Help, Leadership and Teamwork

“I helped Maia and Maia helped me”… was the breathless comment of a three year old at the end of a very successful Easter egg hunt recently; she had formed a partnership with an equally ambitious four year old egg-hunter to be clear winners in the task of finding (and consuming!) as many Easter eggs as possible.

At the other end of the age spectrum, a Chief Operating Officer said to me last week that senior leadership relationships in his organization were improving through an increased readiness to approach colleagues with the simple request, ‘I need some help. Please do me a favour.’ It had not been easy to start to do this, he pointed out, because it had implied a declaration of vulnerability but the results were making it most worthwhile.

As leaders strive to build the agile, trust-based cultures that fuel the quality conversations – strategic, creative, curious, experimental – needed to generate breakthrough ideas and breakthrough execution, I notice them using more and more the language and approaches of ‘help.’ Are you noticing this too?

Thinking About Helping

If so, we might turn to Ed Schein’s 2009 book Helping: How to Offer, Give, and Receive Help. Schein suggests ‘what we think of as effective teamwork, collaboration and co-operation can all be understood best as consistent effective mutual helping.’ He defines teamwork as ‘a state of multiple reciprocal helping relationships including all members of the group that have to work together. Building a team therefore is not just creating one client/helper relationship but simultaneously building one among all the members.’

Schein points out the many challenges involved in giving and receiving help. As receivers of help, we can often feel diminished or ‘one down’ when offered help. As givers of help, we must consciously pause and turn away from what seems to be most pressing at the time in what are often very busy, hectic lives.

Principles of Helping

Three principles and tips stand out from Schein’s advice to leaders:

  1. Task interdependence is the foundation of strong mutual helping relationships. Maia of the Easter egg hunt understood perfectly that she and her little friend had better chances working together than did others searching on their own. Similarly, a VP of Sales and a VP of Operations in an IT Services company have formed a very strong ‘helping’ relationship around the challenging task of entering a new market. Schein argues that, without these mutually important tasks, it is very difficult to form strong ‘helping’ relationships. He zeroes in on the importance of solicited, specific, descriptive and goal-related feedback–enabling colleagues to become more helpful.
  2. The strongest helping relationships occur when both giver and receiver are ready, and the relationship is equitable. He urges the giver of help to check whether the person she wants to help is ready and able to receive it; and the receiver to give regular feedback on what is and is not helpful—in particular, being clear when help is no longer required.
  3. Effective helping starts with pure inquiry, a strong effort to understand and empathise with the needs of the person requiring help. No matter how clear the request for help, he urges us to pause and reflect, truly to listen, and to challenge our own assumptions. This is particularly important at the beginning of a helping relationship because it enhances the status of the one being helped, and maximises the information available to the helper.

The Trust Equation and Helping

The Trust Equation supplements Schein’s notions as a strong frame for effective helping relationships. To be truly helpful to you, I focus on your needs, not mine (low Self-orientation); you are safe raising any issue you wish with me, and I will engage with you at both emotional and rational levels (high Intimacy); when you ask for advice, I will be clear and truthful (high Credibility); and you can rely on me to be available to you when needed (high Reliability).

I recently saw one CEO commit to his organization to:

  1. Encourage open feedback across my leadership team about the pursuit of the team’s collective and individual goals. Above all, cultivate a readiness in the team to say ‘I am not sure’, ‘I need some thoughts on this one’, ‘This is not quite going as we would wish it to.’
  2. Adopt an even more inquiring approach with my colleagues, really listening in order to understand their needs for help, and challenging my own assumptions about what I think they need.
  3. Check in regularly on what help is needed and how this is changing.
  4. Invite help myself, showing my own vulnerability as a result. Acknowledge my own deficit of understanding and knowledge in numerous matters.

He will help his organization and his organization will help him. Just like the Maia egg-hunting partnership.

Does Trust Really Take Time?

Those who sell professional services know the power of being trusted, and strive to be seen that way. I’m often asked: how long does it take to become trusted? Consider these statements:

Haste makes waste. He who hesitates is lost. Which is right?

Action without vision is a nightmare. Vision without action is a daydream. Which is right?

In both cases, it depends. Each of the apparently contradictory aphorism pairs makes perfect sense in a particular situation. The trick, of course, is to know which situation faces us.

In the same vein, consider “trust takes time,” and “trust your gut.” Which is right? Is trust gained only with the passage of time? Or is it something that comes in a flash, a moment of intuition or feeling?

Most people in business, if asked without reflection, will come down on the side of “trust takes time.” And their approach to selling reflects this. They believe that people buy after they come to trust the seller; and that this trust is based on a track record and a history of promises kept.

The belief that trust takes time is true enough—but it’s only about 25% of the story. The rest of the story is a story of trust that hardly takes time at all. And that the sales process—far from depending on the prior establishment of trust—is itself ground zero for the creation of trust.


The tendency to over-weight the importance of time in establishing trust isn’t just limited to sales. It is reflected in other parts of business, and of society, as well.

In his recent book, The Speed of Trust, Steven H.R. Covey Jr. links trust, time and cost: as trust goes down, speed goes down and costs go up; as trust goes up, speed goes up and costs go down.

A few years ago, Warren Buffett bought McLane Distribution, a $24 Billion food distributor, in a $1.5 billion transaction. He did no due diligence beyond a 2-hour meeting. Buffett said, “I trusted Wal-Mart, I trusted the people I worked with.” This decision saved Berkshire Hathaway millions in foregone legal and accounting costs; total elapsed time, one month.

The US auto industry is notorious for its history of combative relationships with employees (the UAW) and its various suppliers. By contrast, the Japanese auto industry has seen its suppliers as integral parts of a larger system. The resultant lower costs per car probably contribute more to the Japanese industry’s competitiveness than the US industry’s health care and pension costs.

The general business costs of low trust are massive. Think of the expenditures on legal fees. The added accounting costs based on Sarbanes Oxley. The costs of disclosure. Of regulation.

The burden of low trust shows up in sales as well—and, like the auto industry, much of it is the fault of sellers ourselves.

  • Seeking sales “efficiency” by tightening qualification processes means giving up face-to-face marketing with potential future clients or referrals. The focus is on our own immediate needs. Result: trust down, costs up, time longer.
  • Defining sales mainly as a process dehumanizes it. Outsourcing sales over-emphasizes the economic self-serving component of sales, at the cost of client focus. Result: trust down, costs up, time longer.
  • Shortening evaluation timeframes and cranking up reliance on monetary incentives over-emphasizes the monetary and transactional aspect of sales. Result: trust down, costs up, time longer.

Even in the sales call itself: “trust takes time” only in part: the part that has to do with reliability. Most other forms of trust come from the “trust your gut” dictum. Which can be far faster. And far cheaper.


The concept of “trust” is about as varied as any aspect of human relations. We use the term in many ways. The bulk of those ways are reflected in the four factors of the Trust Equation :

Of these four factors—credibility, reliability, intimacy and self-orientation—only one of them necessarily requires the passage of time. That factor is reliability, because by definition it requires repeated experiences.

The emphasis on reliability is what drives so much of the approach to selling primarily used in professional services: references, lists of past clients, success stories, resumes, and processes. All are heavily built around the idea that being trusted accumulated experience built over time.

But reliability is only one factor of four. And the other three often, sometimes mainly, are created in a conversation, even a moment.

  • Credibility is established not just in histories, but in symbols, credentials, and insights—and in a firm handshake, a look in the eye, and a straight answer.
  • Intimacy is established not only by knowledge acquired over time, but by a knowing nod, a sense of empathy, and a recognition of the personal.
  • Self-orientation is not just established through a history of customer-focused behavior, but by how we conduct ourselves daily, what questions we ask, and whose concerns dominate our reactions in the moment.

When these areas of rapid trust creation are understood, it follows that we don’t have to wait for the passage of time to be trusted. To a great extent, we can demonstrate our own trustworthiness—and thereby earn the trust of our clients—in the sales process itself. Selling doesn’t depend passively on the development of trust; selling can itself be the engine of trust creation.  Learn more about The Trust Equation.


There are things we can do to increase the power of rapid trust creation without compromising on the validity or deservedness of that trust. They can all be done within the sales process itself. Here are a few:

  1. Give up spin control. Speak the truth—simply, plainly, without embellishment. Answer questions directly. Don’t withhold truth. Behaving this way builds credibility rapidly—often within a single conversation. You become known as a truth-teller—one who places integrity and honesty over outcome. Truth-telling enhances credibility more than carefully doling out truth.
  2. Admit your limits. If you don’t know something, say so. If you’re not the best at something, say so. If you don’t have all the answers, say so. If you’re not clear on something, say so, along with what you are clear about, and what you need to get clear on the rest. This enhances your credibility (after all, who lies about their ignorance?), and your intimacy in your willingness to be transparent.
  3. Offer other approaches. If the only recommendation you ever have for a client is “me/us,” then no client can ever trust your recommendation. Have recommendations for alternative providers if the client can’t afford you, or wants an answer sooner than you can deliver, or requires services that aren’t cost-effective for you to deliver. Having alternative suggestions shows high client focus and low self-orientation, as well as enhancing your credibility.
  4. Take an emotional risk. If you’re feeling something, say it. If you notice an emotional fact about the client (distracted, passionate, concerned), comment on it (“you seem a little distracted,” “I get the sense you’re really passionate about this,” “I’m sensing some real concern from you about this one aspect”).There is no trust without risk, and you can’t expect the client to lead on risk-taking. The most common form of risk is emotional risk—the intimacy factor—and the inability to be open about emotions. Enable that openness. Do it with respect for the client and with appropriate caveats—but do it.
  5. Address the other two agendas. Of course, state your own agenda for a meeting. But that’s only one agenda. There is also the client’s agenda—ask for it.Finally, there is a third agenda—the agenda for the relationship itself. Not every meeting needs a specific relationship agenda item, but the question ought to at least be raised—“do we have a chance in this meeting to improve our relationship?” Raising the other two agendas lowers your self-orientation.
  6. Give up control in the meeting. Of course you want the sale. Of course you can’t give away work for free. And of course you should define objectives and agendas for each meeting. But once in the meeting—let it go. Give up control. Simply help advance the best long-term interest of the client and the relationship. That demonstrates your willingness to collaborate, and your lowered sense of self-orientation.
  7. Deliver on more promises. This one has to do with reliability. Reliability is the one factor that by definition takes time, but there are ways to shorten it. Make more promises; then keep them. Say you’ll end the meeting at 11:00—then end at 10:59. Say you’ll deliver the package by tomorrow; then have it there at 9AM. Promise short-term follow-ups, and then deliver. (And don’t make a habit of over-delivering—that just undercuts your credibility. The occasional over-delivery helps—reliability is enhanced by a history of dependability, not by surprises).
  8. Always context transactions within relationships. Don’t approach sales, or negotiations, or even meetings, as if they were stand-alone events. Link them to future sales, other negotiations, future meetings. Doing so demonstrates collaboration and a commitment to client focus—all of which helps raise credibility and lower self-orientation.
  9. Trust your gut. Much research on the establishment of personal trust suggests it happens very rapidly—often instantaneously. Sometimes this can be dangerous for the one doing the trusting—that’s why con artists make a living.However, gut instincts help us deal efficiently with complex lives. Our “gut” is capable of very sensitive, discriminating and highly accurate judgment—with respect to all three factors of credibility, intimacy and low self-orientation. If others are willing to trust their gut, and your own intentions are clean—then help them do so.

We don’t have to wait for the passage of time to create trust, and then the right to sell. We can develop trust within the sales process itself—rapidly, and legitimately.

For continued reading about Trust and Time check out: The Biggest Trust Myth of All Time

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The pragmatic, field-oriented follow-on to the classic The Trusted Advisor. Green and Howe go deep into the how-to’s of trusted business relationships—loaded with stories, exercises, tips and tricks, and deeply practical advice.


TrustBasedSelling“Sales” and “Trust” rarely inhabit the same sentence. Customers fear being “sold” — they suspect sellers have only their own interests at heart. Is this a built-in conflict? Or can sellers serve buyers’ interests and their own as well? The solution is simple to state, hard to live—and totally worth the effort.



The Trusted AdvisorThis classic book explores the paradigm of trust through the filter of professional services. It is a blend of thought and practice, clear ideas and practical suggestions, and it has found a place on many professionals’ working bookshelves.


Some Kinds of Sales Motivation are Better Than Others

This article was first published in

The late comedian Chris Farley had a Saturday Night Live routine in which he declaimed, “I’m a motivational speaker—I live in a trailer down by the river.” For the SNL audience—which sees itself as hip, skeptical, and not totally pro-Big Business—it was a shared conceit, condescension about a certain approach to sales.

I once had a client who asked if I was a motivational speaker. I’d never heard that one before, and said, “well, I hope what I have to say is motivating to people, but that’s not what I’m setting out to do.” That client heard nothing after my first clause; I lost the job on the spot. Probably an SNL fan.

At the same time, there are hundreds of motivational speakers out there who are proud of that term, and plenty of clients who are proud to hire them. And many of those clients are sales organizations.

So—as comedian Jerry Seinfeld might say, ‘What is it with motivation and sales meetings?’

I think there are three answers: and one is better than the other two.

Three Kinds of Motivation

One type of motivation people seek is defensive. A pep talk fits in this category. Someone who speaks about overcoming tremendous odds. The amputee who learned to throw a football with the other hand. The war prisoner who endured, even learned.

This kind of motivation is an antidote to salespeople who are tired—tired of rejection, tired of not making quota, of being turned away. It gives them hope that their turn is just around the corner, and the energy to keep on keepin’ on. Don’t give up hope. Your dream will come true, just hold onto it. I did. You can too. If I can do it, so can you.

Another type of motivation is aggressive. Get out there and win one for the team. Yay for us, we’re gonna win this battle, then the rest of the war. The underdog team plays big in this type of motivation. Only the lead dog has a change of scenery. No one remembers who got second place. You are part of a winning team. We’re number one.

Those kinds of motivation have their place, but they have their limits. Both of them set up “us against them” mentalities. Defensive motivation is us against our customers—I’m not gonna let them wear me down! I’ll just keep banging on the door until they have to let me in.
Aggressive motivation is about competitors, not customers. Customers are simply the chips in a competitive poker game, the means by which we score the contest.

But there is a third kind of motivation: call it relationship motivation. It is about reminding us that we can accomplish great things for our clients. And it is inherently positive.

Relationship motivation is about reminding ourselves that we can improve our clients’ lives and their businesses; that we are in fact uniquely suited to do so.

The mantra of defensive motivation is “the clients can’t hurt me.” The mantra of aggressive motivation is “I can beat the competition.” But the mantra of relationship motivation is, “I can help my clients—and I can’t wait to start doing so.”

Both defensive and aggressive are primarily zero-sum games. Winning a job just means you finally won, and someone else lost. Beating a competitor doesn’t add value, it just picks a winner.

But relationship motivation is open-ended. By focusing on how to improve the client’s lot, we are open to value-adding ideas which are uniquely the province of joint, collaborative thinking. Relationship thinking is inherently better economics than is me-vs.-you economics.

Generating Relationship Motivation

There are, of course, motivational speakers, and they cover all three types of motivation. All have their place, but if your business and your sale are complex; if you think of your business as relationship-driven in large part; and if your sales process is high ticket and takes time, then you should over-emphasize relationship motivation in the speakers you invite.

Of course, motivation is hardly limited to inviting speakers to events. A major area you can influence is in your choice of motivational rewards.

Over the past few decades, we have seen a movement towards thinking of “motivation and rewards” as largely a function of monetary incentives. Sales people will always pay great attention to sales numbers—as they should. But there are important cautions.

First, monetary incentives are entirely about extrinsic rewards. If your entire motivational system is based on extrinsic rewards, you will reduce the importance of intrinsic rewards. Intrinsic rewards include pride, professionalism, peer respect, and client focus.

Alfie Kohn has written extensively about the negative consequences of overly focusing on extrinsic rewards. It has precisely the same corrosive effect as does focusing on aggressive or defensive motivation in speeches. It separates us from our clients, making client service only a means to a monetary end, rather than ends in themselves.

Secondly, the factor of time is important in extrinsic motivations. If your business development efforts are all aimed at this quarter’s numbers; if your metrics are primarily short-term, and tracking inputs rather than results, then you are suborning a non-relationship kind of motivation. Longer-term metrics and rewards more genuinely link client and professional, and better align the greater rewards that can come with collaboration.

Relationship motivation produces the best economics. Intrinsic rewards do the best job of encouraging relationship motivation. When extrinsic rewards are used as well, it is best to make them long term. There’s nothing wrong with measuring short-term results—the problem comes from managing short-term. The best short-term results come about from executing a long-term strategy, driven by a relationship motivation.

To answer Seinfeld’s question about motivation: it depends on which motives you’re talking about. And some are better than others.

Competitive Disadvantage: New Sales Strategies for New Business Models

This article was first published in

When strategies change, downstream tactics must change to support them. And when business models themselves change, even the downstream strategies must change.

One of those business model-change times is upon us, and requires a fundamental shift in sales strategy. In this case, it’s about moving from a competitive model to what I’ll call a commercial model.

The shift is dirt-simple to explain and understand. Yet it’s anything but simple when it comes to executing on it. The shift from competition to commerce seems to undermine many unconscious habits and instincts we have acquired over the years.

In particular—selling based on competitive models is becoming not just passé, but positively dysfunctional. You might even call it “competitive disadvantage.”

Business Models

Old approaches to selling were built to support old business models.

The old competitive business model. Most of us have been raised on the idea that business is fundamentally about competition. Sustainable competitive advantage. Winning. Gaining the competitive edge. Anti-trust legislation. The power of free markets. Be number one or number two in all your markets. Market share. Five forces of competition. These phrases and concepts are mother’s milk to businesspeople of the last four decades.

They worked well, for a long time. They helped create complex corporate forms of organization which competed with each other to provide consumers with better and better solutions.

The new commercial business model. But things are changing radically. The benefits group that used to report to HR? It’s now outsourced to a company providing benefits services under a 5-year contract. The old IT department? Partly shared-services, partly outsourced, heavily globalized.

The dominant change in business these days is not globalization, or networking, or outsourcing, but a potent blend of all three. Business is moving from direct reporting relationships to commercially contracted relationships; from in-house to outside resources; from vertically managed to horizontally coordinated; from command and control to influence; from vertically integrated companies to interwoven supply chains; from competing to collaborating.

It is moving from a competitive model of permanent corporate competitors to a commercial model of entities buying from and selling to each other.

And that changes how we must think about selling.

New Sales Strategies Needed

In the new business model, selling is more important than it used to be. But the same old sales approaches won’t work. There is much more selling to be done; and the nature of the buyer-seller relationship is changing fundamentally.

More selling to be done. In the competitive model, buying was done at the front end of a company’s business process, and selling was done at the back end. In between—a lot of internal transfers.

Every time a company outsources a function, an internal reporting relationship is replaced by an external commercial relationship. That requires selling where it didn’t exist before.

When a company re-designs a business process, it defines discrete sub-processes which are candidates for outsourcing. Technology and global communications make global scale possible, driving down costs and making outsourcing even more likely. It all adds up to more outsourcing—more supply chain configurations—and more opportunities for selling.

Old sales models, being infrequent, were built around transactions—the one-night stands of the business world. They began with introductions, and drove for “closing”—in as short a time as possible—before moving on to the next “pitch” at the next “dog and pony show.”

But selling is no longer an episodic, intermittent affair. It is now an ongoing, unceasing, integral form of relationship between buyer and seller. It doesn’t just involve a raw materials supplier and an end user—it deals with everyone in between, from systems suppliers to recruiters to temp agencies. Commercial buy-sell relationships are no longer one night stands—they are frequent, pervasive, and ongoing.

Changing Relationship. In the competitive business model, sales was a function—one of several—whose role was to contribute to the sustainable competitive advantage of the corporation in its never-ending fight against Competitor X. Customers were either means to a larger end—poker chips in a game between competitors—or competitors themselves.
The dominant sales approaches stressed keeping your cards close to your vest. Don’t reveal information; don’t quote price until you’ve established value; always be closing.

The competitive view implied zero-sum selling; either the customer is going to win, or I’m going to win, and since I get paid on each transaction, I will go for a win on every deal in every quarter.

That may have worked in a world of infrequent, one night stand commercial relationships. But in a world of interdependent supply chains, where customers want fewer suppliers with longer-term dependability, one-off hustling is a detriment.

Finally, in the old world, buyers knew what they wanted and could say so clearly to sellers. In the new world, with so much outsourced, buyers depend on suppliers not just for expertise, but for perspective, judgment and wisdom.

This means (as Jeff Thull points out) that doing a great job of listening and asking probing questions—consultative selling—is not enough. Customers depend on trusted suppliers to collaboratively help determine their needs.

Six Gut-Checks for Your Existing Sales Strategy

Check your existing sales model by asking questions in these six areas:

  1. Confidentiality. Do you start by presuming confidentiality of information with your clients? Unless it’s illegal or unambiguously harmful to someone, start by assuming you’ll share it.
  2. Proposals. Invite your clients to write all future proposals together with you, in the same room, at the same time. On the same side of the desk.
  3. Client Plans. Do you write 1-year client plans? Or 3-year? Why not write 5-year plans—and review them for realism with your clients?
  4. Purchasing and contracts. Stop trying to go around the contracts people; they are your new clients. Your old client said so. Deal with it, and start treating them as clients.
  5. Long term value. Every time you negotiate a contract or sale, discuss with the client: Is this fair to each of us? If we did this deal ten more times, would it feel right? If not, how we can we redress the balance on the next nine?
  6. Relationships, not transactions. You are not seeking one night stands. Let your competitor have those. You are not seeking transactions, but relationships. The best short-term performance does not come from short-term management—it comes from long-term management practiced consistently.

The old model of competition-based, me-vs.-my-client, transactional selling is slowly but surely going to die off. It is dying off because we are moving into a world that values long-term, collaborative relationships.

The value of sales is far higher in the commercial world we are moving into, if we can only remember the new rules for selling are different from the old rules. They are the rules of commerce—not the rules of competition.

Client Service, Not Client Servility

This article was first published in

Most client-serving organizations I know make a pretty big deal about client service. For consulting, law, HR, IT, accounting, software, and salespeople in complex businesses—client service is right at the top of their list of virtues. And rightly so.

But—sometimes, things can get a little twisted.

What do you make of:

  • The administrative assistant who picks up the Officer’s laundered shirts and delivers them to him at the airport at 9PM. Regularly.
  • The project manager who hauls the whole team in on Sunday to re-work the slide deck. Regularly.
  • The senior officer who drops in on the staff meeting to “send a message about how much leadership cares,” but leaves early because “when the client calls, you know…” Regularly.
  • The salesperson who cuts price at the drop of the hat when the client demands. Regularly.
  • The VP who cancels his end-of-day wrap-up meeting with the new hire candidate on the final interview round because “I had no choice, the client changed our meeting date.” Regularly.
  • The manager who joins the training session late and slips out to take calls between blackberry-checks, because “we’re in the middle of a really tough client issue.” Regularly.
  • (The presidential candidate who, in mid-speech, stops to take a phone call from his wife on his cellphone from the podium. More than once.)

The key word is, of course, regularly. Any one of those examples can be held up as a case of client heroism. If, that is, it’s an isolated event. The problems come when it’s not isolated.

That’s when client service gets perverted into client servitude. And when we become servile, three things happen:

  1. We continue to insist that we are in fact meeting the highest standards of service;
  2. The client (or team, or associate) no longer respects us.
  3. When respect is gone, our ability to be trusted advisors is quickly compromised.

Client Service Is Not Client Servitude

Great client service is doing things above and beyond; behaving in unusual ways when faced with unusual situations; and doing so selflessly, for the sake of the client.

An act of client service is an act freely chosen. In the long run, we do it because we believe in it as a way of doing business. But in the short term, in those cases where we might be better self-served by doing something else, and we still choose client service—that is true service.

Being servile is quite another thing. It means seeking out options to give faux service, so we can get credit. It means doing things not for their own sake, but for the credit it may garner us in the eyes of the client. It means getting our priorities wrong—seeing things as how we can help ourselves, not one’s clients or partners.

Synonyms for servile include sycophant, brown-noser, suck-up, flatterer, lickspittle and toady. Adjectives we use to describe the servile include obsequious, smarmy, devious, slimy, flattering and fawning.

We suspect those who are servile of dishonesty—of speaking falsely in an attempt at self-aggrandizement. Their motives are therefore bad. And ironically, their servility costs them in terms of respect from the very people they are most trying to impress. We don’t trust such people. And we don’t respect them.

We don’t respect them because they seem to have a low estimation of their own worth. They seem to need the approval of others to feel good about themselves. And if someone doesn’t value himself highly, then they could be wrong either about their worth—or wrong in their estimation. Neither is good.

What client takes advice from someone who doesn’t respect the worth of his own advice? What team member believes a senior who always subordinates all other value-adding activities to servility, calling it “client service?”

Clients take our advice for various reasons, but basically because they believe in our expertise, and they believe we have their best interests at heart. Being servile destroys both of those: because it is clearly self-motivated, it draws into question even our competence. After all, if our motive is client approval, might we not shade the data?

Most clients don’t want servants, they want partners. They want professionals who have self-respect, who have the courage of their own convictions, who can be trusted to speak the truth because it is the truth, not because it will get them approval.
It’s not that client service is unselfish. If I’m honest, there’s always a tiny touch of servility lurking around the edges of most client service I perform. It’s hard to be unaware of the value of being perceived as client-serving.

The trick is to not be overcome by a need for recognition as one who serves clients. If we become slave to that recognition, then we have to that extent abandoned client service.

To be client service oriented is to do the next right thing, and to be detached from the outcome; particularly whatever benefit might accrue to me from doing the right thing.

This is the heart of it, I think. Client service is doing good for the client. We are not surprised when we get credit for doing it. But expecting good from it is Station One on the slippery slope, where the End-Station is doing it only in order to get credit for doing it.

The Trust Equation: A Primer

The basic elements of trustworthiness are contained in the Trust Equation.

T stands for trustworthiness—how much the buyer/client trusts the seller, or consultant.

C stands for credibility—it speaks to words and credentials. R is reliability—how others perceive the consistency of our actions, and our actions’ connection with our words (integrity). I is intimacy—how secure or safe the client feels sharing with us.

The lone term in the denominator is Self-Orientation, and it has a double meaning. Partly it’s about selfishness. Are we client-centric for the sake of the client? Or client-centric like a vulture?

But Self-orientation is also about our attention, our focus. Are we listening to do a brain-suck, just to get data to pursue our own hypotheses and ends? Or are we listening to truly hear the client? Are we obsessed by our own desires to succeed or win, and by our insecurities? Or do we truly focus on the client, paying attention to whatever it is that helps them succeed, or makes them insecure? Only the latter builds deep, long-term relationships.

High numerator scores build trust: a high score in self-orientation destroys it.

Most of us lead with the first two factors—credibility and reliability. These are quantifiable, and “rational.” Consultants overrate these as the “obvious” virtues—so do clients. Clients aren’t comfortable “confessing” that they have feelings, intuitions, instincts and chemistry. They don’t want to reject someone based on “we just didn’t have a good feeling for you.”
But most humans—including clients—buy from the heart, and justify it from the head. That means the Intimacy and the Self-Orientation factors are very powerful in buying.

Rational thinking (including C and R) are about defining benefits and payoffs. But any expected value must be discounted by the client’s confidence that they’ll get the results promised. The I and S factors speak to this. Can I collaborate and be honest with this person—and he with me? Does she actually care about me and my company, or are we just means to her ends? The I and S factors in the trust equation represent the “Kentucky windage” that every client applies to their estimation of stated benefits, to get their true net expected value.

Watch Video: Charles Green on Trust Equation 

The trust equation reflects the human balance of mind and heart. Together, it creates powerful economics. Many con-men are credible, and sharks are reliably shark-like. But if we get a sense that a seller understands and appreciates us—and that they seem to have our better interests at heart—then we allow their intelligence and dependability to be of service to us.

The economics of repeat business are massively lower costs, and higher value, for both trustor and trustee. Relationships are built not on one-night stand transactions, but on longer term commitments by each to the success of the other. It’s this commitment to the other that paradoxically creates more value for each. Relationships trump transactions, with trust at the heart of the matter.

For continued reading check out: The Trust Quotient and the Science Behind It

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The pragmatic, field-oriented follow-on to the classic The Trusted Advisor. Green and Howe go deep into the how-to’s of trusted business relationships—loaded with stories, exercises, tips and tricks, and deeply practical advice.


TrustBasedSelling“Sales” and “Trust” rarely inhabit the same sentence. Customers fear being “sold” — they suspect sellers have only their own interests at heart. Is this a built-in conflict? Or can sellers serve buyers’ interests and their own as well? The solution is simple to state, hard to live—and totally worth the effort.



The Trusted AdvisorThis classic book explores the paradigm of trust through the filter of professional services. It is a blend of thought and practice, clear ideas and practical suggestions, and it has found a place on many professionals’ working bookshelves.


The Point of Listening is Not What You Hear, but the Listening Itself

What’s the role of listening in the sales literature? Here are two examples culled from internet searches:

Successful sales are based on discovering what customers need and providing solutions to these needs. Always focus your questions on moving toward a greater understanding of your customer’s needs.

The secret to selling like a professional is to listen closely to the client. Find out as much as possible that might be relevant to your service. Ask questions about their expectations. Then when you have that knowledge, discuss only the aspects of your service that have a direct bearing on your clients stated needs.

By this view, listening is a key step in a sales process. We listen in order to discover needs. Having discovered the needs, we can then better tune our offerings, or our presentations, to those needs. This allows us to screen out unlikely prospects (improving efficiency) and to better address good prospects (improving effectiveness).

That’s the conventional wisdom. It probably sounds so obvious as to border on the banal. But occasionally, conventional wisdom is wrong. And this is one of those cases.

The greatest value of listening lies not in what is heard, but in the act of listening itself.
To see why, let’s explore the conventional wisdom.

There are three key assumptions in the conventional approach. Every one of them is misleading, and at least partly wrong. They are:

  • Selling is about transactions, or about multiple transactions in sequence;
  • The purpose of listening is to find out information—in particular, needs;
  • The buyer has this information.

In truth:

  • Selling is best understood (and done) by anchoring transactions in the context of relationships—not by treating relationships as a phase in a transactional process;
  • The value of listening goes well beyond “finding out data;” its greatest value is in disposing the client to engage differently with both the salesperson, and around his or her needs;
  • The assumption that the buyer is conscious of his or her needs and will part with them if artfully asked the right questions is a flawed assumption. Buyers aren’t fully conscious of their needs, aren’t necessarily disposed to reveal them, and direct rational inquiry is not the best route to either raised consciousness or enhanced revelation.

Let’s break this down to two issues—sales process models (how we think about selling) and buyer psychology (how buyers think about buying).


Sales models are ubiquitous in corporate selling. CRM systems are built around them. Sales management is driven by data surrounding them. But almost all sales models are simple linear, sequential models—usually depicted as arrows. Early on in those arrows, we find listening.

The role of “relationships” in those arrows is either non-existent (the model depicts purely transactional sales “events”), depicted as a feedback loop (“go back and repeat from point B”), or is contained in the early-stage process listening step (“listen until rapport is formed; than move to needs-based questioning.”)

But that’s not how it really works. In the real world, relationships function as a substrate, a precondition, a context. Except for a purely cold call, sales do not happen in a vacuum. Farmers don’t plant seed in untended soil, no matter how fertile the ground. They plow it, turn it, fertilize it, water it, and wait for just the right time to plant. That is how really good salespeople treat relationships.

Really successful salespeople are always establishing and deepening relationships with people. Doing so earns them the right to engage in a different form of conversation, around a buyer’s needs and around selling. They use that right with some and not with others; and they use that right at once with some, and later with others.

A really successful salesperson builds relationships with some who may not end up buying. They may build a relationship with someone and engage in selling at a later date.

If you think the “purpose” of building a relationship is to lead you along a process of selling the client, then you are likely to ask questions in order to get answers. Your idea of “listening” will be in service to driving the process model forward.

And your prospect will get the same idea: “He’s listening to me in order to find an opening to best present whatever he’s selling. I’ll go along ias long as it suits me, but I’m on my guard.”

By contrast, if you think the “purpose” of building a relationship has a much looser connection with a sales transaction, then you are likely to ask questions more out of curiosity, aimed solely at getting to know the person or understanding the broader business context—without a specific agenda, transaction or “opening.”

And your prospect will get the same idea: “He’s listening to me genuinely, with some interest in me and in how I see things. This is good, he’s coming to understand me on my terms, not to sell me something. I’m willing to continue talking.”

If you work from a linear process model that makes listening a tactic to achieve a transaction, then you are only listening to hear your pre-conceived ideas. You are, in a nutshell, self-oriented. That is seller-centric selling. And it doesn’t promote trust.


Ask a client what they want, and they’ll tell you “expertise; credentials; someone who’ll meet my needs.” Ask them what their needs are, and they’ll tell you.

But ask really successful salespeople (or honest clients with experience in buying) and they’ll tell you how it really works. Clients only ask for credentials and expertise because they’re not really sure what else to do. In truth, they’d rather get in range with expertise, and then decide based on their trust in the seller.

Clients will tell you their needs because they think they’re supposed to, and because they’re afraid if they don’t, you’ll take advantage of them. But if you can engage them in honest discussion, they’ll admit their uncertainties, and discuss, engage in and evolve their views of what their needs are.

It all depends on why you’re listening.

If you’re listening to hear an answer to a predetermined question, then you will hear the “canned” definitions of needs that clients have prepared for you. You’ll hear their request for credentials and expertise at face value, and not hear the undertone in the question, or in the bored way they listen to your answer.

Because what clients really want to talk about is what everyone wants to talk about. Themselves. When someone says, “tell me about yourself,” they’re just being polite—whether it’s on a date, at a social event, or in a sales call. The right answer is not to tell them about your vast experience with other clients—it is to get them talking about themselves. And to listen as they do so.


The usual form of listening is conditioned by sales models looking for answers, and by flawed views of buyer psychology focused on surface dialogue. What is required is a different quality of listening.
The main reason for listening to customers is to allow the customer to be heard. Really heard. As in, actually being paid attention to by another human being.

This kind of listening is listening for the sake of listening. Listening to understand, period—no strings attached, no links back to your product, no refined problem statements. Because that’s what people in relationships, at their best, really do. They listen because they want to know what the other person thinks. About whatever the other person is interested in talking about.

This kind of listening validates other people. It connects us to them. It provides meaning. And—among other things—it sets the stage for sellers and buyers to interact—if that is the right thing to happen next.
Brooks and Travesano (“You’re Working too Hard to Make the Sale”) note that people greatly prefer to buy what they need from those who understand what it is that they want.

Read that over again, carefully. People prefer to buy what they need (stuff they’re going to buy anyway), from those who understand them on the basis of what they want (things in life they’d love to have—wishes, hopes, desires.)

You don’t even have to give them what they want; it’s enough to understand them.

To bring it full circle back to listening: Relationships are the context for successful selling. Relationships are based on trust; they predispose us to engage in qualitatively different kinds of sales conversations. And listening—unrestricted, unbounded, listening for its own sake—is the way we develop such relationships.

And therein lies the paradox. The most powerful way to sell depends on unlinking listening from selling—and instead, just listening. Listening not as a step in a sales process, and not as a search for answers to questions. Listening not as a means to an end, but as an end in itself.

The point of listening is not what you hear, but the act of listening itself.


Here are 5 tips to listening this way. Number five is the most powerful.

1. Ditch the distractions. You cannot multitask undiscovered. Being multitasked feels insulting. Close the door. Face away from the window. Blank the computer screen. Turn the blackberry over. Now—pay attention.

2. Use your whole body. Lean toward the speaker—even on the phone. Use facial expressions. Use hands and arms, shake your head, use ‘non-verbal’ verbals. This improves your listening—and indicates you are listening.

3. Keep it about them—not you. Use open-ended, not closed, questions. Let them tell their own story—don’t use them as foils for your hypotheses.

4. Acknowledge frequently. Paraphrase data, empathize with emotions. Make sure you are hearing both correctly; make sure they know you are.

5. Think out loud. The biggest obstacle to listening is your own thinking. Be courageous—postpone your thinking until they’re done talking. Be willing to think out loud—with the client. Doing so role-models collaboration and transparency, which reinforces trust. I hear you. I value you. I respond to you, with no hidden agenda. I trust you. You can trust me.

That’s the message of listening.

Giving Prospects the Confidence to Hire You

This article was first published in

A western journalist visiting the old Soviet Union, so the story goes, asked a worker about the level of wages. The worker said, “It’s all pretend. We pretend to work — and they pretend to pay us.”

Do you sell consulting? IT services? Accounting? Financial planning? Legal services? Then you too play a game of pretend, and it’s with your would-be clients.

They pretend to care about your qualifications. You pretend to listen to their questions.

You pretend to write a unique proposal. They pretend to read it.
You pretend to sell. They pretend to buy.

What’s often missed here is that behind the game of pretending an unspoken and important vetting process takes place.

For example, a company about to spend big on a CRM system, or make an investment in leadership training, or change its sales approach, will ask about the benefits of what’s being sold. The prospect will want to know the answer and they will pretend it matters most. But what they really want to know is if they’ll have the confidence to sleep at night with the provider they ultimately choose.

Yet, this search for confidence, the thing that matters most, isn’t what’s actually discussed during the sales process. Instead, prospective clients have been seduced by the trappings of “hard business.” They think “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it,” and they try to reduce decisions to metrics. That’s how we end up with clients wanting to know all about our qualifications.

And so, we all pretend that buying and selling is about talking. About words and numbers. About qualifications.

But it’s not. The fact is clients make huge, complex, intangible decisions very much on the basis of gut, emotion, feeling, opinion, Kentucky windage, call it what you will.

As sales guru Jeffrey Gitomer says, people buy with the heart, and justify with the brain. It’s not about rational decisions, it’s about about decisions rationalized.

The truth is this: people vastly prefer to buy what they need from people they feel good about. People they trust. People who they believe have their clients’ interests at heart, not just their own. People who make an effort to honestly listen to their clients. People who actually seem to care.

This goes beyond “people buy from people they like,” or “people buy from people similar to themselves.” It’s way more than schmoozing, and finding out common interests.

It gets to the guts of the matter. Do you actually seem to give a damn about me? Do you act like you care about me? Are you working your own agenda, or will you actually listen to mine?

Sales process designs won’t get you there. Metrics and CRM systems won’t get you there. Motivational speeches won’t get you there.

But two things will.

1. Genuine, Honest to Goodness Listening

That’s listening for real. Listening not to find out data, but to find out about the client. Listening not to make or confirm a hypothesis, but to understand another human being. Listening not to find out client needs, but to find out what makes a business and a person tick.

Listening not so you get answers, but listening so that at the end of it, the other fellow feels heard. Listening not to provide great answers, but listening to earn the right to offer those answers later.

I’ve heard this called yellow-pad listening; no proposal or talking points in front of you, just a blank pad ready to take notes if necessary as issues come up. Whatever you call it, remember another old truism that is still true: People don’t care what you know until they know that you care.

2. Sample Selling

People don’t buy ice cream from verbal descriptions; they buy it from taste. Referrals may get people in the door, but samples sells them. We don’t use samples selling nearly enough in intangibles selling.

Give people a taste of what you do. The very best selling comes from doing, not selling. Assume you’ve got the job, and start working it in the early stages. Don’t say how good you are at tax planning, grab hold of some business issues and show them how you do it — on their data.

If a voice in the back of your mind (or your boss, in the front) says, “don’t give it away,” recognize that they are wrong. There is an inexhaustible supply of problems in this world. Giving away a few solutions doesn’t diminish your value — it earns you the right to solve more of those problems.

If a client shows a pattern of stealing ideas from you, then quietly drop them. After all, that’s the kind of client you’d prefer your competitors to have. You focus on those who want relationships of mutual benefit.

* * *

Listening and sample selling. These are actions, not thoughts. Deeds, not qualifications. Results, not process designs. Most of all, they demonstrate your devotion to client.

After all, would you buy from someone who says, “trust me?” Or from someone who shows you why you should?