Misconceptions about Trust-based Selling: Naivete

I find people have three primary misconceptions about the idea of Trust-based Selling™.

• One is that many people are not naturally "good," and that trusting people is naïve; doing so will bring you grief, if not danger and penury.
• The second misconception is that being trusted takes a lot of time and effort; too much, by their view. “We can’t afford to spend that much time and resources to be trusted.”
• The third misconception is that it just doesn’t work. It can’t be measured, it can’t be profitable, it doesn’t make sense.

I’m going to address all three of these misconceptions in separate postings. This is the first, aimed at the “naivete” argument.

There are some lovely counter-examples; see a blogpost called “Do You Trust Your Customers” by Rebecca Morgan, at Grow Your Key Talent  about the use of honor boxes and self-assessed service guarantees.

But counter-examples usually don’t convince doubters. So let’s try logic.

I’ve noticed that the “naivete” objection to Trust-based Selling is perversely aimed at buyers, not sellers, as in, “I could get really hurt by trusting others—they might take advantage of me.”

They miss the point: they confuse trust with trusting and with being trusted.  Trust-based Selling is mainly about the buyer trusting the seller, not vice versa.  While you can’t be trusted without being willing to do a little trusting yourself (the blogpost from Rebecca Morgan is just such an example), the bulk of the risk in trust-based selling is not taken on by the seller, but by the buyer. Trusting is but one strategy for being trustworthy— not the only one, or even the most important.

If indeed it’s naïve to believe that people can trust a seller, then the right question to the seller would be, “if even only a few people are willing to trust—are those few willing to trust you? And if not, why not?”

I have never heard a seller say “the trusting-buyer segment is too small to be worth it.” Instead, most recognize a trusting buyer is a wonderful thing.

I think the naivete argument is much more about the one making the argument than about any objective behavior. “You’re naïve” is typically said by someone who feels their beliefs are being attacked; someone who is personally vested in a fear-based psychology.

They are being truthful, in their own personal way. For them, trusting others feels risky. They attribute that same perception to others, so as not to feel alone. Therefore they don’t behave in a trustworthy manner, because then someone might trust them–thus proving their self-vested worldview wrong.

It turns out counter-examples are valuable—they force us to say, “well, it is possible to trust, and be trusted, and not get burned. So why are people not trusting me? Is it because I’m not selling in a trustworthy manner?”

Trust-based selling works, because most people respond very favorably to someone who consistently behaves in a trustworthy manner.  One such behavior is, occasionally, to do some trusting of others. 

5 replies
  1. peter vajda
    peter vajda says:

    At 4:00 in the morning, in the dark and quiet of one’s room, one knows if one is trustworthy or not. When many they see their character flaw -not being trustworthy-their initial response is one of initial upset and denial, and so the only "out" for them (to feel safe and emotionally secure) is to reactively project or transfer their untrustworthiness onto another, and thus arises their "logical reasoning" as to why they cannot trust others and how  it’s a waste of time to go down that road.

    The notion of trust is not an easy one, and "trusting  trust" is even more challenging for many folks.

    Walking through that door in your graphic, jumping into the vast unknown world of trust is, indeed, risky and scary – like jumping out into space without a parachute.

    Without an inner sense of "grounding", feeling solid, with a "knowing" that "trust works", few take that leap of faith towards trust.

    Exploring deeply what’s underneath my mistrust of others, and my own fear around trusting – by exploring early childhood experiences where, for example, I might have been betrayed, where promises were made but not kept, where commitments were broken, where I trusted and no one came to support me in some way, shape or form, where I experienced others being hurt as a result of trusting…..can go a long way to heal one’s wounding around mistrust and bring one’s self to see that "that was then, and this is now" and perhaps begin by taking a baby step out that door to test the "trust" waters…and perhaps, for the first, time, see that trust can work.

    For me, it’s not so much about "logic" as it is  about intelligence, spiritual intelligence, a "knowing", an inner exploration that leads to a sense othat I can take  that opportunity to be trusting,  to see how it is to trust myself and another – to take that leap of faith out into the vast unknown world of trust and mistrust and see what that’s like without any projection, preconception, misperception, assumptions, etc. , but with curiosity, and a willingness to "trust" trust. Can I trust myself to do that?

  2. Dawn Rivers Baker
    Dawn Rivers Baker says:

    I hope nobody minds if I get depressingly pragmatic for a minute here.  And I have to say that the entire naive argument seems a bit bogus.

    If I have a thing and you want to buy that thing from me, then how much trusting do I really have to do? You may be in the driver’s seat to the extent that you have money that I want but, in order to get that money, I have to convince you that (a) my thing will do for you what I’ve said it’s going to do and (b) when you give me your money, I’ll give you my thing.

    When you move beyond the simple retail transaction, where my "thing" might possibly be my time or expertise or both, then obviously the trust issue becomes more important. There, I’m going to give you my thing and you’re going to give me your money but it’s a transaction predicated on the notion that both of us are going to do what we’ve said we’re going to do.

    Of course, that’s what service agreements are for — at least, to a degree.

    What I’m getting at here (clumsily, I admit) is that we’re not talking about "blind trust," are we? We’re talking about making a decision to trust based on reasonable due diligence and mutually executed agreements and stuff like that. We give ourselves options for redress if one or the other of us proves untrustworthy but we hope we won’t ever have to make use of them.

    So, what trusting and being trustworthy in this situation really means is a degree of ease with the customer. If I’m trying to sell you my thing while all the while thinking that you’re a closet scumbag, I suspect that I might get you as a customer but I won’t keep you for long.

    (Not to mention that I can’t even imagine what it would be like to go through life thinking like that about people. It must be terribly lonely.)

    Most business transactions are, to some degree or other, constructed so that people have protections against untrustworthy behavior on the part of the other parties to the transaction. You’d think that would lessen the risk attached to trusting, wouldn’t you?

  3. Charlie (Green)
    Charlie (Green) says:


    Never apologize for being pragmatic!

    I agree with several things I think you’re saying; for one, that it takes a lot less trust to buy a candy bar at the 7-11 than it does to negotiate an acquisition agreement. 

    For another, "blind trust" is an oxymoron, just as "trust but verify" is.  Trust is the not-quite-wholly quantifiable risk that one takes in making oneself vulnerable to another. 

    I think the issue you’re getting at is the connection between more formal agreements (contracts, redress clauses, due diligence) and trust.  Both aim at what you call "ease with the customer," I think.

    Both trust and formal agreements, we might say, are aimed at reducing risk.  There is a lot of overlap; social and emotional risk in romance is mitigated partly by solemn marriage contracts, but also–and in many ways, more strongly–by social norms.

    If I own a consulting firm and you want to buy it, we each have big risks–that I won’t run it into the ground before you buy it, that the numbers are true, that things are as I’ve stated, that you are financially capable of executing, etc etc.

    We can spend months and money tracking down agreements–hiring accountants, getting lawyers to discuss contracts–and that gives each of us some cause for greater comfort or ease in the deal.

    Alternatively, we can spend dinners together, drink together, get to know each other, identify the circles of friends we share in common, and speak frankly to each other about our commitment to each other.  That also will give us greater comfort or ease in the deal.

    Most of us use a mixture of trust and contracts.  Some cultures (Asian, South American) use more social trust; some use more formal agreements (American, English, Dutch). 

    Contracts can profitably substitute for trust because they have the law behind them as a vehicle of enforcement.  On the other hand, in the US for example, the law is maddeningly slow, expensive, and random.  And if you’re in Australia and I’m a small-time business-person in the US, realistically I have no shot at using Australian law to enforce some agreement I have with you.  I’d much prefer to rely on trust.

    I think the balance between the two, and the evolving difference in weightings, is a huge huge issue for the global economy.  To put it in process terms, it is not easy to scale trust.  On the other hand, the law isn’t much better. 

    To create global collaborations of linked corporate entities and make it work, which would you rather have: detailed processes sorted out by lawyers and accountants?  Or common shared values across a multi-corporate multi-cultural enterprise?  I don’t think there’s an easy answer–but to see only one possible answer is a good way to be sub-optimal.

    As to whether it’s lonely always suspecting people, yes I too imagine it is.  And I can easily imagine it, because I’m susceptible to that illness on occasion myself.

    It does seem to me, though, that when facing those fears,  the comfort afforded us by the law is probably less emotionally satisfying than the ability to forge trusting relationships with others. 

    I’d rather invest in making friends with my neighbor so I’ve got some trust equity built up with him/her than to live alone and rely on calling the cops if the neighbor ever acts up.   Having trust is often more effective than calling the cops; not to mention a lot less lonely.


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