This article was first published in Customer Collective

You’d probably agree that if your customers trust you, they’re more likely to buy from you. The proposition is not the problem. The problem comes with execution—how do you do it? How can you create trust?

Are there generic strategies to create trust with customers? An optional set of tactics you can choose from? Some kind of guidelines you can point to?

In fact, there are three strategies you can choose from. All of them will increase trust, though in somewhat different ways. They are not mutually exclusive; but you may find one much easier or more compatible with your particular organization.

The three strategies are:

  1. Becoming more trustworthy
  2. Becoming better at trusting
  3. Practicing four principles

Becoming More Trustworthy

There’s a formula for trustworthiness, called the Trust Equation. It suggests that customers will trust you if you do a decent job at each of four components:

  • being credible—customers can believe the things you say
  • being reliable—customers can depend on you to behave consistently and as promised
  • being intimate—meaning customers can share information with you, feeling secure about how you’ll handle it
  • having low self-orientation—meaning your attention and focus, as well as your intentions, are about them, not just about yourself.

The main advantage of the trustworthiness strategy is that it’s low risk. At the same time, it may take longer than the other two to show results.

Becoming Better at Trusting

The essence of trusting is the yin to trustworthiness’s yang. The trustworthiness strategy is a strategy of attraction; the trusting strategy is a strategy of action.

The truth is, trust is created when one party takes a risk, and the other responds. The trustworthiness strategy invites the customer to take the first risk; in the trusting strategy, the seller takes the lead.

Henry Stimson said, “The only way to make a man trustworthy is to trust him.” I don’t agree that it’s the only way, but it surely does work fast and well.

Typical sales applications of the trusting strategy include selling by doing, sample selling, service guarantees, handshake deals, and the corporate equivalent of honor boxes by sharing intellectual property, just to pick a few.

The main advantage of the trusting strategy is its speed and relatively good odds. In trusting, everyone focuses on the risk taken; we forget to notice that the principle of reciprocity in trusting is very apparent. If we trust someone by taking a risk, the normal human response is to return the trust, rather than to take advantage of a well-intentioned gesture. You can depend on this human reaction with high levels of confidence.

Working from Trust Principles

The third strategy is to subject all your actions to a set of four big-picture trust principles. Those principles are:

  • lead with the customer’s interest, not your own
  • make collaboration, not separation, your default approach to relationships
  • focus on the medium- to long-term; on relationships, not one-off transactions
  • default to transparency, not opacity, except where illegal or hurtful.

What does it mean to act from such principles? Above all, it means noticing their presence or absence in the range of daily affairs. How do they apply in meetings? Agendas? Pricing? Staffing? Public relations and advertising? Recruiting? Are you, or are you not, working from these principles in all these situations?

The advantage of a principles-based approach to trust is its scalability from individual to organizational trust. While trust is primarily personal in application, the principles help engineer an environment that fosters that trust.

Which Strategy Is Right for You

The three strategies are not exclusive; ideally, your organization would use all three. But as a practical matter, you may find one easiest to explore as a starter. For most organizations, that ends up being the first strategy, trustworthiness. But your mileage may vary. Trust is one of those things that, no matter where your starting point is, you’ll end up traversing the whole territory eventually.