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Thinking About Trust- Part 3: The Fly In The Ointment

First, a note to those who faced Hurricane Sandy:  For many Americans here in the northeast, Sandy was a stark and shocking reminder of how fragile our plans and endeavors can be.  The Baron Group family fervently hopes that you were able to ride out the storm with minimal anxiety and hardship, and are now able or will soon be able to resume “business as usual.”   A potential positive outcome of this horrendous event: this Thanksgiving, maybe the long list of things for which we should all be grateful will more readily spring to mind.

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Our last two blogs discussed three elements that correlate directly with the amount of trust the consultative salesperson develops in his/her client relationships— credibility, empathy and sensitivity.  Presumably, if we consistently rate highly in all three, we should have little trouble getting client approvals of our recommendations and purchases of our products/services.  In reality, it isn’t nearly that easy; there’s a threat lurking in almost every business situation that could have the power to overwhelm the client and “snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.”

That threat is risk— the potential risk(s) in doing business with us, as perceived by the client.  Clearly, the number and kinds of perceived risks are limitless.  Money issues are often involved (e.g., going over budget; the cost might not pay out, etc.), but less quantifiable risks can be daunting, too.  For example, perceived risks can be organizational (e.g., is this inconsistent with my company policy?); job-related (e.g., is it disruptive to my team?); or personal (e.g., will my success be invisible?).  Here are three ways of addressing a client’s perceived risk:

  • Try further enhancing the positives— credibility, empathy and sensitivity.  Our demonstrated success in similar situations (e.g., case histories); glowing references from past clients; our honesty and insights in recognizing and facing the risks; etc., are examples of situation-specific add-ons to our client’s general trust in us.
  • Show our willingness to share the risk in some way.  For example, propose a compensation plan which relates directly to client outcomes: the better they do, the better we do, and vice versa.  Any time we also have “skin in the game,” our credibility and empathy are maximized (although our company and business circumstances may limit our ability to use this trust-building device as a sales tool).

But note that neither of the above options actually tackles the perceived risk directly: they both attempt to dwarf it in comparison with the increased credibility and empathy of our proposal.

  • Actually reducing the risk, itself, creates the greatest leverage in most cases.  Offering some kind of guarantee is very powerful: “we will limit your downside risk.”  (Again, this may not be an available option.)  Happily, many genuine risk-reducers may be acceptable to us; initially limiting the scope and/or the duration of a new project (e.g., a “market test’) is one example.  Best of all are the non-monetary risk-reducers; e.g., maybe our recommended plan could be tweaked to make that star-conscious client more visible in this project— with little or no out-of-pocket cost to us.

It all boils down to this: listening for and truly understanding your client’s perceived risks is an on going, high priority challenge for the astute consultative salesperson; stressing your recommendations’ ability to reduce risks makes the sale in the short term and builds trust in the long term.

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