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The past decade has witnessed an erosion of consumer trust driven by the failings of both government and business. This loss of trust has inflicted widespread damage to corporate reputation. And few have escaped unscathed. In the UK, all of the dominant industry sectors score low on trust according to the latest Edelman Trust Barometer, especially banks and financial services.
Trust and transparency are now as important to corporate reputation as the quality of products
and services that companies produce. In fact, trust has emerged as a key driver of business success. And those companies that recognise the importance of rebuilding this trust will reap the rewards.
But it’s not going to be easy. Millions are spent on marketing in an attempt to create an emotional connection that will create a bond of trust. But consumers and business buyers alike have become increasingly hardened to advertising messages and sceptical of the promises made.
The point often overlooked in this exchange is that the most powerful emotional connection comes not from what we say, but from what we do. And it’s the people at the front line of the business – sales executives, account teams and customer relationship managers – that are charged with creating that trust and delivering on the promise.
But frontline employees must be equipped to develop trust with potential clients and customers while still growing the business. The attitude and outlook that companies and individuals adopt, the perception they have about their company and the product or service they are selling, and the market they are in will all shape how others see them.
A step-by-step plan is crucial to shaping a positive mindset, as is having a systematic approach in place that encourages the behaviours necessary to build trust. Without a defined plan, it is easy for those at the front line of the business to adopt an air of desperation and come across as overly pushy, scaring clients and prospects away.
Having strategies and tactics in place ensures they live up to brand values and avoid being perceived as the traditional sales person or free consultant – either becoming too forceful and losing the sale or giving away hours of free consultancy but not closing.
A lack of process can trigger unease in potential customers or clients, leading to growing suspicion and distrust. And it won’t be long before those at the front line start blaming the problem on changes in the market, lack of management support or ineffective marketing. The way to avoid this scenario is to have consistent communication between what advertising and marketing are saying and what frontline people are doing.
Traditionally, advertising and marketing have focused on establishing an emotional connection to invite interest, while sales would champion features and benefits to rationalise and help close the deal. But to help the prospect discover both compelling emotional and rational reasons to do business with you, a bond of trust needs to be established first. Trust is the point where selling begins.
The challenge for those at the front line is to live up to the promises that the brand has made and deliver on them from a basis of trust. As trusted advisors they can helppotential customers and buyers identify the problems that they in turn can help solve; through effective questioning, they can offer compelling, emotional reasons to buy now. Without trust this questioning will yield little or no results. People buy from people and brands they trust. And conversely, they are unlikely to reveal their problems and goals to those they don’t.
Marketing communications and frontline interaction must work together to level the playing field. The front line must reinforce the initial brand promise and transform it into a two-way bond of trust that treats both buyer and seller equally.
Stop acting like a sales person. Prospects erect a defensive ‘wall’ if they think they are being sold to. Your people will get them comfortable by showing they understand their problems, from the prospect’s perspective. Establish rapport and maintain this throughout the entire relationship. Teach your people to identify clients’ and prospects’ communication styles and then adapt their language to suit.
Ensure your people understand how to agree up-front what both they and the prospect want to achieve from the relationship. Ground rules establish behavioural boundaries, decision-making steps and the necessary actions that must be taken to fulfil those expectations.
People buy emotionally and make decisions rationally. One of the most intense emotions that people experience is pain – without uncovering the prospect’s pain fi rst there is no easy sale. Your people must know what series of questions will help prospects discover both the intellectual and emotional reasons to buy from your company and not the competition. People buy emotionally and justify this intellectually.
Not only address the cost of what they are selling but also highlight the cost to the prospect of doing nothing and the financial cost of the pain you have identified.
Show your people how to discover whether prospects and clients can make a decision to invest now independently or whether other people will be involved.
Teach your people to be ‘trusted advisors’ and show them how to demonstrate to prospects and clients that your product or service can remove the specific pains they face. Prospects do not buy features and benefits; they buy ways to overcome or avoid pain to get to where they wish to be.
Make sure they don’t let the sale slip away. Make sure they have a post-sales step in place or they may fi nd themselves being assaulted by your competitors before you secure the client or even during the relationship.
Working with FTSE 100 companies and entrepreneurs from across the globe, Joshua Gilbertson’s agency provides innovative sales and sales management training and advanced diagnostic recruitment services. With clients ranging from the technology and new media sectors to financial and advertising houses, the company helps people to take charge of their sales and client development processes through a distinctive, non-traditional selling approach. Programmes are designed to create lasting ‘performance improvement’ rather than the motivational ‘quick fix’ typical of much seminar-based training, while behaviour and competency recruitment processes are designed to understand the company–employee match, reducing clients’ risk of disappointment and ensuring candidates deliver.