A Foundation Built on Trust

By Malcolm Fleschner

Bill Gates may blanch whenever he hears the word “trust” mentioned in the professional arena, but sales professionals with long-term vision understand the value of trust in building long-term customer relationships. Susan Marcus Boehm calls trust “the first rung on the ladder.” A Chicago-based sales manager with handheld dental instrument manufacturer Hu-Friedy, Boehm says that she can frequently build trust immediately by entering a prospect’s office empty-handed.

“The initial stages of a relationship are crucial,” she points out. “A customer assesses you in the first few minutes of an encounter. So I go into a lot of first calls without any products or literature. I’m on a fact-finding mission, interested in what’s important to them, what their needs are. I don’t go in as a salesperson – I go in looking to see how I can help them. Not bringing my goods and wares with me says, ‘I’m here to find out what you need,’ and it makes an impact.”

Too frequently, Boehm notes, salespeople walk into customers’ offices champing at the bit so hard that they undermine their chances of establishing trust.

“Salespeople are too eager to discuss features and benefits within the first two minutes of a call,” she says. “As a manager, one of the challenges I’ve faced is to step back and say, ‘We’re not in this for the short term. We need to find out everything we can about these customers, their goals and mission, etc.’ Until we do that we can’t even begin to talk about what we have to offer.”

So how does a salesperson know when a trust relationship has been established? There are subtle signs to look for, Boehm explains.

“Besides obvious things like body language and tone of voice, customers who trust and feel comfortable with you will return your phone calls promptly,” she says. “You also develop mutually agreed-upon meeting times. So it’s not what’s best for them, it’s ‘What’s good for you? Well, how does that work for you?'”

Other signs of trust Boehm suggests salespeople look for include receiving invitations to customers’ business functions, meetings and phone calls that aren’t rushed and customers who are eager to share your ideas with others in their organization.

For more tips on how to build trust click here.