It is often said that customers buy from people they like. While we don’t usually buy from people we dislike, there is one more dimension to this old saying.
Customers buy from people they trust
To illustrate this point further, let’s look at how typical prospective customers react to new sales people making the first contact with them (otherwise known as cold-calling):
1. They find an excuse to hang up the phone as soon as possible
2. They make themselves very busy during appointments with sales people
3. They keep their mouths shut as much as possible when sales people ask questions
4. They will not refer the sales people to a higher authority even when such a need is clear
5. They often use delay tactics such as “If there is a need, we will call you” to appease sales people, etc.
These are, just a few examples, of customer’s behaviours when they distrust the sales person. As such, to get customers interested and excited about what you have to offer, you first have to win their trust.
A Question of Lust
The reasons that customers don’t trust sales people is very simple: they feel that the only thing that sales people care about is getting their money. Sadly, this “lust for the customers’ money” is quite true with many sales people out there, AND customers can smell them from miles away.
When customers make purchases, what they really want in exchange for the money they spend, is substantiated value. That is, can the products or services they buy bring better productivity, reduce wastages or simply improve their quality of life.
Hence, the first step to build trust is this: you have to be perceived as being on the customers’ side and pro-actively help solve customers’ problems.
Here’s a simple example. When most sales approach their prospective customers, they will say something like, “Hello, my name is xyz, and I’m from abc company. How are you today? I would like to show you a demo of our latest productivity-enhancing gadget. As I will be around your vicinity on Tuesday afternoon, can I come and see you around 2 p.m. or 4 p.m.?”
The problem with this way of approach lie in how these intended customers respond. They will either just say “not interested”, or say yes and then get their secretaries to tell you “the boss has an urgent meeting, please leave your materials on the front desk, and we will call you when we have a need”.
The reason for such responses from customers is that they don’t trust what you said. They probably have seen just too many “productivity-enhancing gadgets”, and hear too many “I happen to be just in your neighbourhood” stories and certainly will be too busy to meet just another peddler of gadgets. Furthermore, they don’t trust you enough to tell you their “productivity” challenges, if that is what your product will solve.
To overcome such trust issues at initial contact, both sales people and their managers will have to work together to build trust and allay customers’ fears that they will be rip off, or that they will be wasting their time.
From the sales person perspective, she will have to provide the customer what Miller Heiman calls a Valid Business Reason into her opening call, e.g. “Hi, my name is xyz. I understand that many companies in your industry are facing serious challenges due to the sharp increases in raw material costs. I’d like to explore with you if we can help improve your productivity, and thereby reducing your costs.”
From the sales managers’ perspectives, trust will have to be built beyond the initial cold-call. Customers are likely to increase their trust if they had seen testimonies and case studies of past successes, PRIOR to the initial phone calls from sales people.
Build Credibility, NOT Benefits
Traditionally, many companies focus merely on the “Features, Advantages and Benefits”, none of which will work IF the customer does not trust you enough. Hence, sales people would have to build credibility during the course of the sales process, namely:
* Do your homework and ask intelligent questions
* Provide Assurance to your customers
Many sales people tend to put too much emphasis on their company, and the products they offer, that they forgot to listen to their customers needs, wants and concerns.
To ensure that customers spend more time talking, sales people would have to ask intelligent questions. Typically, customers expect sales people to have done some basic research on the customers’ web sites. Sales people can improve on this by going through customers annual reports (if they are listed companies) or source for news reports about these customers. If a prospective customer is a competitor of a current customer, you can find out more information from the latter. Web 2.0 social networking sites are also a great source of information.
While some sales managers may argue that spending too much time on the Internet will eat into selling time and hence, is detrimental to sales. However, going to a customer and not knowing what are the right questions to ask will make the customer feel you are unprofessional and incompetent, which is worse. Sales managers will have to get the balance right by allocating sufficient time for research as well as for selling.
Ultimately, customers will often have niggling concerns about buying from you. Rather than avoiding those concerns for the fear that addressing them will hurt your sale, the opposite is likely to be true. If customers have got any unanswered questions or concerns about your products and services, they will be:
* Less likely to buy
* Buy less
* Drive a hard bargain on your price
Hence, when you are approaching the closing stages of your sale, look out for symptoms that show the customer is nervous or uneasy. Then seek to address such concerns and provide the relevant assurances.
The Policy of Truth
Perhaps the biggest destroyer of trust is to “over-promise and under-deliver”. The causes of this destruction are two-fold:
* Sales people make promises to customers on things that they cannot (or unsure if they can) deliver
* Companies who deliver less-than-expected levels of product qualities to their customers
For the former, sales managers would have to ensure sales people do not over-promise their customers just to get the sale or to reach their sales target. Doing so will severely damage the trust between buyer and seller, and will make it really difficult for future sales efforts to succeed.
For the latter, nothing de-motivates sales people more than having to answer customers’ questions that they don’t have answers to. No amount of sales effort will succeed if the company does not invest enough in quality to make sure customers get the value they pay for. When companies deliver shoddy quality, not only will there be decreases in sales, there will also be an immediate increase in sales staff turnover. It’s not a question of “if”, it’s just a question of time. After all, who wants to to sell for a company that they can’t even trust?