The five trust builders

Trust is the binding force of great relationships. When trust increases, communication is more effective and understanding in enhanced. This leads to greater cooperation and better solutions, especially in sales and customer service situations. Since most people won’t buy from someone they don’t trust, building and maintaining a strong bond of trust is essential for developing long term customer satisfaction and loyalty. Fortunately, it is possible to consciously build trust in a very short time by following five simple trust building principles:

Trust Builder No. 1:  Integrity

Integrity encompasses professionalism, conscientiousness, and above all, honesty. We should never lie to our customers, but we do need to be judicious at times as to what we tell them and how.

For example, I was coaching an inside salesperson for an electrical parts distributor (we’ll call him Mario), and he received an inbound call from one of his customers (whom we’ll call Louie). Louie was calling about one of the distributor’s vendors, a wire manufacturer. This is how the dialogue went:

“Mario – it’s Louie.”

“Louie, my friend – how are you today?”

“I’m good, but I’m trying to get some information about Acme wire. I’ve called them three times in the past week and left messages and I haven’t heard back from them once. What the heck’s going on?”

“Oh – sorry about that, Louie. You should have called me. Those guys at Acme are weasels – they never get back to customers. Even I have a hard time getting information from them sometimes.”

“Is that right? Well, that’s very interesting. Thanks, Mario. You know what? If that’s their attitude, I don’t think I’ll be buying their wire anymore. I’ll call you later.”

With that the call ended, and Louie headed off to buy from the competition. Mario was devastated. He thought he was acting with integrity by telling Louie the truth, which he was. Unfortunately, he completely undermined the integrity of the manufacturer to the point where Louie went and bought from the competition. So, while we should never lie to a customer, we do sometimes need to be careful in how we relate information. As my lawyer once said to me: “Derrick, you should never lie, but there are a hundred ways to tell the truth.”

In Mario’s case, how could he have handled the situation differently to maintain the customer’s trust, not just in himself, but also in the manufacturer? By simply saying: “No problem, Louie – tell me what you need, and I’ll get that information for you and call you back by noon.” Problem solved for Louie, Mario retains control of the situation, and trust is maintained all around.

Trust Builder No. 2:  Competence

Competence is demonstrating to the customer that you have the knowledge and ability to help them. Stay abreast of the latest knowledge of your industry and products. Ask clarifying questions for anything you don’t fully understand. Show that you are a competent listener by repeating information back to customers, and summarizing content at the end of a dialogue. Don’t bluff your way through questions that you don’t know the answers to. Instead tell customers you want to double check the information to make sure you are giving them the right answers.

Trust Builder No. 3:  Empathy

The Harvard Business School once identified “I understand…” as the two most important words in business. Empathy is showing other people that you understand their emotions and problems. It allows you to display a genuine concern for the customer’s welfare, and a sincere commitment to acting in their best self interests. Discover why people are feeling the way they are, and why they need what they are asking for, and do what you can to help them. For more on this topic, see our previous blog: How to turn $5,000 into $8 Million with one simple question.

Trust-builder No.4:  Dependability

Demonstrate that you can be trusted to follow through on your promises. Do what you say you will, when you say you will, and how you say you will. Nothing will break trust faster than breaking a promise, and as Debbie Harry sang in Blondie’s hit Heart of Glass: “Once you mistrust, love’s gone behind.” Don’t just tell customers what they want to hear. Give them realistic expectations as to what will happen to give yourself the best chance to display your dependability.

Trust-builder No. 5:  Likeability

It’s been said many times: “All other things being equal, people prefer to do business with people they like.” There are many factors that contribute to how likeable you are as a person, but in the context of relationships with your customers, these factors encompass courtesy, respect, remembering names and key facts, treating each customer as special, and being interested in them and their lives. (Watch for more on this in a future blog).

To sum up, act with integrity, show you are competent, demonstrate empathy, be dependable, and be likeable, and you will build a lasting bond of trust with customers that will ensure they remain loyal to you and your company for the long term.

The five trust builders. Try them – they work!

How to turn $5,000 into $8 Million with one simple question

Here’s the question:   “Why do you need this?”

This simple question helped a salesperson turn a $5,000 opportunity into an $8 Million contract. Too simple? Perhaps, but maybe you’ll think differently about it after I’ve shared the story with you.

I had just spent two days conducting sales training for the inside sales team of a global computer manufacturer. Their job was to support the field salespeople by providing customers with information, quotations, etc. Essentially, the field salespeople treated them as glorified Executive Assistants. In working with this group, however, I believed they could be much more of an asset to the company by taking a proactive role in the sales process than just simply responding to requests from the field. So one of the things we discussed during the training was qualifying, and what questions should be asked in order to ensure customers were investing in the right solutions.

When we finished the training, I headed out on to the sales floor to do some side-by-side coaching with individual salespeople. Round about 3:00 in the afternoon, I landed at Craig’s desk. Craig was a seasoned pro, with over 25 years of sales experience. I asked him what calls he had lined up for me to coach him on that day.

He told me he had just received a request from his field salesperson to provide a quote to a customer for a computer server.  Craig showed me the e-mail from the field person, and the gist of the message was:

This guy called me and left a voice mail. He wants a quote on a server, but didn’t give me any specifications. I haven’t been into this account since they do very little business with us, and I’ve never met him or spoken to him. Could you give him a call and find out what he needs, and send him a quote? Thanks.

I asked Craig how he intended to proceed, and he said:

“Normally I just follow orders from the field person, so I would just call the customer, get the specs, and send him a quote. End of story.”

“Well,” I replied. “Today isn’t a normal day is it? You have me sitting next to you observing everything you’re doing. So what are you going to do differently today that you wouldn’t normally do?”

“I guess I’m going to have to use some of the stuff you’ve been teaching us, aren’t I?”

“That would be nice,” I said. “What specifically are you going to do?”

“Well – I usually wouldn’t ask this, but since you stressed it, I guess I should ask what they are going to be using their new server for, instead of just blindly quoting it.”

“Sure – that would be good.”

I could see that, even with such a simple question, Craig was out of his comfort zone. He was used to following the orders of his field person, and was nervous about trying something new that the field person hadn’t sanctioned. I suggested we rehearse the call first, with me playing the customer.

We rehearsed how the call might go and how he would work the question into the dialogue. I also reminded Craig not to forget to engender cooperation from the customer by first conditioning him that he needed some answers to a few questions.

When I felt Craig was at least somewhat more comfortable, he made the actual call.

“Hi, this is Robert.”

“Robert – this is Craig calling from ……  I’m your Inside Account Manager, and I work with Andrea Jones, the field manager for your account. Andrea told me you had requested a quote for a server so I’m just calling to get some specs so I can send that out to you.”

“Okay….” and then Robert was off and running, relating his needed specs to Craig, which Craig duly started to note down. At this point, I knew if I didn’t intervene, Craig would slip into his established habit of just taking down the required specifications, and then writing up a quote. I gestured to Craig that he should ask the question. First, Craig remembered to preface the question with:

“Robert, to make sure you’re investing in the right solution, do you mind if I get your answers to a couple of quick questions?”

“Sure.” Robert said with a sigh. He was obviously just expecting to be able to give his specs, and get a quote.

“Do you mind if I ask why you need this server? What you will be using it for?”

There was a 2-second pause while Robert weighed up whether or not he should enter into this dialogue with Craig, and then he said: “Do you have half an hour to spare?”

“Absolutely!” Craig replied. He looked over at me with a quizzical look as we both wondered what this was about.

Robert then proceeded to tell Craig the reasons why he needed the server. He had joined his company just a month before. He had been hired to organize and complete a physical move of the company’s data centre from Chicago to San Francisco – a massive undertaking, of which the purchase of the server was merely the first step. Robert shared that the project was much larger in scope than he originally believed, and he admitted that he was feeling somewhat overwhelmed by it all.

“I really need some help here – can you help me?” he asked plaintively.

Long story short, Craig connected Robert with his Services Division, and Robert ended up contracting out the data centre move to Craig’s company – an $8 Million contract for the firm.

Craig would have been happy that day taking a $5,000 order for the server, and his field person would probably have been happy with that also. They both would have been blissfully ignorant of the massive opportunity that they would have missed out on if it hadn’t been for that one question:

“Why do you need this?”

Try it – it works!

Customers don’t want to hear: “I don’t know….”

Here’s a technique to help you deal more effectively with customer enquiries – especially from upset customers.

After facilitating a Customer Service Excellence program for the post-sales technical support team of a major computer manufacturer, I was conducting side-by-side phone coaching with one of the support technicians (we’ll call him John – names have been changed to protect the innocent!). John received a call from a customer who was obviously on a speaker phone. The following dialogue took place:

“This is John – how may I help you today?”

“Yeah – we’d like to know if such-and-such can be used with a whatsit?”

“Hmm. I don’t know, but if you’ll give me a couple of minutes I think I know where to find the answer. Do you mind holding?”

With a somewhat cynical tone, the customer replied: “No – I guess not.”

John started to take his headphones off so he could go and find the answer. As he did that, we realized he had forgotten to actually place the customer on hold. The customer didn’t know they weren’t on hold either, and were oblivious to the fact that John could still hear them.  We heard the following exchange between the customer and another person in his office:

“Oh great – this guy doesn’t know (bleeping) squat.”

“Wonderful. Bleep, bleep.”

John looked at me and mouthed: “What should I do?”

“Put them on hold.” I mouthed back.

John did so, and then asked me how to proceed. I told him this was the perfect situation to show some empathy:

Ignore their remarks – it’s not personal. They’re obviously upset and need an answer as soon as possible. Do you know where to find the answer?”

“I think so.”

“Okay – just go and get it as quickly as you can and come back and give it to them.”

John was gone about 45 seconds, and came back waving a piece of paper with the answer on it. After re-connecting with the customer, he said:

“Okay – I’m back. You were right. I didn’t know squat about this before. But I do now and I have your answer.”  With that, he paused. (Note: This is not the kind of behaviour we teach in our programs, but given the circumstances, I thought this was a novel and somewhat amusing way of dealing with the situation.)

After a couple of seconds of stunned silence on the other end, the customer sheepishly asked:

“Do you think we could have it, please?”

“Of course,” John replied, and then proceeded to relay the answer to the customer. The customer then said:

“Thank you very much. Obviously you overheard us talking, and we’re sorry we were rude. We appreciate the help.”

“No problem – I was glad to help. Let me give you my direct line in case you have any other questions…..”

And with that, the call concluded.

There are a couple of lessons to be learned here:

1. Customers can get upset when they don’t receive instant answers to their questions. That doesn’t excuse their rudeness, but we need to show empathy towards customers who have contacted us to solve a problem. Don’t take their anger personally (unless of course you caused the problem in the first place!). If necessary, use the ANGRY process described in a previous blog to defuse customer anger.

2. Customers don’t want to hear “I don’t know….”  They are coming to us for our expertise, not to hear that we don’t know the answer to their problem.  Saying: “I don’t know…” not only undermines your credibility, but also, if they are already angry, it is only likely to exasperate the situation, and elevate that anger.

You do, of course, need to be honest with customers. However, as my lawyer once told me, you should never lie, but there are a hundred ways of telling the truth. An alternative to the “I don’t know…” approach is to let the customer know that you will help them and provide the right answer, even if it takes a little time. We have found the following to be extremely effective in helping customers stay calm while explaining they have to wait for their answer:

“I want to make sure you’re getting the right information. Can you give me just two minutes to double check that, and I’ll be right back with your answer?”

Phrasing it this way does not undermine your credibility, and the customer is re-assured that they are going to get the right information. They are less likely to be angry, and will be more tolerant of being placed on hold to wait for their answer. Try it – it works!

Selling on purpose – Part 2: Forget about yourself completely

Not long after we founded Delaine Consulting, I made a sales call on the CEO of a mid-sized company based just outside of Montreal. To get to the meeting, I flew into Dorval airport and then took a 45-minute cab ride to the prospective client’s office. When I say a cab ride, it was actually one of the most terrifying journeys of my life. Montreal drivers have something of a, shall we say, reckless reputation, but this cab driver was something else! Speeding, changing lanes at whim, it was as if he didn’t care if we got there safely or not – he just wanted to get there as quickly as possible. I braced myself in the seat, and hung on for dear life. I was traumatized by the time we arrived.

After the CEO and I introduced ourselves and were settled in his office, he asked me how the journey was. I started to regale him with the story of my cab ride. After a few minutes, I noticed that his eyes had started to glaze over and he was shifting in his chair. He may have been genuinely interested in my journey when he asked the question, but 10 minutes into the story, his interest was definitely on the wane! Realizing this, and hoping I hadn’t blown the opportunity, I transitioned quickly into my prepared opening statement in order to focus us on business. His attention back on me, the call went well from there, and he became a client.

I’ll never know if I would have blown the sale if I had continued blathering, but I do know this incident taught me a couple of valuable lessons. I already knew the importance of empathy in selling, and how really understanding the customer and their needs helps me provide truly appropriate solutions. What I learned that day though, was that when I am talking, I’m not listening. Zig Ziglar once said that selling is not telling, selling is asking the right questions. I’ll modify that by saying that selling is not telling, selling is asking the right questions, and then listening to the answers. And since listening is one of the cornerstones of empathy, if you’re not listening with all your mental acuity, you cannot effectively be building empathy, and that is going to hurt your selling success.

The other lesson I learned that day was to forget about myself completely, and focus my attention entirely on the customer. It is quite natural, of course, to provide an answer when someone asks you a question. And we do like talking about ourselves – it is our favourite subject. However, in a sales situation, when we focus on ourselves and not on the prospect, we run a real risk of leaving the prospect feeling like we really don’t have their best interests at heart. After all, the purpose of qualifying in sales is to gain as much of an understanding of them and their situation as possible. In other words, the customer should be the focus of the dialogue, not the salesperson.

When you focus on the customer, it allows you to build a complete understanding of their situation. You will empathize so deeply with their concerns and problems that you will be able to provide solutions that far outweigh the competition in terms of their value. It may not win you every sale (I don’t know anything that works 100% of the time), but forgetting about yourself completely will certainly make it harder for customers to buy from your competition, and easier to buy from you.

Look for more ways that you can use empathy to help you sell on purpose instead of by accident in future blogs.