PODCAST 177: Trust-Building Strategies Every Seller Should Own


In this episode of the Sales Hacker Podcast, we have Moeed Amin, Founder and CEO at Proverbial Door and expert on the neuroscience of trust and decision-making. Join us for a great conversation about how buyers choose sellers, building (or breaking) trust, and common psychological mistakes sellers make.

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If you missed episode 176, check it out here: How to Rock Product Marketing

What You’ll Learn

  • Why sales is about trustworthiness
  • Why Moeed says cold calls are horsesh*t
  • Integrating your personal and work life to increase transparency
  • Common ways that sellers fail to build trust

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Show Agenda and Timestamps

  1. About Moeed Amin & Proverbial Door [2:40]
  2. What neuroscience teaches about buyer decisions [11:17]
  3. Ways to establish trust with customers [14:39]
  4. Why you should audit your personal life for trustworthiness [21:45]
  5. Common mistakes sellers make that break trust [25:00]
  6. Sam’s Corner [31:55]

About Moeed Amin & Proverbial Door [2:40]

Sam Jacobs: Hey everybody. It’s Sam Jacobs. Welcome to the Sales Hacker Podcast. Today on the show we’ve got Moeed Amin. Moeed is the founder and the CEO of a company called Proverbial Door.

Before we get there, we’ve got three sponsors for the show. The first is Outreach. Outreach has been a longtime sponsor of the podcast. They just launched a new way to learn — Outreach on Outreach is the place to learn how Outreach does outreach. Go to outreach.io/onoutreach to see what they’ve got going on.

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Finally, we’ve got a new sponsor on the show, Aircall. Aircall is a cloud-based voice platform that integrates seamlessly with popular productivity and help desk tools from call monitoring and whispering integrations with your CRM and real-time analytics. Aircall can help turbocharge your sales reps productivity. Set a new standard for sales productivity, and performance by switching to a phone system that’s best friends with your CRM. Go to aircall.com for more information.

Today on the show we’ve got Moeed Amin. For over 20 years, Moeed has been obsessed with how and why people make decisions. He’s won various sales awards and led sales teams for small companies and billion-dollar brands. He founded Proverbial Door because he was frustrated with the current advice and training on sales and persuasion. Sales is a noble profession and he is on a mission to elevate the whole profession and give sellers the best tools and strategies to become incredible persuaders without compromising on their values and changing who they are. Moeed, welcome to the show.

Moeed Amin: Thank you, Sam. It’s a pleasure to be here and I’m excited for our discussion today.

Sam Jacobs: Tell us, what is Proverbial Door?

Moeed: Proverbial Door exists to really change how sales is viewed in the entrepreneur community as well as the sales community itself. There is a plethora of new B2B businesses predominantly led by technical founders or subject matter expert founders with either no understanding or experience of commercialization, which is sales and marketing, or they have a very warped view of what good sales looks like. Our job at Proverbial Door is to help those founders do it in the right way and see radical growth, but in a way that’s healthy, in a way that’s ethical, and long-term growth that actually increases the value of their businesses. When they have that exit strategy, they’re selling it far higher than they would if they did it another way. The other part of it is to help salespeople get to a consistent 120% plus club. The world is changing and it’s impacting how sales is currently being performed. That’s why I started the business.

Sam Jacobs: What do you think the misconception is that founders have, the warped view that they have about sales?

Moeed: More is better, right? Growth comes necessarily from hiring more salespeople. That’s the first one because they don’t think about any precision when it comes to who they’re selling to and why. They think that sales has to be a feature benefit or product lead. There’s very little deep customer understanding. Those are the two very, very big ones that we see. That translates into things like a hundred cold calls a day, right? This is going to sound controversial, but it’s total horseshit. It really, really doesn’t work for the average person when we look at the numbers, and I’m part of a group and a research group that looks at this, and we saw something ridiculous like less than 1% conversion rate on average.

Sam Jacobs: 22% typically.

Moeed: It’s a hugely inefficient way to connect with your buyers and your buying community. For example, sales is still disconnected from marketing. Marketing being told to provide lead generation through email campaigns, etc. But they have no idea about the customers they’re going after, they haven’t really done any work about who the ideal client profile is. There’s the misconception that if I hire a chief revenue officer, then my sales are going to go up. Again, total horseshit.

I’ve seen this time and time again where founders will find chief revenue officers often with a good track record. But that person may not be the right person for your business because of several factors such as your buying community, the products and services, your position, and even your culture as a business. If you hire a chief revenue officer who doesn’t have the skills to create the right sales infrastructure in your company and determine the behaviors of your sales team, then you’re hiring someone that’s not right for your business. Make sure that you have the infrastructure such as the right targeting, the ideal client profile, the right rewards and compensation structures. If you don’t have those things correct, then you’re hiring someone to create a sales machine without any intelligence. Those are some of the common mistakes that we see founders implementing when it comes to their sales strategy.

What Neuroscience Teaches About Buyer Decisions [11:17]

Sam Jacobs: What’s your background? Where are you from? How did you get into the sales game in the first place? What were some of your formative experiences?

Moeed: Purely by accident. And I think that’s quite a common answer. That’s what I want to change because sales should be something that becomes more intentional as a career.

I graduated in neuroscience and I converted to law because I didn’t really know what to do. My mum was a lawyer and I thought, “well, hey, I might enjoy it.”

I was born and raised in London, and I studied at Manchester University. I completed the law conversion course, what’s called the LPC, the legal practice course here in the UK to become a solicitor. You have two years of training basically, and a few months into the training, I just realized I didn’t like this at all. I probably should have done more research about that. And when I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do, I kept coming across sales job roles being published. I looked at the money and the potential earnings, and I thought, “You know what? This looks good. Why don’t I give this sales thing a go while I’m figuring out what I want to do.”

Almost 20 years later, I’m still here. I was instrumental to a multi-million pound deal, and I was headhunted by another company called Data Monitor. I learned a huge amount about sales there. Very boiler room-style business actually, but there were a lot of good things that I took away from that.

Then I was headhunted by another company called CEB, which is now owned by Gardner. That’s where my skills really took off because we started looking at things like best practices. I learned a ton of things in the five years, six years I was there that it would have taken at least 10, 12 years for someone to learn. From there I started advising companies about sales performance. That’s where I founded Proverbial Door, but I also sit on the other side of the table where I’m part of a private equity funding in the UK as well.

Sam Jacobs: I heard you’ve interviewed almost 400 B2B buyers over 15 years, and you mentioned that you graduated with a degree in neuroscience. What have you uncovered about how and why buyers choose which sellers they want to work with, and what’s been surprising about what you’ve learned?

Moeed: Every single one of those 400 buyers across 10 different industries and different buying levels, every single one of them used either both of these words or one of them — trust and honesty, every single one. That surprised me if I’m being really honest. I thought they would have talked more about things like understanding my business, understanding my industry, and they did but it wasn’t as commonly noted as those two words.

When I dug further, this was less about sales skills. It wasn’t really about product knowledge either. There’s a certain level of product knowledge you have to have, but that wasn’t what made the difference. It was more about whether they could trust the seller to do a few things. Number one, deliver on promises. Number two, can they trust that the gains or the benefits that the salesperson is claiming they can give are not exaggerated? Can they trust that the salesperson will help them achieve their objectives and outcomes, not just their own? Can they trust that the salesperson is not just in it for themselves, but they also have the buyer’s interests at heart as well? Can they trust that the seller will continuously provide them with a kind of new and unique perspective about their world?

The other one that was quite surprising was, can they trust that this salesperson is not just going to help their business grow, but help them grow as a person? Are they going to help me get promoted? Are they the ones that are going to help me in my performance reviews, show that I should be awarded that promotion, and get that bonus? Some of these decisions are quite big, and they have to be aligned to their outcomes as well. Everything stems from that trust and honesty category. Whenever we talked about things that buyers liked about salespeople, it ultimately led to that. Without that trust, there was really no long term relationship. Certainly, not a relationship where the accounts and the spend of that account will continuously grow with the account manager.

Ways to Establish Trust with Customers [14:39]

Sam Jacobs: How do you establish trust and how do you keep in mind the realities of what you know about the product versus what the customer might not know?

Moeed: That’s a really good question. Because we live in a radically transparent world, I have seen very few instances where a buyer has not done their homework enough that they would understand the pros and cons of different solutions out there. Research out there, CEB, Gardner, Forrest, et cetera, research shows sellers are being relied less and less to inform the buyer. It’s becoming commoditized in that respect. Psychologically, it’s the opposite. There’s countless research that shows that if you highlight one or two things that you don’t do very well, but include that with the things that you are doing very well, you actually increase trust in the recipient. Believe it or not, by hiding it, you’re actually doing yourself more harm than good.

You can’t really take that risk. You’ve probably noticed it yourself. I have several examples where I’ve asked people about something that they do. They’ll say, “to be honest, I’m not really very good at that,” or, “we don’t do that very well.” But that’s okay, because what we really try to focus on is X, Y, and Z. Those are the things where we really shine, and doing that also helps you understand if you’re speaking to the right buyer as well. To talk about trustworthiness, Stephen Covey, the author of Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, once wrote that trust is where competence and character converge.

Competence, or skills, is a very big topic and it’s specific to the industry that you’re in and the products you’re selling. What’s very clear is that if you do not have the right characteristics, then all the competence in the world won’t matter when it comes to trust. Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, and so many very well-known high-performance individuals have said this on many occasions. In fact, Warren Buffet has said that without characteristics, without integrity, the latter will kill you. We’ll talk about the characteristics because those are really important. They actually feed the competence in a lot of ways.

There are eight characteristics that I’ve found that are critical to having a trustworthy character. The first one is authenticity. Are you authentic? Are you speaking your truth? Are you conducting yourself in a way that aligns with your values?

We see this in account managers when they first have a client come in, the first year is just amazing. They’re professional. They are prepared, they come with an immense amount of value that they provide to that buyer. But as the years go by and this buyer becomes a bit more loyal we start to see some complacency settle in. Consistency is really important. Integrity. You don’t need to labor that anymore. Are you truthful? Are you honest?

Responsibility or accountability. Do I feel a sense of responsibility or accountability towards my buyer? Reliability as well. Do I show up on promises that I make? Do I make sure that our colleagues deliver on the promises that we make? Can they rely on me that if shit hits the fan and it often does, can they rely on my sense of accountability, that I will do what’s required in order to actually solve the situation?

Too often we hear of salespeople that are very vocal and are very present when things are going well, but the moment something goes wrong, all of a sudden they’re not present and they hide behind a product or someone else that can deal with the situation. Another is guilt proneness or guilt worthiness. This was research conducted by the University of Chicago. They’re more guilt-prone to something that might happen. If they’re about to do something and they feel guilty about the action, or guilty about what the consequences might be, they inspire a huge amount of trust because they changed the course of their decision. That was quite a surprising one.

Generosity is another one. In my research, and I tested it several times, generosity on its own without the other characteristics, actually degrades trust because the recipient will feel like you’re trying to buy their loyalty. Therefore generosity has to be in tandem with some of the other characteristics.

The final one is agreeableness. This isn’t being a yes man, or yes woman, or just agreeing with someone. This is about, “am I tactful in how I share my opinion? Am I using tactful ways to influence the buyer?” Influence comes from the Latin word influentem, which means to flow. It’s like getting into a river. The river represents that person’s opinion. If you step over the line and get into the river to try to understand that person and where and how they formed those opinions that they’re sharing, then you can more tactfully and more easily divert the course of that river by sharing your own opinions in a tactful way, rather than slamming a dam into the river and hoping to stop that opinion. Those are the eight characteristics of having trust or a worthy character, and they feed into some of those skills. That’s the other dimension of trustworthiness.

Why You Should Audit Your Personal Life for Trustworthiness [21:45]

Sam Jacobs: If a company hires you and they buy everything Proverbial Door is offering, they want you to help structure their sales team, but they also want strategies, drills, or practices that they can instill on their team to improve and build upon trustworthiness. How do you advise people to get better at this?

Moeed: The first thing, and this is going to sound weird, is choose your employers carefully.

Given the state of the market, sometimes it can be very difficult to do so. If you’re a graduate with very little experience, sometimes you don’t have the freedom and the luxury to be able to. But where possible, if you do have a bit more control over that situation, choose your employers carefully. You need to ensure that that employer has the right sales infrastructure to encourage the right behaviors. There are so many companies out there that are very unethical in their sales approach. “Whatever the buyer says they need, tell them yes and we’ll figure it out.” Right? There’s a good side to that, but there’s also a bad side to that because if you really can’t do it and you’re almost lying to them and encouraged to do so, that’s not really going to inspire trust. The buyer will find out, and that’s not a basis for a long-term relationship.

The second thing is to do an audit of how you conduct yourself both in your personal life and your professional life. A trustworthy person is someone who is both trustworthy in their professional life and in their personal life. Do an audit across those eight things. Do you conduct yourself in an authentic way? Are you reliable? Do you feel accountability? Do that audit and rate yourself on a scale of one to five and ask yourself, “how good am I at those things?” Then what I would then do is think about the buyers that you deal with. Think about the industry, the characteristics of those buyers, the responsibility that they have. Think about them and ask yourself, “which two or three of those eight are really going to shift and move the needle towards being highly trustworthy with them?”

When you’ve identified those things, that’s where you can start to do your research and actually ask your manager, ask your colleagues, do your own research. I’ve got some research out there where you can look at, “well, how do I become more reliable? How do I feel this sense of accountability towards my buyer?” I would start with making sure you have the environment around you so that you can do that. Do an audit. Be as truthful as you can be, and take your time in doing that audit. Don’t just take one or two examples. Try to think about quite a few of them, rate how good you are in each one. Then look at, based upon the buyer community that you’re sending to, which are the most important ones?

Which ones are going to really move the needle? That’s when you can start to find books, look at research out there, speak to your colleagues, speak to your manager, even speak to your buyers and ask them. Think of some of the best salespeople you’ve ever done business with. What made them best and why is it that you trusted them? What did they do that made you trust them so much? They’ll often tell you what it is that they did and how they did it. They’re a great source of information as well.

Common Mistakes Sellers Make That Break Trust [25:00]

Sam Jacobs: Are there common mistakes that people make, saying the product can do something that it doesn’t do, other mistakes that you see sellers make unintentionally that breaks trust with the buyer?

Moeed: The first one, which is one of the most cardinal sins that I have ever committed and I find myself committing it still, is self-centeredness. What I mean by that is everything about your approach is based upon your self-interest. The angle that you use or hypothesis, the messages that you use in the emails or even on the phone calls, it’s just all about you. It’s all about your perspective and your company’s perspective rather than the buyer’s perspective. Self-centeredness is just a very common mistake that really breaks down trust.

The other one is when you add either a specification of the product or you structure the agreement in a certain way that is more beneficial to you as the seller than the buyer mostly because that’s where you get the highest commission.

Buyers are very well-informed these days. They can probably see, and they’ll question why you have certain things in a contract or certain specs in the product, for example. The other one is transparently self-serving questions. People talk about diagnosis and questioning, but we’re still training salespeople to ask very obviously structured questions that steer the buyer towards a sale. It’s all about intention. This is asking questions because you’re genuinely curious about the buyer and their situation. You want to really get to the heart and the root cause and understand deeply what’s going on there.

Another one is a lack of knowledge, not sales knowledge or product knowledge, but a lack of knowledge about the industry, the buyer’s industry. Lack of business acumen. That’s a big one. Lack of understanding of the buyer’s role and responsibilities, and how others in that role are doing things like what is good practice and best practice. A lack of knowledge about the buyer’s world. That was mentioned several times by those 400 buyers that I spoke with. They have no clue about them and what they do. If you don’t even know how your buyer is going to be measured in terms of success, how could you possibly in a coherent way align your benefits to their values and what’s important to them?

The final one is the lack of a well-thought-out hypothesis or opening to your discussion. Gone are the days where we have people that ask, “what keeps you up at night?” It’s been replaced by “what are your priorities?” Or, “what are your challenges?” Again, it’s just total horseshit. I mean, you live in a world that is radically transparent. There’s a plethora of information at your fingertips and it’s for free. There is no excuse for you to not turn up to a sales meeting with at least a well-thought-out hypothesis.

It doesn’t have to be accurate, but it has to be thought out and you’ve got to be able to justify how you came to that hypothesis. That’s what a buyer wants to hear. They want to hear that someone’s actually treated their time with courtesy and respect. Then we can talk about whether it’s right or wrong. Those are the five, I would say, really big and common mistakes that I see that break trust.

Sam Jacobs: Moeed, if folks want to get in touch with you or to have a longer conversation, what’s the best way to get in touch?

Moeed: LinkedIn. There’s a ton of stuff there and you can always reach me there. I also have a YouTube channel, Proverbial Door, and we’re putting out a ton of content around trust. You can actually contact me directly by email, moeed@proverbialdoor.com. If you put the subject title of Sales Hacker, then I’ll know where you’re coming from and happy to chat with you there.

Sam’s Corner [31:55]

Sam Jacobs: Hey everybody, Sam’s corner. It was a great conversation with Moeed. We talked about trustworthiness and we talked about how sales is not about ramming something down somebody’s throat that they don’t want or need. It’s about building, establishing trust so that you can help people solve their problems. Trust is just so important. Moeed’s goal is to elevate the profession of sales by reintroducing what modern sales really is.

There’s so much transparency in the world that it’s not even possible to do it the old way. It has to be the new way of transparency, honesty, integrity, and having a good, honest conversation. Being inquisitive, thoughtful, not being self-serving, not talking about yourself the whole time, and really sitting still and listening so that you can ask true probing questions about what’s going on with your buyer. Moeed also said that cold calls are bullshit. That’s controversial. Some people truly believe in cold calls. Some people will even cold call not because they’re necessarily effective, but because they instill, perhaps, the right level of work ethic or discipline in the sales team. I have a few different opinions. I think cold calls need to be part of an overall omnichannel outreach campaign to get somebody’s attention because getting people’s attention is very hard in the modern era.

The other thing that Moeed talked about was just making sure that your personal life and your work life are integrated, and if you want trustworthiness and character in your professional life, you need to have the same thing in your personal life. When I asked him what are some strategies to build that he said, “first pick the right company that has the right character and the right level of authenticity, honesty, transparency, trustworthiness.” That’s important. Do your due diligence. It’s a good labor market out there. You can find a new job. Make sure that you’re talking to companies that put character and honesty and integrity at the heart of what they do and at the heart of their values because that will drive the behavior that you are asked to perform as an employee of that company.

If you want to reach out to me, you can find me on Pavilion. If you haven’t yet checked out the Sales Hacker community, you’re missing out. Any sales professional can join as a member to get immediate answers to any question, share experiences, jump in and start a discussion with more than 17,000 sales professionals at SalesHacker.com.

Of course, thanks to our sponsors Outreach. Head to Outreach On Outreach to see what they’ve got going on and teach you how they use their platform.

Unlock your professional potential, take a class, find a mentor and up-level your career with a Pavilion membership. Go to joinpavilion.com to learn more.

Finally, Aircall. Aircall the cloud pace voice platform, a new standard for sales productivity that’s best friends with your CRM and makes it super easy to connect with your customers. They’re doing great work. I think that’s all I have. I’ll talk to you next time.

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