Misconceptions about Trust-based Selling II: The Time Thing

Last week I wrote about the first of three misconceptions people have regarding trust-based selling—the idea that it’s naïve.

This post tackles the second misconception: that trust takes too much time, both elapsed time and in aggregate. You’ve heard this one as either:

  • “trust takes time and we can’t afford to wait that long,” or
  • “trust takes such a big time commitment I’m not sure it’s worth it.”

It takes too long; it takes too much. Neither is true.

Let’s start with “trust takes time.” How long does it take for you to read the degree on the doctor’s wall? To notice the doctor’s white coat? To share feelings with a surprisingly interesting seatmate on a transcontinental flight?

More pointedly: in a sales conversation, how long does it take to demonstrate interest, curiosity, caring, and enough self-confidence to shift the agenda on a dime in response to client interests? All these take less time than a conventional process-driven, presentation-oriented sales meeting—and create more trust.

Now let’s consider “trust takes such a big time commitment.” Behind this statement is the belief is the first belief—that people only come to trust slowly, in incremental parts, repeated frequently over time.

But trust has many dimensions: the “trust takes time” belief is mainly focused on reliability, which by definition does take elapsed time. It misses other senses of trust—credibility, integrity, intimacy, other-focus, for example. Those can be established in an event, in a moment, with a handshake, a word, a question asked at the right time in the right tone. These take very little time. And hence they don’t take a huge investment.

Let’s move away from B2B sales: consider online dating services. Do they take time? Do they require large investments of time?

Not if you consider the dating scene Think of the ability to read people’s self-descriptions, to hear about them in their own words, perhaps with video or audio, perhaps with some advance “metrics” on compatibility.

Now consider how long it took, and much invested time it took, to get to a comparable level of trust one date at a time, over days and weeks. Or consider the odds of a first date ending well in the online dating world, vs. the blind date world of not that long ago.

Rapid trust creation is not an oxymoron; if anything, it taps into something more powerful. Rather than waiting to develop trust by reputation, we can create trust by being bold, other-oriented, curious and courageous—quickly. And benefiting all.


Note: I will be giving a webinar this Thursday, on How to Build Trust in Sales Conversations.   It’s hosted by the good people at  It’s from 2 to 3:30PM US Eastern time.  Again, that sign-up address is here.  

Live Webinar on How to Build Trust in Sales Conversations — Thursday, August 21

I don’t do a lot of webinars—but I will be giving one live next week—Thursday, August 21, from 2-3:30PM Eastern Daylight Time--on the subject of Building Trust in Sales Conversations.

The session is being hosted by the good people at RainToday, a powerful site focused on marketing and business development for professional services; the cost is $90, you can sign up here at

Why the topic Building Trust in Sales Conversations? Because it tackles a lot of myths and misconceptions about selling.

For one, most of us think that selling draws down on trust. Rightly done, however, sales interactions are one of the best situations in which to create trust.

For another, trust is largely created (in intangible services or complex sales) not by branding, eloquence, speeches or credentials, but by personal interactions. Conversations. Sales conversations, about what people need and want.

Finally, many people think of trust-based sales conversations as things that can happen only after a long period of time has allowed trust to develop and grow. The truth is, it is in sales conversations that the trust grows. Just like other types of human relationships, trust doesn’t happen before real, honest conversations—it is created in them. Trust doesn’t enable selling; selling enables trust. This means trust can be created far more rapidly than we oftne think.

Understanding how to create trust in a sales conversation is a great source of freedom; trust doesn’t take time, it isn’t a business process, it doesn’t come about from following metrics, and it isn’t a business process. It is something each of us can do, personally, far better than we think.

Join me in a conversation (well, a webinar anyway) about this exciting topic. Sign up here for How to Build Trust in Sales Conversations.

I look forward to the time together.





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. 

Is Sales Efficiency Killing Your Sales?


A search on Google for the following sales-related terms shows:

• Sales force management 315,000
• Sales force effectiveness 113,000
• Sales force productivity 44,500
• Sales force performance 37,200
• Sales force efficiency 28,100
• Sales force compensation 15,300
• Sales force motivation 6,150
• Sales force measurement 577
• Sales force relationships 244
• Sales force trust 33

The numbers alone suggest a certain sense of priorities in the world’s interest in sales. In the broadest sense, let’s just say the reigning focus seems highly seller-focused.

Here’s a quote from what I would suggest is a fairly typical piece on selling:

XYZ has developed proprietary approaches to measuring and maximizing salesforce efficiency. Sales managers can learn, quantitatively, how their best people invest available selling time, including a measurement of expected sales dollars per sales call. This knowledge is used to improve the efficiency of others in the salesforce. Simple tools can tell the sales manager what the expected outcome would be of adding one additional sales person, of getting each salesperson to make one more call per week, and so on.

[Our] model addresses several common sales planning flaws:
* Salespeople call on too many accounts, and therefore don’t have enough time to call on those accounts often enough to be successful.
* Salespeople don’t spend enough time with the accounts that provide the best opportunity for growth.
* Salespeople spend too much time calling on low potential accounts.
* Salespeople don’t realize how precious few sales calls they have to invest [sic] each year.

Let’s refine our statement of focus in selling. The usual treatment of sales goes beyond just “self-focused.” It also defines sales heavily in terms of return on investment, and of processes. The solution to higher ROI is often found in changing processes.

For a more academic example, see a 2006 Harvard Business Review Article, The New Science of Sales Force Productivity, by Ledingham, Kovac and Simon:

Today’s most successful sales leaders are taking a more scientific approach. Savvy managers are reshaping their tactics in response to changing markets. They are reaching out to new customers in innovative ways. And they are increasing productivity by helping the reps they already have make the most of their skills and resources.
Leaders who take a scientific approach to sales force effectiveness have learned to use four levers to boost their reps’ productivity in a predictable and manageable way.
1. They systematically target their firms’ offerings, matching the right products with the right customers.
2. They optimize the automation, tools, and procedures at their disposal, providing reps with the support they need to boost sales.
3. They analyze and manage their reps’ performance, measuring both internal processes and results to determine their teams’ strengths and weaknesses.
4. They pay close attention to sales force deployment—how well sales, support, marketing, and delivery resources are matched to customers.

What is remarkable in all these lists is the virtual absence of the “R” word: relationships.

There is “scientific” (read “quantitative analysis”) study of products, automation, tools, procedures, internal processes, results, and deployment;

There is general agreement that the end result is to be judged in financial terms (ROI—effectiveness), which can be decomposed into various ratios (efficiency in general);

Mirroring this self-absorbed perspective of both design and outcome is the treatment of the customer. Almost all sales models are based on a single-transaction—with the usual “feedback” arrow saying “return to beginning and start over."

Try substituting “relationship” into this self-oriented, mechanistic and transactional mindset and there is only one kind of relationship it applies to: a one-night stand, repeated endlessly, with only the names changing.

There is no forward momentum in a series of one-night stands. No growth, no development, no connection—and no relationship. (I’m not knocking one-night stands, by the way, or saying they are "wrong;" I’m just saying call them what they are).

There is nothing wrong with counting sales dollars as a pretty good indicator of sales success. And it’s natural to want to dig deeper. But if all the digging is focused on ourselves, our processes, our metrics; and if all the relevant timeframes are shorter and shorter; and if we fall prey to the Skinnerian belief that you must shorten the time between action and monetary reward for the rats salespeople—then we conspire to reap what we sow—the one-night stand.

Great short-term performance doesn’t come from short-term selfish, transactional management. Great short-term performance is simply one part of a longer success story that comes from a long-term, relationship-driven concern for the customer.

Great Moments in Selling – Bangor Savings

John Edwards, Chief Banking Officer of Bangor Savings Bank, tells the story of how Forge won the job to develop a new branding package for the bank.

“We needed to reposition the bank,” John said. “We did a good job of due diligence in seeking about for the best qualified, non-conflicted firms. We narrowed it down to three.”

“On the day of presentations, the first two did fine, competent jobs of presenting to us. Forge—the third to present—began with a similarly competent 10 minutes of opening. Then they switched gears.”

“Unbeknownst to us, they had spent time going around to several of our branches with a video camera—looking at and talking to employees, customers, and citizens, assessing the kinds of interactions they saw. And they brought the results to the presentation with us.

“’Here’s a taste of how we see the bank,’ they said by way of introduction. ‘This is our view of what you stand for, and the message you want to convey.’

“About ten minutes into the video, our CEO jumped up and said ‘Yes! That’s it! These people have got it right.”

“So we decided on Forge. They went about their work, and when they came back to present us with their work, I remembered that first meeting. They pretty much opened right up with their new tagline—You Matter More.”

“I remember thinking—‘wait, that’s it?! All these months and all we get is three words? But I remembered that first meeting, and said to myself, ‘hold on. These people totally got who we were; settle down, and trust that they’ve got something behind that slogan.

“Well, it became clear that they had a lot behind that slogan. We loved their ideas, and the slogan indeed fit the message perfectly.”

What Forge did here is a classic example of Selling by Doing, Not Selling by Telling (see the chapter in Trust-Based Selling by that name).

Buyers respond much more favorably to expertise that is delivered, not preached; skills that are deployed, not recited; examples that are based on us, not on others, and that are current, real-time, not after the fact.

But Forge did something else, too. They rediscovered a truth that Mark Twain exploited in Tom Sawyer. Tom and Huck and the boys had snuck off for a trip down the river, and everyone back in town assumed the worst when their lost raft was found with a smattering of clothes, but no boys.

The boys arrived back in town and discovered that everyone thought they were dead. They realized they could attend their own eulogy, and crept into the church choir loft to listen.

What Twain wrote about was the deliciousness of a socially acceptable mode of eavesdropping on others talking about us—and hearing only wonderful testimonials.

What Forge did, in part, was to hold up an ultra-realistic mirror to Bangor Savings Bank. Realistic, but idealistic as well, reflecting the best of the bank’s aspirations.

Trust-Based selling? You bet. Forge reached out in an intimate way to show they could appreciate the bank’s aspirations; and made evident their own skills not by reciting other banks’ dreams, but by crafting an image of Bangor Savings’ own dream.

Well done.

Top Ten Reasons Organizations Don’t Teach Trust

This recently from Tom Hines of the Monitor Group.

"My question to you, Charlie, is simple, but something that I’ve been struggling with for some time now. If every CEO or other senior leader (or at least the great majority) seems to agree that success in selling is in some part attributable to trust based selling concepts, then why do they spend virtually all of their training $$ on sales process, closing techniques, etc. It seems like a dirty little secret that this is nothing but a waste of money."

"I have worked with literally hundreds of sales people over my career and no process, qualification questions or closing technique ever works without establishing trust as the foundation of any client relationship. So the question then is why don’t organizations prioritize and invest in helping their organization understand the dynamics of trust and use that as the foundation of any other program they try to implement? It seems to me that they spend a great deal of money on "quick fix" programs that do nothing to change behaviors and belief systems about the importance of trust and how it is the only way to improve performance."

Well, Tom, no surprise, you’re preaching to the choir. But I know you mean the question seriously too, and I too take it as a serious question.

Why is it that things are that way?

Here’s my Top Ten list for why organizations, especially sales organizations, don’t invest more in trust. 

10. Fear–of looking wussy, as in Real Men Don’t Play Trust Games.

9. Thinking that business is about competition. It’s not. It’s about commerce.

8. Fear—of someone taking advantage of us; hence do unto others before they do unto you.

7. Bad long-term logic. We are dominated by financial logic, internal rates of return and present-value discount rates. That belief outlaws any investment beyond about 25 years. The parent of a child operates on a longer timeframe, not to mention entire nations in Asia.

6. Inability to defer gratification.

5. A Hobbesian hangover. The continued belief, fostered by ideologue economists and politicians, that the world is an evil place—life is nasty, brutish and short–and therefore the best defense is a good offense. Even if the premise were true (I have no position on it), the conclusion certainly is not.

4. The cult of rationality. Belief that only “scientific” management works; forget passion, belief, relationships—and trust.

3. Over-emphasis on measurement. The belief that “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” Just think about that. False on the face of it.

2. The cult of short-termism. Here-now, bird-in-hand, payback time, fees-not-interest, outsource, monetize—it all adds up to transactions, not relationships. Not good for trust.

1. Fear—that someone will find out who you really are if you don’t manage your image. So tighten up, spin everything, and get out of Dodge before they can spot you for who you really are.

What’s your answer to Tom’s question?

Why Modern Sales is so Anti Trust

The Sandler Sales Institute offers one of many approaches to selling available to corporate sales organizations.

I don’t know their work personally, but they have a good reputation, as far as I know. And just two weeks ago, I heard a very solid testimonial about some of their work from a very savvy, and satisfied, client.

I say that as preamble because I have no reason to think they are worse than any other sales training approach in the market; in fact, my only first-hand data says they are better. Still. Nonetheless. Try this quote(pdf) on for size:

Sandler Rule: The professional never does anything by accident. You should never ask a question, make a statement, or behave in any way unless it is in your best selling interest.

The advice that follows is pretty good—listen more, let the customer talk—but it’s hard to get past that opening statement. Basically, it says, never do anything that won’t help close the sale for you.

That would rule out mentioning solutions that don’t rhyme with what you’re selling. It would rule out referring customers elsewhere. Or suggesting a customer can’t afford what you’re selling. Or that your product might be wrong for a particular customer.

Simply put—if your customer’s needs don’t match what you’re selling—don’t mention it. Sell it anyway. Don’t do, say, or think anything that might keep you from closing that transaction.

Think about the mindset implicit in this view. It says the seller’s interests are deeply, inextricably opposite those of the buyer. That buyer and seller are in competition, in a zero-sum game. That there can only be one winner in the customer-seller struggle—and we all know who that is supposed to be.

This is not an isolated quotation. Here’s another, from the website of a Sandler licensee.

Prospects are inherently motivated to get as much information about your company, your competitors, and the competitive alternatives (like doing nothing, or buying something that is completely different from your product/service). They want to see your complete proposal first…

Prospects LOVE proposals…Sales is the only profession where people are expected to give away valuable information prior to payment. The more technical the sale, the more information is expected prior to signing a deal.

Again, the assumed context is us against them. In this view, the customer’s job is to squeeze as much competitive information, and to gain as much competitive leverage from the seller as possible. The seller’s job is to withhold as much information, and to extract as high a price, as possible.

This is the ideology of the past. The world is moving toward more interdependence, not less. Suspicion is expensive—and there are greater and greater opportunities for suspicion in a connected world.

Trust is the counter-intuitive solution to suspicion. You can build trust in commercial relationships; contracts can either be defenses against evil perpetrators, or the occasion for in-depth discussions about expectations and transparency. One is expensive. One lowers costs.

In sales, the era of competing against your customer is over. We need something like Trust-based Selling™, based on a simple principle: if you consistently do what is good for your customers, you will end up creating more value than those who are solely motivated by self-aggrandizement.

And you will end up getting your fair share of that added value.

Hey! Your Company Just Turned Into a Supply Chain!

 What’s the biggest business change of our time? You might say it’s the Internet. Or globalization. Or outsourcing.

But let me make a case for something else. Something that incorporates those other ideas, but puts them all in a bigger context. Something Big but Simple.

We are moving from a world of Competition to a world of Commerce.

In the old competitive world, most business was transacted within companies, as part of a hierarchically-organized management process.

In the new commercial world, those same business transactions are happening increasingly between companies—not within them—as part of a horizontally organized commercial process.

Let me break that down:

• Business is now done between, not within, companies.
• Business is now done not hierarchically, but horizontally.
• Transactions are no longer managed within firms; they are bought and sold between firms.
• The people you transact with no longer work for you—now they sell to you.

When Tata Motors recently announced the $2500 car, the interesting fact was not the cheapness of the car, but the authors of the announcement. It was the Tata supply chain, not Tata the company, who would make the car. Tata is willing to outsource even the final assembly.

Companies still compete with each other: e.g., GM vs. Toyota, Citibank and Chase, etc. But the bulk of business transactions are no longer internal, they are external, and they are not between competitors, but between suppliers and buyers—collaborators, not competitors.  It’s not that competition doesn’t exist anymore, it’s that your company isn’t in charge of your competitiveness.  Your supply chain is.  And you have to get along with your partners to share in your collective success.

Those who persist in viewing the world through competitive lenses are marginalizing themselves. It’s a relationship world. You can’t go it alone. Those who see through collaborative lenses are, paradoxically, those who will win—not those who set out to "win" by competing.

GM no longer competes in the car business—they just add the final 10–20% of the cost structure in an automotive supply chain. The real “car business” is a whole bunch of companies, inextricably linked in a commercial web. Except for those who continue to believe their suppliers and customers are their competitors. To compete is, increasingly, to lose.

Those who work together well—those who can play in the sandbox nicely with others—are those whose supply chain will win, and them along with it. Those who still think they’re competing with their suppliers and customers are those whose supply chains will lose, dragging them along with it.

Competitive advantage doesn’t determine success anymore—collaborative advantage does.

It’s the external commercial relationships that dominate the value add in the new economy, not the internal ones.

Competition isn’t dead; it’s just not where the action is. Commerce—the ability to get along with others in a supply chain—is where the action has gone.

Hey! While you were sitting in a classroom reading about competitive strategy, your company just morphed into a supply chain!

Why Laughter Might Win the Proposal

Quick: in your sales and internal presentations, do you use too much humor? Or not enough?

Your first reaction may be, “probably not enough. Then again,” you might think, “ I’m not too great at jokes—and the last thing I want is to have some lame attempt at humor fall flat. My clients are serious about their business, and I wouldn’t want them thinking I was being cavalier about it.”

That reaction puts you square in the middle of most presenters I’ve seen. The claim that “business is serious” masks a deeper truth—what if I fail? And heaven forbid we fail.

So we take the low-risk route.

Result: pandemic boredom.

Enter author Adrian Gostick and humorist Scott Christopher, in their new book The Levity Effect  They argue that:

Some salespeople mistakenly worry…that humor dilutes their message, makes it less urgent and torpedoes credibility. Nothing could be further than the truth. Sending a message with levity demonstrates a clear understanding of the principles of effective communication. It also shows the audience you value their time enough to want to entertain and connect with them and make it worth their while.

They give the delightful counter-example of Linda Kaplan Thaler, CEO Kaplan Thaler agency, who was pitching Panasonic about a shaving product.

As the business meeting began, Kaplan Thaler and her team sat around a conference table with the executives… The Panasonic brass was expecting a formal presentation, but instead Kaplan Thaler smiled and said, “Pretend I’m one of the guys.” Then she proceeded to sing, “Shaving sucks, shaving sucks, like a Band-Aid getting stuck, why does half the human race tear the hair out of their face …”

After sitting through days of drab pitches, the executives were very quickly snorting and hooting in appreciation of the zany song.

“They loved it, and we got the business. They said, ‘You didn’t have the best strategy, but you had the most entertaining way to do it. So we figured you guys are going to be a lot of fun and more entertaining to work with.’”

Next time your firm does a win-loss analysis, include three variables on the survey:

a. Did the winner, whomever it was, have the lowest bid?
b. Did the winners rate higher on relationship, or on value?
c. Did the winner seem more fun to work with?

(Probable answers:  a. no;  b. relationship;   c. yes)

Great Selling by Truth Telling: A Best Buy Tale

I was in Best Buy the other day.

The sales guy was excellent. He was open about what he knew and what he didn’t. He advised us to spend more, or to spend less, depending on what we wanted and needed in the several product lines we were exploring. He was candid. He spoke quickly and directly, in short, to-the-point sentences.

When we finished, I asked him, “You’re not on commission here, right?”

“No, not here. I’ve sold on commission before, though.”

“Which do you like better?” I asked.

“Oh, I prefer this. You can tell the truth.”

“You can tell the truth?”

“Yup. The other way, sometimes you’ve got to make the month, or bend it around for some other reason. It’s hard. Here you just tell the truth. It’s a lot easier.”

Just tell the truth–it’s a lot easier.

Let’s parse that: then evaluate it.

Why is it a lot easier?

1. There’s only one version of the truth—an infinity less to remember.
2. It’s easier to answer questions—it requires only short-term memory, not creative license.
3. It’s easier for people to tell you’re not lying.
4. People buy more from you if they feel you’re telling the truth.
5. People tell their friends; truth-telling is good marketing.

Of course, some people feel this is a sucker’s game. It’s sales right? The point isn’t to tell the truth, it’s to not get caught not telling the truth? To look like you’re telling the truth, not to actually tell it.

After all, we’re in business—right?

So let’s have a look at the numbers.

BBY Stock Chart

Here is a 5-year stock chart for Best Buy, tracked against the S&P500, and against Best Buy’s most obvious US competitor, Circuit City. (BBY is the one that ends at the top, by the way).

And sure, you can make charts look any way you want. I’m not trying to be an analyst here. I’m just saying the case is not only intuitive, but very plausibly empirical as well.

(By the way, Bear Stearns rated it underperform back in January. Goldman Sachs rates it a Buy.  Cheap shot? Maybe, but I’m just sayin’…)

Telling the truth is not stupid, wussy, or bad business. Far from it. It’s very good business. And for pretty obvious reasons.

And that’s the truth.