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Working On Trust

by David Brock on November 9th, 2011

Trust is the cornerstone in developing healthy relationships,whether they be personal or professional.  It’s particularly important in our effectiveness as sales people.  However, there’s a lot of bad information about establishing and maintaining trust–both with your customers and within your organization.

The launch of their new book:  The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook, gave me the opportunity to sit down and talk with my good friend Charlie Green and his co-author Andrea Howe to talk about key issues we face in being trustworthy.

Dave:  Charlie, you know my passion about the role of sales managers in coaching their teams in improving their effectiveness.   How can managers coach and develop their sales people to becoming more trustworthy in engaging and working with their customers?  Does it even make sense to be thinking of coaching trustworthiness. 

 Charlie:  I like how you assume the “whether” and jump right to the “how.” You’re quite right.  And the “how” has a couple of simple answers.  The way you coach people to become more trustworthy with their customers – first and foremost – is to be a role model.  Walk the talk.  Show them how it’s done.  Act that way yourself.   

Think about it: why would anyone trust what you say about how to do something if you yourself aren’t following your own advice?  Answer: they wouldn’t.  Nor should they.  

When you say does it make sense to be even coaching it, I think what you’re getting at is nature-nurture – is this something that can be taught at all, or can it actually be learned?  When it comes to trustworthiness, the answer is clearly yes, it can be taught and learned.  It’s more a matter of noticing what others look for than anything else.   

Interestingly, it is harder to teach trusting someone than it is to teach someone to be trustworthy.  That’s because the risky part of trust lies in trusting, not in being trusted. There’s one exception to that, which is that you can’t just be trustworthy – at some point, if you want to be trusted, you’re going to have to take a leap and do some trusting of your own.   We don’t trust those who never trust us. 

 Dave: Great insights Charlie.  The point about walking the talk is critical, too often we see the exact opposite behavior–managers or execs saying, “Do as I say, not as I do…”  I don’t think we can ever overstate the importance of the example executives and managers have to set within their own organizations.  Thanks for sharing those ideas Charlie.   Andrea, how should managers deal with people who either really are, or are perceived as, being untrustworthy themselves?

 Andrea:  Dave, this is my favorite question.  Do you ever notice how we almost never have bad intentions or harbor ill will toward others.  But others, hooh boy, they may be out to get us, or have it in for us, are laying in wait for us, or just don’t like us.  

Since sometimes “we” are “them”, this just doesn’t add up. All those untrustworthy people typically have spouses, or kids–at least a dog, for heaven’s sake–who seems to like them.  So honestly–much of the fault lies in ourselves. 

We need, first and foremost, to understand where they are coming from, to understand it from their side.  And yes, there are those cases where people really are untrustworthy, but even then, don’t shoot them before they’ve committed the crime.  Here’s where another saying comes into play: the fastest way to make someone trustworthy is to trust them.  

 Dave:  I hadn’t really thought of it in that way before, usually we tend to think of it as “them,” we never think we may be part of the problem.  It’s something we have to constantly examine in ourselves.  Charlie, let me go back to the role of the leader, what personal example should managers at all levels set in establishing a culture of trustworthiness?

Charlie:  Dave, you know, I wish people would take that as a very serious question.  I would like to.  There are two simple things that any manager can do to drastically improve the level of trust in their organization:

  1.  Do a great job of listening.  Even if you know the answer.  Especially if you know the answer.  Because no one is buying your answer until you’ve done them the simple decency of hearing them out.  That builds trust.
  2.  Tell the truth.  Don’t tweak it, don’t hide it, don’t try to massage it.  Just speak the truth, straight out, all the time, to everyone.  If you get in the habit of doing that, you’ll be amazed at how it gets picked up in the organization. 

 Dave:  Let’s drill down into that a little more, how can managers best motivate their salespeople?

 Charlie:  Well, some people smarter than I (e.g. Dan Pink) have done a great job of demolishing the notion that people are best motivated by money.  A few decades ago, Alfie Kohn wrote that “incentives work–they work to make people want more incentives.” Nothing motivates like intrinsic motivation, and the best intrinsic motivation is helping people to get better at doing what’s important to them. 

 Help is the best motivator there is. 

 Dave:  I couldn’t agree more.  Too often, I think managers try to use financial incentives inappropriately.  Being helpful is often the most important way to support and motivate your people.  Andrea, let me shift gears.  I often hear from sales people who work for companies that aren’t “trusted.”   Can you be trustworthy in a company that isn’t trusted?  

 Andrea:  Yes, you can.  In fact, one of the surprising facts uncovered by our research on the Trust Quotient and the Trust Equation was that industry is not destiny.  I thought there would be more correlation between individual trust scores and low-trust industries like pharmaceuticals and finance.  But the correlations are very weak. Individuals can be very trustworthy.

 Of course that raises a question about long-term fit and influence, and the story isn’t simple, but I would put it this way: if you think your organization or your colleagues are not trustworthy, you should not use that as an excuse for yourself not being as trustworthy as you can be.  We have a whole chapter on constructive ways to be trustworthy in tough situations.  Too many people throw up their hands and say, “Oh, that’s a career-limiting move, being trustworthy.”  Well, if you give up at that point, you’re absolutely part of the problem, when you could have been part of the solution. 

 Dave:  Andrea or Charlie, let me tee this last question up, how can you make a customer trust you? 

 Charlie:  Ha ha nice setup; the whole answer has to start from the premise that you can’t.  Bonnie Raitt sang a gorgeous song back in the 90s, called I Can’t Make You Love Me.   The inspiration for the song is a great story in and of itself. It’s a great reminder that if you set out to make someone do something, you’ve already set yourself up to fail. 

 Any parent of a teenager realizes this, though they may try to deny it.  And it’s the same for all of us, all the time.  You can’t make someone trust you.

 But you can have influence.  And influence starts with recognizing you can’t make it happen.  All our little metrics and incentive systems aimed at closing sales are fundamentally flawed–they encourage us to pursue a goal that is our goal, not our customers’ goals.

Trust is loaded with irony.  Ironically, the best way to get the sale is to stop trying to get the sale.  The best way to get your goals met is to help others meet their goals.  The best way to get someone to listen to you is to first, listen to them.  The best way to get someone to trust you is to trust them. 

 These truths are practically self-evident–but we’ve forgotten them.  Go re-read Neil Rackham.  Go listen to Zig Ziglar.  Go read Cialdini on influence. They all say the same thing: people don’t care what you know until you know that they care.  Those are the rules of trust, and the rules of human interactions.  The ultimate irony for sales is, to be successful in sales, you have to give up trying to be successful at sales.  Instead, help your customer. 

 And if that sounds like a Beatle song or a Buddhist koan, well, they know a few things about life.  The fact that it’s also good business shouldn’t surprise anyone except someone who’s gotten a twisted view of what business ought to look like. 

Dave:  Charlie, I knew I could trust you to end this interview with some great reflections on how we can lead more effective lives.  Thanks Andrea and thank you Charlie!  I really appreciate your insights.  I know we can go on, but we’ll stop here.

Postscript:  The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook needs to be a desktop guide for sales managers and sales people.  Andrea and Charlie have created a comprehensive road map and pragmatic guide to profoundly changing your relationships with your customers.  We all aspire to become “trusted advisors” to our customers.  Follow Andrea’s and Charlie’s instructions, you’ll be well on your way!

Book CoverFor a free peek at Sales Manager Survival Guide, click the picture or link.  You’ll get the Table of Contents, Foreword, and 2 free Chapters.  Free Sample

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