Why Building Trust in Business is Hard, and Two Ways to Get Better at it

By Paul Teshima in Social Selling

There was a great article in SaaStr on why The Greatest Sales Teams Just Kill it on Dec. 31st,  When Everyone Else Has Gone Home.  The main point in the article, is that there is no real business reason for big deals to close on that day.  There is no more budget leftover to spend and the discount is not going away.  The reason deals close, is that:

  • the salesperson has built a real relationship with the customer
  • the customer trusts they will deliver the value they promised
  • the customer wants to help the rep with achieve their own goals.

From having been in many “end-of-quarter” deal cycles, I can tell you this is the truth.  Trust trumps content, discounts, ROI calculators, and more.  But building trust is hard, and even harder now with the explosion of social networks.

It is Hard to Build Trust, Because Many Business Relationships Today Are Online Only

In the “old days” you met someone at an event, you got to spend time talking with them, learning about them, seeing their face as you interacted with them.  You got to develop a “sense” of who they are, and what they are interested in.  But those days are gone.  Your social network is exploding, but mainly with weak, online-only connections.  And although many people are looking for social selling to bridge the gap, let’s examine the numbers to understand the real challenge:

That leaves approximately 540 million people (90%) who only have basic business profile information “out in the internet” to leverage to connect with them.

That means for social selling to help, it needs to work with the 10% who are active, but more importantly the 90% who are not in the news, or actively posting in social media.  And that takes time, and real work.

So to help, I took a step back and did some research on how trust is built in business in general, and found two key ways to help you do it better.

Expertise is Over Emphasized in Building Trust

In 2010 one of the largest studies, by surveying 12,000 people, on personal trustworthiness was completed by Trusted Advisor Associates.  In this survey they used a technique to determine both the perceived and actual importance of four components that make up trust:

  • Credibility – the words we say, the skills and credentials we bring, and the way in which people experience us make people trust us
  • Reliability – the actions we take, our predictability, and the ways in which people find us reliable make people trust us
  • Business Intimacy – the extent to which people feel they can confide in us, and perceive us as discreet and empathetic make people trust us
  • Self-orientation – the more people feel we are focused on ourselves, rather than them, the less they trust us

What they found was very interesting.  Although people most frequently mentioned the concept of “the expert”, which is a combination of credibility and reliability, in fact it was the trait of business intimacy, that ranked highest in effectiveness in building trust.

Additionally they found that while over 50% of the respondents were strongest in being credible, only 28% had a strong ability to develop business intimacy with their customers.

Think of the business relationships you trust the most – do they just care about your business only? or do they also care about you.  Would you confide in them?

Takeaway: although you need to be credible and reliable to be successful in any business role, don’t forget the importance of developing real relationships that include personal elements, like family, interests and aspirations.  “File important facts” is one of the golden rules of legendary networker Roger Horchow, who was one of the best at developing business friendships.

Trust with Executives is Earned Through Their Team

The Vision Group was chartered by Target Marketing Systems and HP to investigate how executives are involved in the buying process, and what factors help sales people build the best engagement with execs.

In a report on Selling to Senior Executives, they found that the top 3 criteria for landing sales meetings with executives lined up with conventional wisdom:

  1. Demonstrating accountability/reliability
  2. Understanding business objectives
  3. Listening before proposing solutions

However with respect to building trust with executives past that first meeting, the top 3 criteria told a different story:

  1. Works well with staff
  2. Knowledge of their industry
  3. Knowledge of the sales person’s industry

So a salesperson’s ability to work and leverage resources within the executives organization is the most important in building trust, even more important than understanding their business needs.  The reason is that the executive assumes if their team trusts you enough to spend time with you, then they can and should trust you.

This conclusion aligns closely with Judith Rich Harris’ theory on group socialization, outlined in her book “The Nurture Assumption.”.  In her book she outlines how “groupness” is often used as a proxy for trust, because we spend an inordinate effort into identifying with a group, what we wear, how we speak, how we act, what norms we follow, so we make the assumption that if my group trusts you, you must be like me, and therefore “trustable”.

Takeaway: often the best way to gain trust with an executive, is to gain the trust of his/her team.  So don’t just try and use them to get to the executive.

Paul Teshima
CEO and Co-founder