If I walked up to you in the street and told you ‘I was a modern day William Tell and could shoot an apple off your head every time from 20 feet with a bow and arrow – just stand over there with this apple and I’ll show you’.  Would you trust me?

Of course you wouldn’t and I don’t blame you – the risk/return for you is too small – you don’t know me, whether I can do what I say and, of course, are mindful of what could happen if am more confident in my abilities than they really are in practice.

What if I placed an apple on a fence 20 feet away and shot it off successfully 20-30 times?  Would you then trust me?

What if I showed you video footage of me successfully shooting apples off peoples heads or got others whose head I’d successfully shot apples off to talk to you?  Would this persaude you to trust me?

What if I said to you, I’d be prepared to pay you a $10,000 to stand there and a further $990,000 if I was unsuccessful?  Would you now trust me?

Of course, given the personal risks involved, for most people, these risks are simply too significant to trust someone they know to do this, let alone someone they don’t know.  Very few would be prepared to stand under that apple.

Trust in sales is an area well discussed.  Complete an internet search on the keywords on sales and trust and you’ll see a myriad of articles on the topic of trust in sales.  Courses cover trust regularly as part of the sales process, but how does it work in practice within a sales/advisor relationship with a client?

From a sales perspective – the above techniques are often what we use to convince clients to trust us.  We tell them we’re an expert.  We show them examples of our work.  We get testimonials and client stories and we pay them to become clients either with inducements of discounts to reduce risk.

Of course, in sales your clients life is seldom in risk so the examples demonstrated above will often be sufficient to demonstrate to your clients your ability to be trusted in your advice or recommendations.

But here’s what few sales courses don’t tell you – trust is situational, analogue and dynamic.

Situational Trust

Let’s just say for a moment, I finally got you to stand there under that apple and, obviously, successfully skewered it with my arrow with no personal harm to you.  Then I turn to you and say ‘I am also a proficient axe thrower – stand there again under that apple and I’ll cleft it in twain with my axe’.  Would you?

I bet, whilst you eventually trusted me as an archer and your trust was validated, you would need to reaffirm my credentials as an axe thrower before you would be prepared to trust me, if you would at all.  Yes, I have built some trust, but this situation is significantly different enough by skills and risk, that this previous trust doesn’t carry over.

As a sales person, just because your client trusts you in a certain situation, it doesn’t mean they trust you in all situations.  In situations where they consider it materially different from previous situations where they’ve trusted you, they may have diminished, or no, trust for you in to this new situation.  You may be perfectly suited to dealing with this situation, but because the client hasn’t had confirmation of your skills here, you will need to build trust before moving on.

Analogue Trust

Trust isn’t on or off either.  It exists on a spectrum.  Like situational sales trust – clients can trust you up to a point and not beyond it.  For example, you may trust a carpenters labourer to work on your house with your carpenter – but not to build the entire house by themselves.

In sales, they may trust you up to a certain transaction size or complexity, but not beyond this.  They may not actually tell you explicitly where their trust boundaries end so you need to check where you sit on your clients trust spectrum.  Knowing how much they trust you is important.

Businesses often deal with this by having ‘layers’ within their sales/relationship teams based on the size and/or complexity fo the client.  Where this analogue trust becomes an issue in these situations is where clients grow in complexity and/or size, but the business doesn’t adjust the sales/relationship strategy.  This is reflected in client sentiment comments like ‘they just don’t know my business/situation’.

Dynamic Trust

Just like you can earn trust, you can lose it.  Sometimes it may be as result of nothing you have done but due to external events.  The clients own situation may have changed that suddenly makes them distrust advice they were fine to trust yesterday

An example may be a transaction they saw as a seemingly low risk or riskless transaction yesterday, may suddenly now be business critical due to changes in their business/situation.  As a result of their perceived risks changing, their levels of trust alter.  They may need more reinforcement of your ability to deliver the outcomes – they may need to you rebuild or reaffirm trust as a result.  Given trust is analogue – it can slide both up and down, so can’t be taken for granted.

Trust is, undeniably, an important facet of any functional relationship.  Building trust with clients is therefore often reinforced in sales training and discussions.  It is often a ‘step’ in a sales process whereby you build trust and rapport on your path to a successful sale.

What isn’t discussed is the fact trust is situational, analogue and dynamic as outlined above. To assume you have your clients trust because they trusted you in one instance can result in issues when you try to progress the solution if you haven’t reaffirmed that trust.  This is often the emotion underlying many sales objections.

Trust isn’t a step in a sales process – it is a fundamental cornerstone in every step of the sales process.  Whether getting your prospect to hear you, your client to understand how your solution improves their position or helping clients make buying decisions – it must exist through the entire process and be continually monitored and affirmed.

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Thank you Keith Dugdale for input.