Selling from Inside Your Client’s Shoes

You know the phrase, “Walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.” It’s short for empathy, understanding the Other so well you can intuit what it feels like to take a long walk—wearing their footwear, no less.

Let’s adapt that idea to selling. What if you could understand your client so well that you could intuit how it feels to be sitting in their seat in a sales meeting, sensing every nuance along the way?

Shall we give it a try?

Sales Meeting Time T-minus-10

It’s 10 minutes before meeting time. You arrive early, and the receptionist ushers you into the conference room and offers you coffee. You nervously drum your fingers on the laptop you brought to introduce yourself and your firm to Claudio and Taciana. They are CEO and COO, respectively, of the relatively new marketing automation firm C3PX. You spoke by phone with Taciana to set up this meeting. You’re optimistic, marshaling your nervous energy as you mentally rehearse your key points for the nth time.

Claudio. Meanwhile, Claudio wonders if he has time to call his 19-year-old daughter at college. Actually, whether to call her at all. Things are not well between the two of them—they haven’t been since he and his wife divorced last year. Teenage girls can be so—difficult. And it seemed like she so often took sides with her mother.

Meanwhile, C3PX is doing well—sometimes too well. Claudio just signed another line of credit extension. The good news was the firm’s credit was good. The bad news is he wants to pay down some debt, but there was always a need to invest in some new software or process. The meeting in 10 minutes may be another example—a necessary expense, but not welcome in terms of cash flow.

Claudio hopes Taciana can take the lead on this. He’s been leaning a lot on her lately. Is he holding up his end of the bargain? Or is it welcome to her—a chance to grow into the business? But what if she’s growing too fast and taking over some of Claudio’s roles as CEO?

Taciana. Taciana is running late. She’s just finished a meeting with HR, and she is concerned the experienced hire recruiting program is short of target. She wonders if she’ll need to postpone the ops team call this afternoon until tomorrow, though she did that last week as well. Is she getting a little overloaded? Does it show?

Taciana has mixed feelings about this meeting. On one hand, she genuinely liked the phone call she had with you. She felt you sounded sharp, competent, and confident. But she can’t help worrying about your service offering.

Does C3PX really need your kind of service at this point in its growth? You offer some great services, but with them comes another level of complexity. Are the benefits worth it? Should they get along for another 12 to 18 months? What if some new technology comes along and leap-frogs your offering?

Also, is this going to be yet another Taciana-solo project? “Sure, I’m the COO,” she thinks, “but that doesn’t mean I have to do everything. Am I leveraged enough? Will Claudio think I’m empire-building if I try to delegate? But if I don’t, how am I going to get time to spend with my husband? We’ve been trying to get more time together; he has a demanding job, too. I hope Claudio takes the lead in this meeting.”

Sales Meeting Time T = 0

It’s time. You take a last look at your phone just as the door opens. In walk Claudio and Taciana.

You all smile and shake hands, then pass out business cards. You each reject offers of more coffee and strategically settle into your chairs, all the while smiling and uttering meaningless phrases in non-committal tones.

The meeting commences.

Like all meetings, it commences on multiple levels. There is the overt agenda to be discussed. There are first impressions, flooding each of you as you quickly take into account the others’ appearance, sound, bearing, and manner. Are you who they expected? What’s different? What does that mean?

And are they who you expected? What did you misjudge? What did you get right? Can you afford to focus on that and pay attention to what’s being said? Do they seem a little rushed? What does that mean? Are they going to sit through your deck, or should you skip it? When should you bring up price?

You can ask them to tell you a bit about their situation, but you can’t do too much of that. These days no one has time for someone who hasn’t done their homework. Yet neither can you waste time proving you’ve done your homework. What does it mean that they placed their iPhone next to them? And so on.

Behind the Scenes

The internal dialogue is endless—and that’s just yours! What about the dialogue inside Taciana’s and Claudio’s heads? How important is this inner cacophony? And what should you do about it? Ignore it? Address it? If you choose to address it, how do you do it?

The truth is those internal dialogues are not trivial. They are important. You need to address them. Most of all this is a great opportunity cleverly disguised as an awkward social moment. You can dramatically affect the whole sale, and the whole relationship, by how you conduct yourself in the first few minutes regarding these internal dialogues.

Small Talk Isn’t Small

The idle chit-chat we engage in is a potent social ritual. The point is not to find out that you both went to Ohio State or love basketball or have kids. Those are proxies.

The real issue at stake is whether they can trust you—in a very specific sense of that word. It’s what we call “intimacy” in the trust equation. Do they feel safe being who they are in your presence? Do you laugh at the right moments—with the right kind of laugh? Do you wince at the right statements—like when Taciana mentions meeting overload? When they say, “Tell us about yourself,” do you remember that mostly they’re just being nice and then turn the conversation to them?

Do you have the emotional courage to raise your eyebrows when Claudio says, “Teenagers—am I right?” and invite further comment should he choose to go there? When one of them raises price concerns, do you respond with curiosity and say, “Tell me what’s behind that concern?” Or do you reply with a canned defense of your value-for-price? Do you have the nerve to say, “I’m sensing a little bit of stress from each of you. Is this decision a source of concern to you?”

This isn’t about your value proposition. It isn’t about proposing challenging questions or asserting your qualifications. But it’s critical. The buyer/seller interaction is many things, but it’s first and foremost human. First impressions matter, and not just about clothes and looks.

What buyers want is to feel at ease, trusting, and confident they can be authentically themselves with you and not have to look over their shoulders when dealing with you.

Buyers make up their mind about this subconsciously, and they do it very quickly. Trust in this sense doesn’t take time; it takes courage, connection, and empathy. Don’t be afraid to let your guard down. Doing so shows others that can do the same with you from the get-go.

This article first appeared on RainToday.

Read Part Two of this post, here. 

What Problem Are We Trying to Solve?

An old business friend told me the other day that the thing he most remembers me saying was, “What problem are we trying to solve?” As he put it, “That little phrase is the key to unfreezing more off-course conversations than any other technique I know of.”

I can’t claim invention. I got it from the United Research side of Gemini Consulting, one of several pieces of clever social engineering they brought to business. Here’s how, and why, it works.

How Business Conversations Go Astray

To hear us tell it after the fact, many business meetings follow a logical flow. They start with an agenda or problem definition, data are then presented, discussions held, and conclusions reached.  Then pigs fly.

It’s not that those individual elements don’t happen – they do. It’s that they happen like a Tower of Babel, randomly and all at once. When everybody’s got an opinion and a vested interest, and nobody’s a designated facilitator – a description of most meetings – we shouldn’t expect much else.

Have you ever been in a planning board meeting?  A condo association meeting? A meeting within your firm’s HR department? An inter-departmental meeting? A sales call with an interested but wary client?

Then you’ve seen the following dysfunctions:

  1. People pursuing their own agendas as sub-text to a given issue
  2. Aimless wandering around various problem definitions
  3. Randomly proposed solutions without grounding
  4. A social struggle for air time
  5. An airing of pet peeves as they manifest in the given issue
  6. A game of dominance and submission playing out in an issue.

And I’m sure there are more. All are forms of incoherence, lacking sequence or structure, generating more frustration from which to feed more incoherence.

It Doesn’t Have to Be That Way

If the root issue is incoherence, then there are several ways to tackle it. You can agree on an agenda. You can enforce sequencing. You can apportion air time.

But one way seems to work better than others. When the babble begins to peak, and the frustration level is palpable, raise your hand, furrow your brow, and ask, genuinely, “Hey folks – what problem are we trying to solve?”

Notice what this simple formulation does.

First, it is socially neutral-to-positive. Logically it has the same effect as saying, “You fools are all over the map – you can’t even define the problem” – but the emotional effect is totally different. You’re not claiming the moral high ground or fighting for your point of view – you’re simply observing a phenomenon, and asking a question.

Second, it’s a very good question. Asking a group to gut-check a problem definition almost immediately elicits an answer – and often it’s the same answer. In which case, collaboration is restored – you all have a common mission again.

And if it’s a different answer, voila, you’ve distilled the essence of the debate – “we have two competing problem definitions, no wonder we were having such difficulties!” In either case, the group becomes re-centered around a dynamic goal – problem definition and resolution, rather than bitching and moaning, or power games.

The net effect of all this is claiming, centering, and norming. A group becomes a group again, with common goals, moving forward, rather than a fractious collection of squabblers.

Give it a try next time you’re in a meeting that’s driving you a little batty – just ask, “Hey folks – what problem are we trying to solve?”

 

Building the Trust-based Organization, Part II

In last week’s “Building the Trust-based Organization Part I,” I suggested that approaches to trust at the organizational level fell into several categories. Like the parable of the blind men and the elephant, all captured some part of the puzzle, but none grasped the entirety of the issue.  The five categories I listed were:

1. Trust as communication
2. Trust as reputation
3. Trust as recipe
4. Trust as rule-making
5. Trust as shared value.

I suggested a holistic approach would have a Point of View, a Diagnosis, and a Prescription.  Here is my attempt at offering such an approach.

Organizational Trust: A Point of View

Trust relationships are asynchronous – one party, the trustor, is the one who does the trusting, and who takes the risks. The other party, the trustee, is the one whom we speak of as being trustworthy (or not). “Trust” is the result of a successful interaction between these two actors.

Trust is largely an interpersonal phenomenon. Trustworthiness is mostly personal, though we do speak of ‘trustworthy’ companies as having a track record or being reliable. Trusting, however, is a completely human action, not a corporate one.

Risk is necessary to trust: if risk is completely mitigated, we are left only with probability.

It follows that the most powerful meaning of “organizational trust” is not an organization that trusts or is trusted, but an organization that encourages personal trust relationships:

A trust-based organization is an organization which fosters and promotes the establishment of trust-based relationships between various stakeholders – employees, management, shareholders, customers, suppliers, and society.

Organizational Trust: Diagnosis

What is needed to create a trust-based organization? Since ‘trust’ is such a broad concept, it’s clear that themes like communications, regulations, and customer relationships will have a role. But to avoid a mere laundry list, what’s needed is some kind of primus inter pares relationship; or perhaps some necessary vs. sufficient distinctions.

My nomination is simple: an agreed-upon system of Virtues and Values. Virtues are personal, and represent the qualities sought out in employees and managers. Values are organizational, and reflect basic rules of relationship that ought to govern all relationships within the organization.

Some typical trust-based virtues include: candor, transparency, other-orientation, integrity, reliability, emotional intelligence, empathy.

I have suggested elsewhere Four Trust-based Organizational Values. They are expressed below in terms of customer relationships just to be specific, but they apply equally to relationships with suppliers, fellow-employees, and so forth.

  1. Lead with customer focus – for the sake of the customer. Begin interactions with other-focus rather than self-focus.
  2. Collaboration rather than self-orientation. Assume that the customer is a partner, not in opposition to us.  We are all, always, on the same side of the table.
  3. Live in the medium-to-long term, not the short term; interact with customers in relationship, not in transactional mode. Assume that all customers will be customers in perpetuity, with long memories.
  4. Use transparency as the default mode. Unless illegal or hurtful to others, share all information with customers as a general principle.

Advocates for Values.  I am not alone in citing Values as lying at the heart of the matter.McKinsey’s Marvin Bower put values at the center of his view of business, and McKinsey for many years was run from his mold. As Harvard Business School Dean McArthur said of Bower, “What made him a pioneer was that he took basic values into the business world.”

In 1953, Bower said, “…we don’t have rules, we have values…”

In 1974, he wrote, “One of the highest achievements in leadership is the ability to shape values in a way that builds successful institutions. At its most practical level, the benefit of a managed value system is that it guides the actions of all our people at all levels and in every part of our widespread empire.”

Bower’s biographer noted that Bower believed that “while financial considerations cannot be ignored, business goals must not be financial; if they are, the business will fail to serve its customers and ultimately enjoy less profit.”

The alumni of McKinsey – some, anyway – learned well. Harvey Golub said, “[values are] a powerful way to build a business…it worked for McKinsey and it worked for IDS and for American Express.”

IBM’s Lou Gerstner said: ‘“I believe that I learned from [Marvin] the importance of articulating a set of principles that drive people’s behavior and actions.”

[Note: McKinsey itself had some noticeable hiccups post-Bower. In my view, this is not an indictment of values-based management, but a sad example of how it requires constant values-vigilance].

The Case for Values.  The use of values as the basis for management is well-suited to the subject of trust, and this advantage shows up in numerous ways.

  • Values scale, in a way that performance management systems never can do.
  • Values are about relationships, in a way that incentives never can be; this makes them highly suitable to the subject matter of trust.
  • Values are infinitely teachable, in a way that value propositions or communications programs alone cannot aspire to.
  • Values are among the most un-copyable of competitive advantages.

Organizational Trust: Prescription

Managing a values-based organization will center around keeping the values vibrant. This is pointedly not done mainly through compensation and reward systems, corporate communications plans, or reputation management programs. Instead, it is done through the ways in which human beings have always influenced other human beings in relationship.  To name a few:

  1. Leading by example: trustworthy leaders show the way to their followers by their actions, not just their words
  2. Risk-taking: trusting others encourages them to be trustworthy, and, in turn, to themselves trust others
  3. Discussion: principles undiscussed are principles that die on the vine. Discussion, not one-to-many communication, is key to trust
  4. Ubiquitous articulation: trust principles should underpin many corporate decisions and actions; trust-creating leaders seize the opportunity for teaching points in every such case
  5. Recognition: Public praise for values well-lived is intrinsically motivating
  6. Confrontation: Trust-building leaders do not hesitate to overrule business decisions if they violate values, and to do so publicly in ways that teach lessons. Values, not value, are the ultimate arbiter of all actions.

To sum up: it’s a simple concept. Trust in a corporate setting is achieved by building trust-based organizations. Trust-based organizations are built to consciously increase the levels of trusting and of trustworthiness in all organizational relationships. The best approach to creating such an organization is values-based management and leadership. This is different from most approaches to management and leadership in vogue today.

The quotes about Marvin Bower were taken from:
Edersheim, Elizabeth Haas (2007-12-10). McKinsey’s Marvin Bower: Vision, Leadership, and the Creation of Management Consulting. Wiley.

 

Building the Trust-based Organization

Last week, I wrote about why organizations don’t teach trust.  Now let’s move from diagnosis to prescription – let’s delve into how to build a trust-based organization.

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Let’s start by behind honest: do your eyes glaze over at a title like “building the trust-based organization?” Mine do. I always click on such titles, but am usually disappointed when I get what feels like low-content or high fluff-quotient material. So, I set out to tighten up the perspective.

Tentative conclusions: sometimes the issue really is vague, fluffy, fog-sculpting content. But more frequently it’s a “blind men and the elephant” scenario: all describe a key component of the answer, but none have a holistic perspective.

The Parts of the Elephant

The following is not an exhaustive taxonomy, but a great number of pieces about creating trust in organizations do fall into the following five categories. Here are the equivalents of the blind men seeking to describe the elephant of trust.

Trust as Communication.

“Communications is fundamental to earning trust,” says Jodi MacPherson of Mercer in Ivey Business Journal. “At the heart of building trust is the process of communication.”

This approach gets one thing very right; trust is a relationship, not a static set of virtues or characteristics. Hence the connection between parties is key, and communication is the basic way parties relate to each other.

However, the communication approach begs one huge question – the content being communicated.

Trust as Reputation.

The Edelman PR firm’s annual Trust Barometer has been a major communications success.  A sample statement:

Corporate reputation and trust are a company’s most important assets, and must be handled carefully…Beyond safeguarding a reputation, the [2012] Edelman Trust Barometer findings reveal that businesses acquire a greater license to operate as they expand their mission and create more meaningful relationships…By identifying a company’s assets and weaknesses in the realm of trust, we help corporations uncover, define, exemplify and amplify their authentic identity in ways that resonate with stakeholders and inspire support of their business mission.

This approach has one big risk: by equating trust and reputation, the emphasis naturally falls more on managing the perception of the trustor, and less on managing the trustworthiness of the trustee – think Wells Fargo, if you want a succinct example of the danger.  It is also inherently corporate, and therefore impersonal.

Trust as Recipe.

There are probably more approaches that fall into this camp than any other.  It includes lists of (typically 4 – 6) actions, principles, insights, definitions, concepts which, if considered or managed or invented or followed or preached about, result in greater trust in an organization and between that organization and its stakeholders.

A good example is Ken Blanchard Company’s The Critical Link to a High-Involvement, High-Energy Workplace Begins with a Common Language.  They offer  four trust-busters (one of which is lack of communication), five trust-builders, and three rules to building leadership transparency.

Trust as Rules-Making.

In a Harvard Law blogpost titled Rebuilding Trust: the Corporate Governance Opportunity, Ira Milstein points out the critical roles that can be played by boards and shareholders in increasing trust.

A similar point is made from an Asian perspective. In Corporate Governance: Trust that Lasts, author Leonardo J. Matignas says “Corporate governance is not premised on a lack of trust. It simply ensures that trust is accompanied by practices and principles that will further strengthen it.”

While these views may appear slightly narrow, they’re part of a broader governance category that says corporate trust lies in better rule-making. If the game is out of control, we need to clarify the rules, tweak the goalposts, empower the referees, and not be afraid to make changes to the environment in which business operates legitimately as business.

The strength of this view lies in its linkage of business to society – the implicit statement that there is no Natural Law that says business has any right to stand alone outside a broader social context.

Trust as Shared Value.

In Michael Porter and Mark Kramer’s notable 2010 HBR articleCreating Shared Value, Porter performs an eyebrow-raising reversal of his previous work. The author of Competitive Strategy and the Five Forces affecting competitive success boldly charts out a world in which companies take the lead in formulating multilaterally beneficial, long-term projects for the greater betterment of all stakeholders. The lions and the lambs can get along after all, it seems.

Porter and Kramer deserve mention here because they have pinpointed something few others do – an unflinching claim that economic performance at a macro level is consistent with firms behaving at a micro-level in longer timeframes and in more multi-stakeholder collaborative manners. (Incidentally, this view reclaims Adam Smith from the clutches of the Milton Friedmans and Ayn Rands who suggest competition is purely about survival of the fittest, and restores to him a sense of Smith’s broader views as reflected in his Theory of Moral Sentiments).

They are not entirely alone. The Arthur Paige Society some years ago published The Dynamics of Public Trust in Business, which similarly stated:

…trust creation is really an exercise in mutual value creation among parties who are unequal with respect to power, resources, and knowledge. We believe that a core condition for building public trust is the creation of approaches that create real value for all interested parties—businesses and public alike.

Of all the views, Trust-as-Shared-Value is the one most breathtaking in scope. The issue facing it is one of execution. There is a bit of a “then a miracle happens” quality, perhaps inevitable given the scope of envisioned change.

Seeing the Elephant Whole

All the five generic approaches above get something important right – but none of them constitute a full answer to “How do we make trust-based companies?”

So what would constitute a good answer?  It must have three parts: a Point of View, a Diagnosis, and a Prescription.

Crudely speaking, in the list above, Porter/Kramer’s Shared Value is a point of view lacking a prescription. Trust as Rule-Making is a diagnosis without prescriptions or a point of view, and Trust as Recipe is pretty much prescriptive in nature.

In Part II of this post, I offer my suggestion for how to best answer the question across all three dimensions.

 

This post first appeared on TrustMatters.

Top Ten Reasons Organizations Don’t Teach Trust

A little while back I was asked a simple yet profound question by Tom Hines from the Monitor Group. It’s a question that over the years, I continue to get from clients – and clients from all over the globe, no less.

It seems no matter where you are from or what services your organization offers, there is a focus on closing the sale through the official “sales process.” And yet, everywhere, people are either already aware or starting to take notice that its the softer side of sales that pushes the “sale” towards establishing a lasting client relationship.

So – why don’t more organizations teach trust? Well – here’s my top ten list that may shed a little light on the subject.

———-

This recently from Tom Hines of the Monitor Group.

“My question to you, Charlie, is simple, but something that I’ve been struggling with for some time now. If every CEO or other senior leader (or at least the great majority) seems to agree that success in selling is in some part attributable to trust based selling concepts, then why do they spend virtually all of their training $$ on sales process, closing techniques, etc. It seems like a dirty little secret that this is nothing but a waste of money.”

“I have worked with literally hundreds of sales people over my career and no process, qualification questions or closing technique ever works without establishing trust as the foundation of any client relationship. So the question then is why don’t organizations prioritize and invest in helping their organization understand the dynamics of trust and use that as the foundation of any other program they try to implement? It seems to me that they spend a great deal of money on “quick fix” programs that do nothing to change behaviors and belief systems about the importance of trust and how it is the only way to improve performance.”

Well, Tom, no surprise, you’re preaching to the choir. But I know you mean the question seriously too, and I too take it as a serious question.

Why is it that things are that way?

Here’s my Top Ten list for why organizations, especially sales organizations, don’t invest more in trust.

10. Fear–of looking wussy, as in Real Men Don’t Play Trust Games.

9. Thinking that business is about competition. It’s not. It’s about commerce.

8. Fear—of someone taking advantage of us; hence do unto others before they do unto you.

7. Bad long-term logic. We are dominated by financial logic, internal rates of return and present-value discount rates. That belief outlaws any investment beyond about 25 years. The parent of a child operates on a longer timeframe, not to mention entire nations in Asia.

6. Inability to defer gratification.

5. A Hobbesian hangover. The continued belief, fostered by ideologue economists and politicians, that the world is an evil place—life is nasty, brutish and short–and therefore the best defense is a good offense. Even if the premise were true (I have no position on it), the conclusion certainly is not.

4. The cult of rationality. Belief that only “scientific” management works; forget passion, belief, relationships—and trust.

3. Over-emphasis on measurement. The belief that “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” Just think about that. False on the face of it.

2. The cult of short-termism. Here-now, bird-in-hand, payback time, fees-not-interest, outsource, monetize—it all adds up to transactions, not relationships. Not good for trust.

1. Fear—that someone will find out who you really are if you don’t manage your image. So tighten up, spin everything, and get out of Dodge before they can spot you for who you really are.

What’s your answer to Tom’s question?

Why Your Clients Don’t Trust You – and How to Fix It

Politics has sucked up most of the oxygen surround trust recently. Now, trust in politics turns out to be a complicated matter – by comparison, trust in business is a relatively simple business. So – what about your business?

Hopefully your clients trust you more than the trust ratings of both the US presidential candidates.  But – do they trust you enough?  And if your clients don’t trust you enough – are you willing and ready to address that?

Do your customers trust you? (Be honest, now, this is not an in-house survey). Do they believe what you say? Will they cut you a break if you goof up?  Are they happy to share information with you? Do they go out of their way to refer you?

Can you honestly answer ‘yes,’ to yourself, in the dead of night, to those questions?

If you’re trying to sell your services, you already know the value of being trusted. Being trusted increases value, cuts time, lowers costs, and increases profitability—both for us and for our clients.

So, we try hard to be trustworthy: to be seen as credible, reliable, honest, ethical, other-oriented, empathetic, competent, experienced, and so forth.

But in our haste to be trustworthy, we often forget one critical variable: people don’t trust those who never take a risk. If all we do is be trustworthy and never do any trusting ourselves – then eventually we will be considered un-trustworthy.

Because to be fully trusted, we need to do a little trusting ourselves.

Trusting and Being Trusted

We often talk casually about “trust” as if it were a single, unitary phenomenon—like the temperature or a poll. “Trust in banking is down,” we might read.

But that begs a question. Does it mean banks have become less trustworthy? Or does it mean bank customers or shareholders have become less trusting of banks? Or does it mean both?

To speak meaningfully of trust, we have to declare whether we are talking about trustors or about trustees. The trustor is the party doing the trusting—the one taking the risk. These are our clients, for the most part.

The trustee is the party being trusted—the beneficiary of the decision to trust. This is us, for the most part.

The trust equation is a valuable tool for describing trustworthiness:

The Trust Equation

 

 

 

 

 

But where is risk to be found? How can we use the trust equation to describe trusting and not just being trusted? How can we trust, as well as seek to be trusted?

Trust and Risk

Notwithstanding Ronald Reagan’s dictum of “trust but verify,” the essence of trust is risk. If you submit a risk to verification, you may quantify the risk, but what’s left is no longer properly called “trust.” Without risk there is no trust.

In the trust equation, risk appears largely in the Intimacy variable. Many professionals have a hard time expressing empathy, for example, because they feel it could make them appear “soft,” unprofessional, or invasive.

Of course, it’s that kind of risk that drives trust. We are wired to exchange reciprocal pleasantries with each other. It’s called etiquette, and it is the socially acceptable path to trust. Consider the following:

“Oh, so you went to Ohio State. What a football team; I have a cousin who went there.”

“Is it just me, or is this speaker kind of dull? I didn’t get much sleep last night, so this is pushing my luck.”

“Do you know whether that was a Snapchat reference he just made? Sometimes I feel a little out of the picture.”

If we take these small steps, our clients usually reciprocate. Our intimacy levels move up a notch, and the trust equation gains a few points.

If we don’t take these small steps, the relationship stays in place: pleasant and respectful, but like a stagnant pool when it comes to trust.

Non-Intimacy Steps for Trusting

The intimacy part of the trust equation is the most obvious source of risk-taking, but it is not the only one. Here are some ways to take constructive risks in other parts of the trust equation.

  1. Be open about what you don’t know. You may think it’s risky to admit ignorance. In fact, it increases your credibility if you’re the one putting it forward. Who will doubt you when you say you don’t know?
  2. Make a stretch commitment. Most of the time, you’re better off doing exactly what you said you’ll do and making sure you can do what you commit to. But sometimes you have to put your neck out and deliver something fast, new, or differently.To never take such a risk is to say you value your pristine track record over service to your client, and that may be a bad bet. Don’t be afraid to occasionally dare for more—even at the risk of failing.
  3. Have a point of view. If you’re asked for your opinion in a meeting, don’t always say, “I’ll get back to you on that.” Clients often value interaction more than perfection. If they wanted only right answers, they would have hired a database.
  4. Try on their shoes. You don’t know what it’s like to be your client. Nor should you pretend to know. But there are times when, with the proper request for permission, you get credit for imagining things.”I have no idea how the ABC group thinks about this,” you might say, “but I can imagine—if I were you, Bill, I’d feel very upset by this. You’ve lost a degree of freedom in this situation.”

While trust always requires a trustor and a trustee, it is not static. The players have to trade places every once in a while. We don’t trust people who never trust us.

So, if we want others to trust us, we have to trust them. Go find ways to trust your client; you will be delighted by the results.

This post first appeared on RainToday.

Disclosure Is Not Transparency

Transparency, most of us would agree, is a positive thing.  And disclosure is an obvious way to get there.

But transparency and disclosure are not the same thing. And confusing them can actually harm transparency.

So – what’s the difference between disclosure and transparency?

Transparency and Trust

Besides “able to transmit light,” the dictionary defines transparent as:

  • easily seen through, recognized, or detected: transparent excuses.
  • manifest; obvious: a story with a transparent plot.

In the simplest business terms, “transparent” means you can tell what’s going on.

If the link between transparency and trust isn’t self-evident, here are a few citations to help clarify it:

If I can see what’s going on, I know that I am not being misled. Motives become clear. Credibility is affirmed. Transparency is indeed a trust virtue.

Disclosure

Disclosure is a time-honored tool of regulators to achieve transparency. Food and pharmaceutical manufacturers are required to disclose ingredients, medical authors are required to reveal payment sources, the SEC frequently proposes disclosure as a tool, and so on.

Certainly you can’t find out what’s going on if information is actually hidden.  So disclosure is a necessary condition for transparency. But it’s hardly a sufficient one.

I don’t have much to say about the cost/benefit trade-off of greater disclosure in pursuit of transparency. Sometimes the benefit is obvious, other times not so much, sometimes not at all.

What’s more interesting to me is how the blind pursuit of disclosure can actually reduce transparency – even reduce people’s awareness of the distinction.

Over-Disclosure

Is it possible to have too much disclosure? So much disclosure that information gets lost in the blizzard of data?

On the face of it, disclosure is the handmaiden of transparency. But if disclosure becomes the end rather than the means, if regulators and consumer advocates become fixated on indicators rather than on what they indicate, then disclosure can actually become self-defeating.

Lawyers know that massive responses to discovery requests can overwhelm opposing counsel. Cheating spouses know that the best lies are those that disclose the most truth. Consumer lenders know to fast-talk the disclaimers at the end of radio ads, much like the small print on the ads and loan statements.

If disclosure isn’t accompanied by an ethos of transparency, it can be positively harmful. It is like crossing your fingers behind your back, taking movie reviews out of context, or word parsing a la “it depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.”

A trustworthy person, team or company will not settle for disclosure, but seek to offer transparency. A competent regulator will always remember that disclosure is just evidence, and partial evidence at that. And a wise buyer will always look for the spirit of transparency that may, or may not, underlie the act of disclosure.

Trust relies on both data and intent.

 

Don’t Hog the Trust

Bloated Pig Approaching Trough

If you’re in an advisory or sales role, you probably strive to be a trusted advisor to your customers. After all, if your customers trust you, tons of things start to go right, and you find yourself in a highly favored situation. But there’s a paradox: if you set out to be relatively favored by your customer – to be the most trusted – you can actually destroy your trust.  You can’t hog the trust.

Here are the two most common situations where trying to hog the trust turns out to bite you.

Trust-hogging with Co-workers

Let’s say you’ve been incredibly successful at becoming a trusted advisor with a particular customer – both individual customers, and the organization as a whole. They take your advice; they seek you out; they buy from you. 

Now let’s say the customer could benefit from another part of your organization. Or, that you’re getting a little over-loaded, what with all your success. Or, some of your firm’s people need development opportunities.  

In such cases, it’s only natural to fear the loss of our trusted advisor status. They might screw it up. They might not live up to your high standards. (Worse, they might exceed your high standards and make the customer think they are the better trusted advisor).  And fearing all kinds of loss, you’re tempted to keep the customer to yourself.

To hog the trust. 

Here the trust paradox comes around with a vengeance. Trust, like love, is one of those things that you get more of when you give it away. Trust thrives on reciprocity – it starves on selfishness. 

The trust your customer has placed in you is heavily rooted on their belief that you’ll do the right thing for them. If you’re honest, it’s extremely unlikely that Every Right Thing can be provided by you – at some point, other human beings may actually be able to provide help to your valued customer in ways that you cannot.

In such situations, you serve no one by blocking the channels – worse, you actually destroy the trust in yourself.  You have a meta-role – the trusted advisor role of watching over the relationship, assuring the customer they’ve got a safe back door channel to you, making sure the new person understands the customer situation.  Sharing your customer’s trust with others on your team doesn’t deprive you of your trusted advisor status – quite the opposite. It allows you to exercise your trustworthiness on a broader platform, and for the customer to benefit more from it. 

Just don’t hog the trust. 

Trust-hogging with Competitors

It might seem self-evident that you should be aim to be more trustworthy than your competitors. And to a point, that’s a valuable goal. The point gets crossed, however, when we start doing things with the objective of being more trusted – instead of with the objective of doing the right thing by our customer. 

Of course you should be credible, reliable, a safe haven – all those things that make a trusted advisor. But what happens if your customer would actually be best-served by a competitor on a given issue? Do you have the ethical gumption to do the right thing for your customer and actually recommend your competitor?  Or do you slide by the issue in any one of a dozen slippery ways?  

If you allow your goals to supersede what is good for your customer – even a noble goal such as being relatively trustworthy – then to that extent, you cannot be trusted; you have put your good over the good of the customer. Ding. Tilt. No good. 

This is a major-league trust paradox: you are trustworthy in direct proportion to the amount that you are willing to subordinate your own business goals to that of your customer.  And – paradox squared – in the slightly longer run, doing so will probably benefit you anyway.

Again – don’t hog the trust. It’ll just come around to bite you. 

 

Was It Something I Said? The Trap of High Self-Orientation

Interesting thing happened this week. Even though I’ve been at this business game for some time now – there are still these little gaps, where I fall victim to a little thing that I like to call the “trap of high self-orientation.” I started to doubt, to question if I had said or done something that would cause a potential client to not respond as quickly as we had during an earlier email exchange. Turned out to be all in my head, a self-inflicted ‘trap’ – if you will.

It got me thinking about the last time I reflected on this subject matter. So, here it is – a little insight into the psychology and the spirituality of getting off your S.

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It happened again yesterday. It happens about once a week, though I don’t generally notice it until later.

I had a proposal phone call with a potential client. It went well, but they came back a few days later with a concern. I responded at length in an email. The day ended. Another day passed. By then, it had begun to happen.

I started thinking, “Was it something I said? I’ve probably blown it. I knew I should have done X, I shouldn’t have done Y. On the other hand, maybe I should have…” and so on. You probably know how it goes.

I once kept track of these episodes for a month. There were ten of them in that month. And in 9 out of the 10 cases, the result was: the other person was just busy, that’s all. They weren’t thinking those negative things about me, in fact quite the contrary.

9 out of 10 times I was wrong. And not just about what they were thinking, but about how much time they spent on it.

Self-Orientation in Trust

The denominator in the Trust Equation is self-orientation (the numerator factors are credibility, reliability and intimacy). The higher your self-orientation, the lower your trustworthiness. The logic is simple: if you’re paying attention to the other person (client, customer, friend, spouse, whatever), then you’re probably interested in them, care about them, and have some positive intent toward them.

By contrast, if your attention is devoted inward, you will not be trusted. Why should you be? You’re obsessed with yourself. We trust people who appear to care, and who demonstrate that caring by paying attention. He who pays attention largely to himself is not the stuff of trusted advisors. (Note: you can take your own Trust Quotient quiz at the upper right of this page.)

Get Off Your S

For those of us who need catch-phrases to remember (count me in), here’s one: Get Off Your S. That is, stop being so self-oriented.

Here’s the psychology of it. You’re not as good as you think you are, you’re not as bad as you think you are–you just think more about yourself than others think about you. To live between your ears is to live in enemy territory. You empower what you fear. If you have a foot in yesterday and one in tomorrow, you’re set to pee on today. Blame is captivity. It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.

Here’s the spirituality of it. To give is more blessed than to receive. To get what you want, focus on getting others what they want. Treat others as you’d wish they’d treat you. Pay it forward. Put change in a stranger’s parking meter. Do a good deed a day. Humility doesn’t mean thinking less of yourself, it means thinking of yourself less. Fear is lack of faith.

Here’s the business of it. Never Eat Alone. Listen before making recommendations. To get tweets, give tweets. Inbound marketing not outbound marketing. Customer focus. Customer service. Samples selling.

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Oh, and my potential client? They were just busy. They’re going to buy, they always were.

It’s not about you. It never is.

The Twelve Steps of Business Relationships

Twelve-step programs are commonly known as ‘recovery’ programs – a structured approach to getting out of a problem situation.  But what if you turned that perspective on its head? What if you saw a program – particularly one with twelve steps – as something to advance you from an already-good situation to an even better, new level of life, thought, and – relationships?

Below are twelve steps to take when looking to grow strong, trust-based business relationships. Easy? Yes. Simple? Well, see for yourself.

With much respect and genuflection to the original source…

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Rarely will you see someone fail in business who has thoroughly followed these simple suggestions. Those who do fail are typically people who are incapable of being honest – with their colleagues, their customers and their partners.

Other problems may temporarily deflect you, but the ability to be rigorously honest will prove immeasurably beneficial in all your business relationships.

Twelve Steps of Business Relationships

Step 1. Accept that you have no power over people, that all your attempts at control have failed. Trying to get other people to do what you want them to do is doomed to failure, no matter how good your intentions, how right your cause, or how much benefit it would bring the other.

People just wanna be free. Go with it.

Step 2. Recognize that by yourself, you can’t succeed. Your success will inevitably be tied up in the success of other people. Not only are you not driving the bus, you are in fact just another passenger.

Step 3. Resolve that you’re going to stop trying to drive the bus – that you’ll start doing things to help other people – that you’ll focus on getting the group to succeed. When things don’t go your way, remember “your way” is what got you into this mess. Repeat steps 1 and 2.

Step 4. Make a list of all the stupid, controlling, selfish things you do to others. Be specific about whom you do them to, and what harm it does to them. Stop at ten people.

Now add to the list a few good things you do. You are, after all, worthwhile.

Step 5. Go share your list with someone you trust. Listen to what they have to say about it and learn from what they have to say. Don’t waste time arguing with them.

Step 6. Get yourself ready to stop behaving in those old ways. Think about it for a while. Make a list of the new things you’ll do. Envision yourself responding in new ways; rehearse new “lines.”

Hint: your list should probably include listening. Also, listening.

Step 7. Pick a time of your own choosing to begin the change. It could be right now, it could be next week, but not next summer. Write that date in your calendar. When it comes, step out of your old ways and start working the new.

Step 8. Think about the customers, co-workers, peers and partners you might have tried to control and what you did to them. Think of what you might have done better and plan to do better next time.

Step 9. Go back to the customers, co-workers and partners you’ve tried to control, and tell them you realize what you have done. Acknowledge your responsibility in those situations, and tell them specifically how you plan to behave differently in future.

Hint: Don’t do this if it causes upset or harm to the other person. Also:  don’t confuse this with trying to get them to forgive you – see Step 1, above.

Step 10. At each day’s end, do a mental run-through of how you did in your new approach. Note where you fell short and what you could have done better.

Then let it go and get a good night’s sleep.

Step 11. Create a little mantra for yourself, to remind you that your job is to help others, not yourself. Get out of the transaction, secure in the idea that better relationships will float all transaction boats.

Step 12. Having recognized how to apply these principles to your business affairs, give it a shot at home and in the rest of your life.  You saw that one coming, right?