Trust at the Car Dealership

I just bought a car.

The last time I bought a car from a dealer was over 20 years ago, and it was a horrendous experience. Based on that experience, I never would have expected to use car buying as a positive example of trust. But the salesman I met last month, Frankie at CarMax, makes this experience worth noting.

I’m not stumping for CarMax (no commissions here). I AM, however, stumping for the sales approach their business model fosters.

If you are unfamiliar with the company, CarMax is a predominantly online car buying service with a “no haggle” policy. That means that the price you see online for a particular car is the price you pay (plus taxes and fees). I hate haggling, so this seemed like a good start.

But it turns out that being freed from the fear of haggling was only the beginning of what made this a good (dare I say enjoyable?) experience. Things really got special when I went to take a test drive and met Frankie.

My Car-Buying Experience

From the moment I walked into the dealership, Frankie was nothing short of helpful, and there was NO PRESSURE. We talked about my old car and what I liked about it. He shared his own knowledge and experience with the car I was considering and suggested some specific features to try out on the test drive. And when I pointed out a few minor things that needed to be fixed, he had the team investigating before I even left the dealership.

After the test drive, Frankie followed up – with NO PRESSURE. He reached out to give me answers to questions I had asked, gather more information, and update me on status. He never asked me to buy the car, pressured me to decide before I was ready, or pushed to upsell add-ons (although he did provide information about additional options).

When I was traveling, and a week went by without getting him a decision, Frankie called to check in – with NO PRESSURE. He just wanted to be sure I had everything I needed from them, and he assured me the car was waiting for when I was ready to buy.

I bought the car.

I chalk up the good experience I had to a model that works for anyone trying to grow their business: a combination of the virtues and values of trust. The virtues of trust are personal behaviors that demonstrate trustworthiness, described in the Trust Equation. The values of trust create an environment where people can trust and be trusted, described in the Four Trust Principles.

The Virtues of Trust in Action

  1. CREDIBILITY: Frankie displayed a series of sales awards on his desk, progressing to Platinum Sales status last year, and he navigated the process effortlessly. He shared his knowledge about specific features of the car I was looking at. He had sales experience and knowledge about the product in which I was interested.
  2. RELIABILITY: Frankie stayed in touch after the test drive, giving me status updates on the few things I had asked to fix: what the issue was (a bad sensor), how they would repair it, and when it would be ready. He communicated via email, text and phone calls, depending on the information (status updates were texts, phone calls for information he needed, and email for documents). When there was a schedule hiccup during the final purchase, Frankie got it smoothed out in minutes. I knew I could depend on Frankie.
  3. INTIMACY: Frankie laid the foundation for intimacy in about 10 minutes. He didn’t ask me private questions that were irrelevant to my reason for being there, like what I do for a living. He did ask me questions about why I wanted a new car, what I drove before, what I liked about my old car, and why this model appealed to me. He called me by name every time we spoke, and he was friendly with me and with his colleagues in front of me. He used his cell phone to reach out and told me to call with any questions. Most importantly, he shared in my excitement about the car I wanted. I felt like Frankie got where I was coming from, and I felt safe buying a car from him.
  4. SELF-ORIENTATION: Frankie was completely focused on me and what I wanted during the whole experience. He let me make the decision on my schedule. He offered to discuss financing options, then dropped it when I said I had my own plan (he would have got a commission if I financed through them). Same with the extended warranty (also foregoing commission). He had the few things I identified during the test drive fixed, before I committed to buying the car. He was transparent about everything, including the fact that I could trade-in my old car, but might get a better deal for it another way.

The Values of Trust

Frankie had great trust-building skills, but he also has the benefit of working for a company that commits to a certain type of customer experience. CarMax enabled Frankie’s trustworthy behavior by embracing the Four Trust Principles:

FOCUS ON THE CLIENT: CarMax was founded on the goal to make the process of buying and selling used cars more accessible. They have an extensive inventory that they will move around the country (for a reasonable transport fee). I read online that their commissions are based on unit, not unit cost, so there’s no conflict for a salesperson to upsell to a different vehicle or push add-ons.

COLLABORATION: Their multi-channel approach allows the consumer to conduct most of the process online, or all of it in-person at the dealer, or just about any combination. They have decision-making tools available online and offer many services to keep the process efficient. They offer financing and extended warranties and partner with third-party providers (like Sirius/XM) to optimize the car-buying experience.

MEDIUM- TO LONG-TERM RELATIONSHIP PERSPECTIVE: After the sale, I got an email from CarMax recommending that I register my car with the manufacturer and download the CarMax app “to get discounts, find safety recall info from NHTSA, and more!.” The email included a reminder of their 30-day/1,500-mile return policy.

TRANSPARENCY: Online listings include LOTS of photos of the actual car, features and specs, vehicle history (ownership, accident/damage, odometer) and any work they’ve done on the car to meet CarMax quality standards. In the dealership, the sales stations are set up with two monitors: the monitor the salesperson is using, facing them, and a second monitor facing the customer that mirrors what the salesperson is seeing. When Frankie said he was looking something up, he really was.

Trust-Based Selling

It’s no myth that people prefer to buy from people they trust. The purpose of trust-based selling is not to sell your product or service, but to help the buyer do what’s right for them.

A few minutes into our first conversation, I jokingly asked Frankie when the “hard sell” would kick in. He laughed and said that’s why he likes working at CarMax. He doesn’t feel pressured to pressure customers, so he can just enjoy helping people find the car that is right for them.

The paradox of trust-based selling is that, when you stop selling, you’ll get more sales.

If you’re in the market for a used car in northern Virginia, look up Frankie at Potomac Mills CarMax. Tell him Noelle Mykolenko says hello.


When Focus Becomes Tunnel Vision

Let’s talk about focus.

Many respected authors will tell you that focus is essential to achieving success. They call it concentration, determination, single-mindedness, resolve – whatever the word, the message is that by focusing on the outcome you want, you are more likely to make it happen.

And it seems hard to argue that being focused is anything but good. It improves the quality of our work, increases efficiency, and contributes to momentum. Focus can help clarify priorities, improve decision making, and reduce stress.

But when we get too focused, we risk getting tunnel vision.

Tunnel vision arises as a medical condition when someone loses peripheral vision, limiting their sight to only what is directly in front of them.

Metaphorically, it means concentrating completely on achieving a particular aim, without regard for anything or anyone else. It limits our ability to see and hear what is important to others. It is the height of self-interest.

Adam Smith, Competition, and Selling

Blame it on Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations. The Scottish moral philosopher and economist famously claimed that by the self-oriented struggling of the butcher and the baker, the “invisible hand” of the market makes itself known by balancing out all for the greater good. Out of individual self-interest grows the maximum collective good.

While Smith has been unfairly characterized as arguing against regulation and in favor of unfettered free markets, there’s no question that his powerful formulation rhymes with competition – individuals seeking their own betterment.

Taken at face value, Smith’s primary hypothesis that the collective good grows as a result of individual self-interest defies logic. The deeper context is that individuals specialize to create income-generating goods and services, and in so specializing will pay others for the goods and services they cannot (or choose not to) create themselves.

If only one person (or company) made each thing anyone needed, there would be no competition. But we have long ago demonstrated that monopolies are an economic danger. So we have an economy that is driven by choice – and, so it follows, by competition.

Selling without Competition

It’s hard for most people to even conceive of selling without that competitive aspect between buyer and seller. Isn’t the whole point to get the sale? Isn’t closing the end of the sales process? If a competitor got the job, wouldn’t that be a loss? And why would you spend time on a “prospect” if the odds looked too low for a sale?

When we think this way, we spend an awful lot of energy. It’s hard work – most of it spent trying to persuade customers to do what we (sellers) want them to do. This is never easy (if you have a teenager and/or a spouse, you know this well).

The competitive approach is the traditional, zero-sum-thinking, buyer vs. seller approach – the age-old dance that gives selling a faint (or not-so-faint) bad name. It is one-sided, seller-driven, selfish. Success, in this approach, is defined only one way: getting the sale.

You have to be hyper-focused – have to have tunnel vision – to sell that way.

Seeing beyond the Tunnel

Going back to Smith’s Wealth of Nations, the fundamental context is that wealth is generated by working with the buyer, not against the buyer. Recognizing what the buyer needs that you can provide. Your interests are 100% aligned, not 59%. If you do business by relentlessly helping your customers do what’s right for them, selling gets remarkably easier.

All you have to do is just change the whole approach to selling. You’re not in the competition game: you’re strictly in the helping game, with a partner called your customer/client.

Once you stop focusing on selling what you have to offer, you can see what your client really needs.

You don’t have to think about what to share and what not to. You don’t have to control others. You don’t have to white-knuckle meetings and phone calls, because there are no bad outcomes. You don’t have to relentlessly screen out unqualified leads. You don’t have to practice “handling objections,” because objections are just invitations to further dialogue.

The “trick” is simple: just do the best you can to help the client. Period. Detach from the outcome. Open the aperture. Go where the client conversation takes you. Your goal is not to get the sale. Your perspective is long-term success, not this transaction. Don’t focus on monthly quotas, just go where your help is most needed. Just help the client.

If you do that, two results become clear:

  1. You will not get every sale; you may not get this sale; sometimes you don’t deserve to get it, or the goal changes, or it gets postponed – sometimes you may even recommend a competitor;
  2. In the medium-to-long run, however, you will get more

Selling this way works very well for one fundamental reason: all people (including buyers) prefer to deal with sellers they can trust – those who are honest, forthright, long-term driven, and client-focused. All people (including buyers) prefer not to deal with sellers who are in it for themselves, and constantly in denial about it.

If you give them a choice, they will gladly act on those preferences.

This is where focus is good again: when your concentration is on helping your client, with regard only for what is best for them, you end up with superior results.

You’ll see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Building Trust in a Low-Trust World

Being trustworthy means you make it easier for another person to trust you. You do what you say, are authentic in your words and actions, and are an overall “solid” human that people hold in high regard. But with trust, being trustworthy is only one side of the coin. To create trust, you must be trustworthy, and you also must take the risk of trusting. The latter is where most people struggle.

In our current state of the world, trust is insanely low. Only 17% of Americans today say they can trust the government in Washington to do what is right “just about always” (Pew Research Center) and a Harvard Business Review survey revealed 58% of people say they trust strangers more than their own boss (Forbes). People are looking side to side to determine who they can trust and are coming up short. We’re in a trust standoff, and if no one steps forward first, there will be no movement.

How do you build the most satisfying personal and professional relationships possible, when no one is willing to take the risky leap to trust? The answer is that you need to take the first leap, and trust that the other person will reciprocate and trust you in return. You can make that reciprocation easier by leading with intimacy, which is the strongest factor in The Trust Equation.

Intimacy is about creating a sense of safety in the relationship, for you and for your client or colleague. It’s part discretion, part empathy, and part risk-taking. True intimacy demands that you be vulnerable and open to taking risk, just as you are asking your client to take the leap to trust you. Here are five practical ways to kick intimacy into high gear:

  • Listen really well, to both facts and emotions. Be fully present to what your client is saying and experiencing. This may mean putting aside distractions (no multi-tasking) or silencing the voice in your head that is running off to solve the problem you think you already identified. Then acknowledge what you hear, both the facts and the feelings. Giving someone the gift of listening is the fastest way to create intimacy.
  • Share something personal. You don’t have to share private details of your life, or even what you did over the weekend. Some of the most intimacy-building moments come from sharing how you personally are impacted by a situation, a decision, or an experience.
  • Tell your client something you appreciate about them. Are you impressed by their point of view? Appreciate how they navigated a tricky political situation? Grateful for the support they’ve given you? Don’t just think it, say it.
  • Comment on feelings – yours or theirs. Empathy creates emotional connection. When your client knows you really understand them, not just the situation, but how it impacts them, they will be more open to hearing your perspective. And because trust is a two-way street, be willing to share with them when you’re frustrated, excited, or upset. They’ll appreciate knowing that you’re human, too.
  • Say what needs to be said. Acknowledging uncomfortable situations and being direct with less-than-happy news lets your client know they can count on you for the good and the bad, so they aren’t left wondering if there’s something you’re holding back. Bonus – candor builds credibility at the same time.

It’s easy to say you must take the first step in creating trust, yet harder to do because it feels so risky. Here are five more practical tips to help you overcome your fear to take this important personal risk:

  • Realistically assess the risk. Ask yourself, “What’s the worst thing that can happen? What is the probability of that happening?” Then act accordingly.
  • Name it and claim it. What is making it feel risky to you? Getting these fears into the light of day can rob them of their hold on you.
  • Practice empathy. As discussed above, empathy creates connectedness. It also can help you see the situation from both sides, which creates a more objective perspective on the risk you feel.
  • Identify your assumptions. Discern the facts that you know from the assumptions you make. Having trouble discerning fact from assumption? You can always ask your client to help you see it more clearly.
  • Believe in reciprocity. You have the choice to take the first step. Believe that the other person will follow.

Trust is personal, and it occurs between two people. You can’t force someone to trust you. What you CAN do is pave a smooth path that feels less risky for both you and your client.

Selling Trust into the Sales Process (Episode 40) Trust Matters,The Podcast

Welcome to the newest episode of Trust Matters, The Podcast. Listeners submit their personal questions about professional relationships, trust, and business situations to our in-house expert Charles H. Green, CEO, Trusted Advisor Associates, and co-author of The Trusted Advisor.

Jennifer from a Telecommunications company writes in and asks, “I know you’ve written about Trust-based Selling. My question is not to ask you to explain Trust-based Selling, but instead how to SELL the Trust-based Selling approach into my sales training team?  What’s the hook? The business case? How can I get them to consider it seriously?”

Do you want to send your questions to Charlie & Trust Matters, The Podcast?

We’ll answer almost ANY question about confusing, complicated or awkward business situations with clients, management, and colleagues. Email us: [email protected]

Building Trust In A Crisis

Pandemic. Covid-19. Unprecedented. New normal…

… You can write the rest of this paragraph yourself – things have changed. Is there anything left to be written about it all?

Yes there is. It’s about trust. In particular – how do you manage interpersonal trust in professional relationships?  How have trust dynamics changed in working with and selling to clients? What about trust in management and leadership?

For over 20 years, Trusted Advisor Associates has helped professionals deepen trust with clients and colleagues. We built this page to share our most-relevant thinking on navigating trust in professional relationships during the current crisis.

Click on Areas of focus:

Emotional Components of Trust

In normal times, the emotional aspects of trustworthiness (Intimacy and Self orientation) are slightly more powerful than the non-emotional traits (Credibility & Reliability) See The Trust Equation to learn more.

Now, the importance of those emotional components is multiples more – since the overwhelming response to a crisis like this is an emotional one. Broadly speaking, we need to manage our Self-orientation and increase our Intimacy.

Self orientation

Your self-orientation is likely to be high right now, whether you realize it or not. On the other hand – so is everyone else’s.

We recognize – and will remember – those who are able to genuinely reach out beyond their own psyches and connect with others in such times.

Grant yourself the grace to realize that things are different . Recognize and acknowledge what you are experiencing, and manage your Self-orientation moving forward.


Intimacy & Empathy

Everyone deals with stress in their own way. You are unique – and so is everyone else.

Remember the acronym, N.A.P.A.L.M.: Not All People Are Like Me. Others’ experiences are likely to be different from yours, even if their circumstances appear to be similar.

In times of stress, empathy is rare: at the same time, it’s vastly more valuable.  The ability to truly understand (while not necessarily agreeing with) the other person’s situation creates emotional safety, or Intimacy, for the other person. And Intimacy was already the most important factor in the Trust Equation.


Virtual Communication & Leadership

The hallmark of the COVID-19 crisis is that it requires physical distancing. It raises to the forefront the question: How do you create trust at a distance? Those who figure that out now will be appreciated, effective, and successful going forward.


Above All Else…

Trust is personal. Organizations don’t build trust, people do.

Let us know what you’re experiencing, and how we can help the people in your organization build trust in these times of change. Please reach out. We look forward to the conversation.

Building Client Trust During a Crisis

As the Novel Coronavirus pandemic disrupts business across the globe, companies are scrambling to  assess and mitigate the near-term impact to their business. One of our clients recently shared an email he sent to his team of client relationship partners, reminding them to take a trust-building approach: reach out with information, but foremost with humanity.

Dear [name],

Last week we sent some information to share with your clients regarding COVID19. In addition to the technical support information that we should be sharing, I want to reinforce the importance of communicating directly with our clients on a personal level as well. While it is natural, and even responsible, for us to see how we can support their business, now can be the defining moment to make personal connections and establish long-lasting trust.

While there will be immediate opportunities to help clients with risk assessments, supply chain optimisation, cost reduction and resource augmentation, etc., the objective of contacting them TODAY should be to see how COVID19 is affecting their job, but more importantly to simply see how they are doing personally. Some questions to consider:  

  • How is COVID19 impacting their day-to-day life?  
  • How is this impacting how they are making near-term business decisions?
  • How is this impacting their direct reports and completing short term projects?
  • What other pressures is this putting on them, both professionally and personally?
  • How is this impacting them and their family?

During our conference last June, Charlie Green talked to us about what we can do to become our client’s Trusted Advisors. If you recall the “Trust Equation”, two key elements to establish trustworthiness include increasing “intimacy” while lowering our own “self-orientation”. Taking the time to personally call your clients – and not profiteering during crisis – is a good step towards gaining their trust and will pay dividends in the future.

Now is the time to speak with your clients and talk to them as a person and not as a target/fee source.

 Kind regards,


While Scott specifically highlights intimacy and self-orientation, two factors of trustworthiness found in the trust equation, this email is also an excellent illustration of the four trust principles in practice.

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.

Does Trust Differ From Salesperson to Sales Management? (Episode 36) Trust Matters,The Podcast

Welcome to the newest episode of Trust Matters, The Podcast. Listeners submit their personal questions about professional relationships, trust, and business situations to our in-house expert Charles H. Green, CEO, Trusted Advisor Associates and co-author of The Trusted Advisor.

Dr. Peter Johnson, Clinical Professor of Marketing at Fordham’s Gabelli School of Business in New York. Dr. Johnson writes in to suggest we talk about the role of trust in a critical business transition –  from a salesperson to a sales manager.

Learn more about the basic tools of trust and professional relationships. Play the podcast episode above and register for our next webinar on February 25.


Professional Trust 101 (Episode 35) Trust Matters,The Podcast

Welcome to the newest episode of Trust Matters, The Podcast. Listeners submit their personal questions about professional relationships, trust, and business situations to our in-house expert Charles H. Green, CEO, Trusted Advisor Associates and co-author of The Trusted Advisor.

A sales manager from Florida writes us in regards to the podcast’s material, “Great podcast but I feel like I’m operating three levels down in a larger system. Is there a bigger way of looking at trust? Did I miss the session on Trust 101?”

Learn more about the basic tools of trust and professional relationships. Play the podcast episode above and register for our next webinar on February 25.

Do you want to send your questions to Charlie & Trust Matters, The Podcast?

We’ll answer almost ANY question about confusing, complicated or awkward business situations with clients, management, and colleagues.

Email: [email protected]

We post new episodes every other week.

Subscribe to get the latest episodes:

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Move Qualified Sales Leads Down the Funnel by Bringing a Risky Gift (Episode 34) Trust Matters,The Podcast

Welcome to the newest episode of Trust Matters, The Podcast. Listeners submit their personal questions about professional relationships, trust, and business situations to our in-house expert Charles H. Green, CEO, Trusted Advisor Associates and co-author of The Trusted Advisor.

The owner of a small consulting firm writes in and says: “We’re getting great inquiries but, after the first phone call or meeting, we’re not converting them. We’ve got great credentials and I know we can do the work. I’d guess that we’re only moving about 25% of our good leads into serious contention. Have you got any ideas?”

To read more about this topic read a recent post:

Do you want to send your questions to Charlie & Trust Matters, The Podcast?

We’ll answer almost ANY question about confusing, complicated or awkward business situations with clients, management, and colleagues.

Email: [email protected]

We post new episodes every other week.

Subscribe to get the latest episodes:

Google Play
Via Email

Under-Promise and Over-Deliver for Clients? BAD Idea (Episode 30) Trust Matters,The Podcast

For our 30th episode, a tech expert asks if it is a good idea to OVER-DELIVER for a client and exceed their expectations.

This week’s episode touches on our own reputation, business development, and managing client relationships.

To learn more about the topic of managing expectations, read this blog post:

We’ll answer almost ANY question about confusing, complicated or awkward business situations with clients, management, and colleagues.
Email us at: [email protected]

We’ll be posting new episodes every other week.

Subscribe to get the latest