Sales: In the End, it’s a Matter of Trust

Trust is a crucial principle for just about anything—running a company, having a mutual relationship, any form of friendship, marriage, children or parents. And, of course, for sales.

Decline of Trust

Today there is a marked lack of trust in our culture. But interestingly, back in the mid-1990s, every thought leader in the US (and it soon spread to Europe as well) was talking about creating trust within organizations. It was a very fashionable thing to talk about.

Unfortunately, though, its mainly talked — it’s not something that ever really became established and that people built upon. We can look at virtually any institution since that time and see that we have the exact opposite trend toward mistrust. The Catholic Church became embroiled in scandal, with a stigma that is still following it. The major political parties have also been riddled with scandals ranging from misuse of power to violations of financial regulations and misuse of taxpayer dollars. It extends to many others, too, including our judicial system and police departments.

As far as government goes, the average taxpayer today is asking, “Can I trust these institutions?” Some even wonder why they pay taxes and end up betraying the system because they feel the system is betraying them.

Lastly, we’ve recently learned we can’t trust the one institution we counted on for at least a degree of truth—the news media.

So we now have a trend in mistrust instead of trust. It’s a dangerous trend. It ruins democracy. If we can no longer trust the institutions we have created to guide us in a free economy, we start mistrusting everything, including money (witness the rise of alternative currency in the last couple of years).

If an organization, a family, a company or any other organization has a leader that betrays them, we have no heroes anymore. We no longer have anyone to look up to, and this is the start of anarchy.

How Trust is Built

To begin with, trust must be earned. In a relationship, it must be mutual. You trust that the other party will not betray you. It’s not even so much the actions, but the agreement and emotions between you, the mutual bond.

As a child, you trust your parents to cherish and protect you. A team must be able to trust their coach and their support staff (we don’t expect situations like the Olympic doctor now being investigated for hundreds of alleged sexual abuses of female athletes).

In that trust is earned and not just freely given, how can you get across to a buyer that you are worthy of trust? As I pointed out in my first article in this series, it begins with the respect you bring to the table. And then, as I described in the subsequent article, you feel empathy for your prospect and their situation. At that point, you are building trust, step by step.

The Trust Pyramid

We can look at trust as a pyramid, with layers of blocks built one upon the other, over time.

The bottom layer would be basic manners—if you’re rude, you’re certainly not going to build trust any further. The first thing a salesperson should learn, then, is manners. Be a nice person, pleasant to have around. Greet someone warmly, with a handshake. Hold the door for a lady.

The next layer is integrity. And although much complexity is made of this subject* it is actually pretty simple: integrity means you should mean what you say, and act according to what you promise.

The next layer means you stay away from “shamers”—people who set out to shame others.

And the following layer is trust in the company you work for. If you don’t have such trust, you won’t be very successful. You have to believe in the team, in products or services, their support, and what you say to prospects and customers about the company. ‘

The company must likewise be trustworthy. They must fully back up your promises to prospects and customers. When they don’t, you start doubting them (more on doubt and its effects in a moment).

You must be able to trust the products and services you’re selling. Trying to sell a product you don’t believe in—pitching over your own disbelief—can be very tough and, at the least, uncomfortable.

You must also be able to trust your buyer’s company so that you know that when you make a sale you’ll get paid.

Now we come to the top of the pyramid: faith in yourself. As a salesperson, you must be able to trust yourself, in your skill and ability to sell the product or service. If you can’t deliver a great presentation, pitch or proposal, the product or service may be fantastic, but you won’t get it across to the prospect.


Today on the internet, when you come across the website of an enterprise you’re not familiar with, you won’t have a clue about this company. Is it staffed with 10,000 people, or 10, or 1? Can a buyer trust that the company they’re buying from will be around in 2 years—or will they disappear because they don’t have enough marketing and financial power to stay alive?

Each layer of blocks in our analogous pyramid carries with it the possibility of doubt. In some cases doubt is healthy because it’s warranted. But where doubt becomes unhealthy is when it misleads you by simply being a distraction. An example of a distracting doubt is, “I lost faith in my team because they made one mistake.”

Doubt, when it’s a distraction, removes one stone. To repair it and keep that trust progressing, you must then replace it with two stones.

Doubt in Sales

In selling, doubt is quite toxic.

There is a saying that, roughly translated from German, says, “When someone lies right at the beginning, you don’t believe them afterward—even when they tell the truth.” This may not be fair, but in sales, it’s an absolute fact. One lie, and you’ll never sell to that prospect again. You’ll probably not even get a callback.

In a larger company where a corporate reputation is at stake, such a salesperson might need to be replaced, so that the company or their products are not put at risk of disrepute.

Blind Trust

Of course, the polar opposite of doubt is blind trust, which is equally as dangerous. A buyer or a seller, not knowing about the company they’re doing business with, should at the very least Google them and discover some basic facts about them.

Years ago, as one of the first Apple dealers in Vienna, my company made the mistake of placing blind faith in a prospect. This person came in, boasting about how fantastic his company was doing and how many contracts he had. He said he needed 10 new computers, including 2 of the top Macintosh models for graphic design.

This deal meant a lot of money–roughly $60,000 at the time. My salesperson put blind trust in this person, who signed everything needed, gave us his passport data, and took our invoice. At the time it was common in Europe to invoice a company and have them pay you a few days later.

The man walked out the door with all of these computers. He turned right around and sold them! He wasn’t in the market for computers—he was in the market for money. He totally disappeared, and we lost all that merchandise.

Needless to say, that salesperson learned a very hard lesson that day about blind trust.

Every salesperson has had an experience similar to this. Hopefully, they didn’t lose like we did. Fortunately in the SaaS business when a person doesn’t pay you can just cut them off from the service. In a business with hard goods, it’s not so easy.

Trust Means Recommendations

When you build your trust pyramid correctly, more and more people will trust you. That trust, building, leads to recommendations—the true currency of today’s digital world. A great example is a good doctor; doctors live by recommendation.

Building trust is mutual, takes time, and works hand-in-glove with meaning what you say, and backing up your words with actions. Do that, and you’ll succeed as you’ve always dreamed.


*”Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.” —Confucius

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