Do Your Clients Trust You?

Do Your Clients Trust You?

by Jennifer Wessman

Successful salespeople are adept at gaining their clients' trust, though they might be hard-pressed to explain precisely how trust influences people's buying decisions. Research has shown that in product sales, clients often trust the reputation of the product itself as much as they trust the salesperson. But when you're dealing with a service sale involving intangible elements, trust becomes the buyer's primary motivator.

Because of this, many professional, trustworthy people don't always come across as such. This concept intrigued Neil Rackham, Huthwaite's founder. As a result, Huthwaite conducted a study of professional services clients to define their perception of trust. After interviewing almost 1,000 people, Huthwaite found that trust has three essential components:

1. Candor

Clients value honesty when dealing with a service company. They want a salesperson to be straight about what will work and what won't. And most importantly, they value a salesperson's willingness to say "I may not have the right answer right now, but I'll find it for you."

2. Competence

Clients want to be sure you know exactly what you are doing. They need to feel a low level of risk when working with you. Because they can't see and touch the product, your ability to solve their problem becomes the focal point. In a real sense, your competence is the product.

3. Concern

Clients want to know that you feel their pain and that you are concerned about them and their business issues beyond the lip service it takes to land a sale.

The three C's of trust -- candor, competence and concern -- are all essential. The absence of any one can cost you a major sale. But are salespeople equally good at demonstrating each of these three C's? The answer is a resounding no.

In both the professional services study and in parallel studies Huthwaite conducted with product sales forces, the most frequently missing element of trust was concern. Put simply, clients felt that while most salespeople were competent and candid, when it came to concern they were sorely lacking. As a result, clients didn't trust them.

So why is it that clients see salespeople as unconcerned? There are a few reasons:

  • We listen for the things we can solve rather than the things that are important to our clients.
  • We're often too anxious to get to solutions, so we don't listen to the problem.
  • We don't get on the client's side of the table.

As a result, while clients may see us as candid and competent, they don't feel that we show concern for them or their issues. Is this really important? The answer is yes. Unfortunately, concern is the one dimension of trust where you'd want to score an "A." Not only is concern most important to clients, it is the one area where they can make a valid judgment that minimizes the perceived risk involved in buying from you.

Rackham recounted a story told by John Wilson, his former colleague. Wilson had taken his child with a high fever to a new doctor. Like most parents in an emergency, he was apprehensive about the child's well-being. Unfortunately, the doctor showed no concern for either child or parent. He performed a clinical examination and wrote out a prescription. "I just didn't trust him," Wilson said after the incident, "and I thought he was incompetent. I later found he was a top professional in his field, but that's not what came across. His lack of concern had me suspicious of his competence.

We wonder how often clients draw the same conclusions.