Because what you’re already doing isn’t working.

A marketing executive surprised the heck out of me when I interviewed him for my second book, Pick Up the Damn Phone! I expected to hear all about the advantages of marketing automation. Boy, was I wrong! Instead, he talked about how to build trust and stand out in sales.

“It’s not what you know,” he told me. “It’s who you know.” When this exec was looking for a new vendor, he spoke to his colleague, a fellow VP. The two of them trust each other and value their relationship, so the exec didn’t need to shop the market. He chose the vendor his friend recommended.

“Relationships like this are how deals get done,” he told me. “When a trusted resource refers you to someone, you take the time to explore the option.”

Exactly! You can provide your sales team with the latest and greatest sales enablement technology and cold calling lists, but you won’t get the results you’re hoping for if you’re not teaching them how to build trust in sales. It’s as simple as that.

How Trust Fills Your Sales Pipeline

When you earn your clients’ trust, they keep coming back for more (even bigger) deals. They also become your most loyal cheerleaders and advocates—and refer you to people just like themselves. Relationships built on trust give you an edge over your competitors, who often don’t even get a chance to compete. After all, why would prospects bother shopping around if they already know they can trust you?

Trust is one of those great words, but what does it really mean? And does your team know how to build trust and stand out?

To Know You Is to Trust You (or Is It?)

Salespeople know that building trust is paramount, and it can be difficult to achieve. So, what is trust, anyway? It depends on the person you ask. For me, it means integrity and keeping your word. From a sales perspective, that means referral sources can count on you to take care of their colleagues as they would.

Some people engender trust immediately. They have a special way about them:  They exude self-confidence, and they connect and contribute. With most people, we need to get to know them before we trust them, or we need to find out if others trust them. And there are still others we would never trust.

This is a problem for sales pros. If they don’t know how to connect and contribute, or don’t have a referral, they won’t earn prospects’ trust. And considering the dismal statistics about how much people trust our profession, it seems that far too many salespeople simply don’t know how to do those things.

In groundbreaking research by Steve W. Martin, business buyers said they think about 12 percent of salespeople are excellent, 23 percent are good, 38 percent are average (whatever that means), and 27 percent are just plain bad at their jobs. Worse yet, only 18 percent of the salespeople these buyers met over the past year were “trusted advisers whom they respect.”

That perceived lack of trustworthiness is why so many lead generation approaches aren’t producing qualified leads. That’s why it’s imperative that sales reps understand the many ways to build trust and learn specific strategies for increasing trust online.

Forrester’s Report on Closing the B2B Trust Gap

The B2B trust gap—that’s what Forrester calls the gulf between how B2B companies see themselves and how buyers see them. Their research shows the gap has never been larger. That’s a big problem, because in a meta-analysis of almost 20,000 survey responses across multiple market segments, B2B buyers overwhelmingly told Forrester that trust was the most important brand attribute.

Developing trust is mission-critical for sellers, according to Forrester. They explain:

B2B companies that earn trust with their brand constituents—customers, prospects, employees, partners, and influencers—will experience increased levels of engagement, loyalty, and advocacy. Customers who trust are more likely to renew, entertain a new product or service, and recommend the company to others. Employees who trust are more likely to become brand ambassadors who then fuel better customer experiences.

A B2B referral program helps you close that gap. It’s how to build trust and stand out.

How to Build Trust in Sales with Referrals

Referred reps have already earned trust and credibility before they even place the first call to their prospects, because they’ve been referred by people those prospects know and trust. That trust is transferred from the referrer to the sales rep and sets the tone for the conversation.

Referred reps don’t get put on the spot and asked who they are and what they’ve got. Buyers know they will share best practices, insights, and an outside perspective—not just pitch products. They know the business reason for the meeting and are curious about what the rep has to offer.

Referred reps get every meeting in one call, because their calls are expected and welcome. Then it’s up to them to reinforce that trust by having intelligent conversations, uncovering needs, and sharing insights and best practices. No pitching, no promotions, no duplicitous sales tactics.

Here’s the beauty of a referral. Because buyers trust referred salespeople, they often share important inside information—including how decisions are made, who is on board, who to watch out for, and what reps need to do to seal the deal. Referred reps are privy to important timelines, budget concerns, and other key details their competitors don’t know. They have the inside track, and their probability of closing a deal is well more than 50 percent (most salespeople tell me it’s more than 70 percent). Try beating that with any other touted business development activities.

It’s no wonder that high-growth businesses—companies with double-digit growth—rank customer referrals as one of their most successful sales strategies.

4 Reasons Why Trust Is the Most Important Tool for Driving Profitable Sales

Strong business relationships are built on trust. In fact, 73 percent of respondents in a recent Dale Carnegie study ranked trust as “very” or “extremely” important to them for building relationships with salespeople, and 71 percent said they would buy from a trusted salesperson over the one who quoted the lowest price.

When sales teams know how to build trust and stand out, they:

  1. Get repeat business: In the Carnegie study, 81 percent of respondents said they would likely buy again from a company with salespeople who earn their trust.
  2. Get the benefit of a doubt: When customers trust their sales rep, they are three times more likely to forgive a single bad experience, but 44 percent would be “very unlikely” to forgive salespeople they don’t already trust.
  3. Get critical feedback: Feedback is a competitive advantage, and buyers are more likely to give it to salespeople they trust. In fact, 65 percent of respondents said they would be “somewhat” or “very likely” to share a concern or complaint with a trusted salesperson.
  4. Get referrals: Trust doesn’t just help you retain customers; it helps you attract new ones. In the Carnegie study, 77 percent of survey respondents who trust their salesperson said they are “somewhat” or “very likely” to provide them with referrals, and 63 percent are “somewhat” or “very likely” to write a positive review.

Why a Referral Program Ensures Trust

Reps forget that technology doesn’t close deals. People do. When companies adopt referral selling as their primary outbound prospecting approach, they don’t have to worry about how to build trust and stand out, because trust comes pre-built with each referral.

When you prospect through referrals, you set the standard by which others must compete. Your competitors don’t stand a chance. That’s how to get leads in the pipe—not just any leads, but qualified leads. With a referral program, your lead generation problem is solved, because your trust problems are solved. Why would you work any other way?

Want your team to get meetings in one call, and walk into those meetings with trust already earned? Learn more about the #1 Referral Selling Program for Account Based Sales.

(This post was originally published on June 7, 2018 and updated April 26, 2022.)