able to coach and be coached, being able to openly share opportunities, and being able to leverage the diversity of thought in the team is, it turns out, immensely rewarding in itself.
Furthermore, the longer they stay, the higher their performance as a team as they get to know each other.
When your teams operate as a soccer team, with different specializations but a shared goal, you will always be able to do more for the customer than with a group of individual players.
A final suggestion
Customer-centricity has been a buzz-word for a long time but never really been capitalized on by most organizations because the culture, infrastructure, and team mechanics haven’t been aligned.
The first hurdle in making this transition is achieving leadership buy-in. Once that has been achieved, it is a matter of making sure none of the old company-focused infrastructure stands in your way. Then you bring the people across to the new way (and this is the hardest part)… the cultural transformation.
Getting leadership buy-in on something this big isn’t easy, though. So, instead, why not ask for approval to experiment?
- Design the new operating model, process, compensation, team structure etc.
- Secure permission to try it out somewhere small.
- Collect the data.
- Identify what is working and what is not.
- Be unafraid to make changes in the experiment group until your model works for you.
Once that trust is built, and the results start coming in, it shouldn’t be hard to convince management to fully roll this out.