Trust and Golf: How Neither Makes Sense

I’ve been reading Trust Agents by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith.

I was particularly struck by the way they told Robert Scoble‘s story (a success story, but not usually painted as a trust story).  They call Scoble one of the first trust agents ever on the World Wide Web. 

Though hindsight is 20-20, many people watching Scoble’s moves at the time would have labeled him at best irreverent, irresponsible, and committed to career suicide … at worst a complete idiot. But looking at him through the lens of what it takes to become trustworthy, I’m siding with Brogan and Smith—what he did was brilliant.

The Scoble Story

In 2004, Scoble, then a Microsoft employee, took to blogging about serious issues Microsoft and its end users were experiencing. He even candidly sung the praises of Firefox, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer competitor.

Not only did Scoble not get fired, he got readers. And Microsoft got business. Brogan and Smith report, “People began eating up everything he said. If his very next blog post had praised Notepad as ‘the best app ever,’ his readers probably would have said, ‘You’re so right!’”

Scoble attributes part of this phenomenon to something he learned when he helped run retail stores in the 1980’s. If he told a customer that a competitor had a better selection, they often came back and asked to do business with him anyway, “’cause I like you better.”  (Maybe he got it from the Macy’s Santa Claus in Miracle on 34th Street, who recommended competitor Gimbel’s on occasion).

What’s Golf Got to Do with It?

One of the reasons trust is so hard to get a grip on is that it’s rife with paradox. For example, the thing we’re most afraid to say or do is precisely what will build the most trust. Or, in Scoble’s case, the best way to generate sales is to have the courage to be brutally honest about your product’s weaknesses and your competitor’s strengths.

Here’s the link to golf (pardon the pun): I am not a golfer. To me, the only logical way to get that tiny little ball to travel hundreds of yards off the first tee towards that tiny little cup is to hit it as hard as possible. If you’re a golfer, you just shook your head in dismay because you know what my strategy will yield: a nice left hook into a thick forest of trees.

Scoble came to be seen as someone who could be trusted because he knew that building trust is like a golf swing: hype your product and you hook the ball; be honest and land it square on the green.

Golf Aside, Motives Matter

Leaving the golf metaphor behind for a moment, it’s important to remember that motives really do matter. Buyers have a sixth sense for manipulation. Had Scoble been talking trash about his products with the intention of closing deals, his strategy would have backfired. Which leads us to another paradox: the more you try to build trust with the intention of closing deals, the less deals you close.

Take a look at your business model. How might the lessons of golf—and Scoble—improve your game?

Misconceptions about Trust-based Selling: It Doesn’t Work

This is the third in a series of three about misconceptions regarding Trust-based Selling™. The first was about naievete; the second, about time.

The third misconception is that it doesn’t make sense, it just doesn’t work.

Not unreasonable, since trust-based selling rests on some apparent paradoxes. For example:

a. managing your sales with short term metrics will drive your short term metrics down;
b. the best way to be credible is to admit where you’re not;
c. you have the most influence over customers when you stop trying to influence them;
d. the best way to improve your closure rate is to stop trying to improve your closure rate;
e. to gain control, give up control.

This shouldn’t be surprising. For an elegant statement of how this paradox plays out—nominally in golf—see Phil McGee’s post The Putt.

The thing is, buying is still a very human phenomenon—and we humans are obstinately perverse. We do not like being hustled. We do not like being told what to do by those who we don’t think understand us. And we do not buy from people we think are using us for their own ends.

That’s the heart of the paradox. A salesperson who puts his sale ahead of his customer will lose both. A salesperson who puts his customer ahead of his sale will win both. You have to care about the customer—for the sake of the customer, not for what the customer can do for you.

The language of paradox is alien to modern sales. Big corporate sales is all about linear process management: break it down into ever-finer pieces, and micro-manage each one. Fine-tune the sales pitch; tweak the yield rates by tighter lead qualification; get the close in this quarter; and measure everything by the effect it has on sale and the cost to get there.

That’s all about the sale—not the customer. The term “customer focus” itself is turned inside out when we evaluate “focus” by whether or not it produces the sale.
Trust-based Selling is not a process—it’s a set of principles consistently applied. They are:

1. customer focus—for the sake of the customer
2. an instinct for collaboration
3. a default toward transparency except where injurious or illegal
4. a medium-to-long term focus on the relationship, not a short-term focus on the transaction.

If you had to put it into one word, it would be “care.” The more complex, long, and specialized the sale, the more we buy from those who care about us more than they care about getting the sale.

Doesn’t make sense? On the contrary, it makes all the sense in the world.


If you’d like to learn more about Trust-based Selling™, why not join me for a Webinar tomorrow, Thursday, August 21, titled How to Build Trust in Sales Conversations. It is from 2PM to 3:30PM, Eastern time. See you there.