To know you is to like you.

“As the world shifts to virtual, the challenge is building client trust.”

I almost fell out of my chair when I heard this from a VP of Sales. Building client trust has always been a challenge, so why is this new in a virtual world? It can seem harder when we can’t meet in person, but saying it’s a bigger challenge is nonsense.

Let me amend that. If your team is selling the same-old, same-old way, with standard demos and loosely veiled discovery questions like “What keeps you up at night?” Then sure, building client trust is hard. But the same is true if they’re using that sales approach when meeting in-person. Your team will botch the meeting either way because most of their outreach is cold. There’s no relationship, no connection, and definitely no trust.

There’s a saying in sales: Clients buy with emotion and justify with fact. That’s why building client trust is our most important job.


(Image attribution: cottonbro)

If people don’t like you and feel comfortable with you, they won’t buy from you. You can wow prospects with your technological know-how up front and then try to win them over later, once they find out you’re honest and reliable. But the reality is that you need people to start liking you within the first few seconds of your relationship—especially in virtual interactions.

How do you do that?

Start with a Referral Introduction

Technology won’t help you build client trust, but a trusted referral can help you make a good first impression and a personal connection.

As Reid Hoffman, former executive chairman and co-founder of LinkedIn, wrote in his book, The Start-Up of You, “When you reach out to someone via an introduction from a mutual friend, it’s like having a passport at the border—you can walk right through. The interaction is immediately endowed with trust.”

Skip the Sales Pitch, Nurture Trust with Conversation

Building client trust can happen quickly when you’re introduced by someone your prospect already knows and trusts. Even so, building relationships takes time and effort, so it’s important to start demonstrating your trustworthiness right out of the gate.

(Image attribution: Alexander Suhoruc)

In an era of economic instability and wrecked public faith in business, trust is no longer the default starting point for skeptical consumers. That means salespeople must earn and nurture it over time. And we must deliver on trustworthiness every single day.

Dawn Westerberg, senior channel marketing manager at Sage Intacct, put it to me this way, “We need to be deserving of a customer’s trust. And we must constantly measure how our customers feel about our interactions.” She added that conversation, not technology, is the key to proving yourself worthy of their business. In fact, technology can be downright off-putting at times. “We are so overwhelmed with requests for electronic surveys; they seem to be as frequent as getting an oil change for your car. It’s becoming as intrusive as telemarketing.”

Building client trust takes time, but when we invest in client relationships (not just in our digital marketing), we reap invaluable rewards.

Shake the Sales Rap

Sales has gotten a bad rap. Many buyers view us as pushy, arrogant, in-your-face people who only want the quick sale. They still picture the archetypal used-car salesman who flashes a big smile and talks a big game, and whom we’re not certain we can trust.

This is not the kind of person you are. Truly great salespeople understand the importance of trust and build it by:

  • Listening: You have two ears and one mouth. Your conversation should be 80/20—with customers doing about 80 percent of the talking.
  • Validating: Many customers feel that salespeople don’t listen to them and don’t understand the significance of their problems. Therefore, it’s important to summarize what your clients say without sounding like you’ve just attended sales training and memorized a script (e.g., “So, what I hear you saying is …”).
  • Offering solutions: Great salespeople ask insightful questions, designed to help us understand exactly what our clients want and need, so we can offer the best possible solutions—even if that means referring them to someone better suited to help.
  • Caring: If you do your work with other people’s best interests in mind, and if your customers know you care about them, they will be loyal to you for years to come.

Great salespeople do right by their customers. They treat prospects and clients as they would want to be treated and focus on building client trust. And there’s nothing pushy, sleazy, or “salesy” about that.

Use Social Media Wisely

Social media is a double-edged sword when it comes to building client trust. If you’re using it to prospect and spam strangers with invitations to connect, it can hurt your efforts to engender trust. If you’re using it to identify mutual connections and inform conversations, it can help you make a more personal connection.

Social media can help support our efforts to build trust earlier in the sales cycle—for several reasons. First, we can quickly find out if we have common relationships with key prospects, which is a powerful way to build trust quickly. It also provides information about our prospects so we can have more insightful conversations that help us earn trust. Finally, our social media profiles give us the opportunity to show up as a professional and to showcase recommendations and endorsements from people who have benefitted from our products or services.

But a word of warning: Social media enables us to have a meaningful conversation, to make real-world connections better—not to replace them.

How Building Client Trust Yields Referrals

When we’ve earned the trust of our clients, not only do they keep coming back for more (even bigger) deals, but they become our most loyal cheerleaders and advocates—spreading word of our value to their friends and colleagues. Relationships built on trust give us an edge over our competitors, who often don’t even get a chance to compete. After all, why would our prospects bother shopping around if they already know they can trust us?

Trust trumps technology every day. Technology takes us just so far. Then it’s time to make a personal connection!

For more on building client trust via referrals, tune into my new sales TV show—Back in the Black on The Sales Experts Channel. New episodes premiere on the third Tuesday of every month at 2:00 Pacific/5:00 Eastern. The first several episodes are available now on demand.

(Featured image attribution: Joshua Hoehne)

Scroll Up