Trust – Our Future Depends on It

Who have you trusted today?  Who trusted you?  What is at stake in each situation?  When was the last time you did business with someone you did not trust?
We all have a gut sense of how essential trust is to daily living and creating a desirable future. Most of use are somewhat predisposed, at least in some domains of activity, to give others a chance, in effect loaning them some of our trust that we expect they will earn or repay.  If this was not true, human history would have developed more slowly than it has.  On the other hand we feel a duty to caution; we’ve all probably been burned by extending too much “trust credit”.
When we are in a buyer role, our typical primary concern is to avoid being burned.  We want to know “everything” about what is being offered and about who is offering it before we sign on a dotted line. When we are sellers, we tend to be too optimistic about prospects becoming buyers, and to underestimate the breadth and depth of the concerns they are taking care of. We tend to assume that prospective buyers trust us more than they do.
Before people can collaborate on anything, there has to be sufficient mutual trust.  How can we assess the level and nature of trust?  What can we do to contribute to building a trust foundation for mutual commitment?  How can we avoid damaging or diminishing that foundation?
It can help to break down what trust is in terms of conversation.  When we trust someone, what we are doing is 1) declaring a particular domain of human action, for example, financial planning, 2) assessing the sincerity of the other person, and 3) assessing the competence of the other person in the specified domain.  If Erik wants to be my financial planner, I need to assess him to be both sincere (he does what he says he will do) and competent (he can demonstrate a level of mastery considered to be competent by any objective observer familiar with the field of financial planning.)   You are probably saying, “sure, everybody already does that,” but the fact is that most of us make ungrounded, unsupported assessments of either/both sincerity and competence.  We may accept our neighbor George’s opinion that “Erik is a great guy”, and we may assume that the plaques on the wall in Erik’s office attest to and ensure our finances will be in prudent hands.  If we are talking serious money, are those assessments prudent?  Not at all.  Erik may be a great guy to George, but their relationship may be limited to both showing up at the driving range at the same time and sharing a beer afterward.  How does that evidence sincerity or competence?   Similarly, Erik’s plaques may be impressive, but how have his current customers’ finances fared under his guidance? Compared to what?
When we are in a selling role, most of the burden of establishing trust is on us.  The buyer has no obligation to make a commitment to us.  It’s ours to prove or lose.  So how can we best earn the prospective buyer’s trust?   We need to provide the buyer with ample grounding to arrive at positive assessments of sincerity and competence.  This can require more time than some sellers want to work through.  Trust development is one of the reasons that “sales cycles” for substantial buying commitments are usually measured in months and not hours or days.   We are by nature “recurrence engines”, that is to say that if it has been sunny for the previous three days most of us will bet on sun again today.   The sincerity assessment usually requires multiple tests and validations including reference checking, over a period of time. And in the meantime, the buyer’s competence assessment can get labored in fact comparisons between competing offers or trials.
While buyer-seller trust-building is ongoing, it only takes small slips to derail the relationship. No matter how small the promise a seller makes (“I’ll get our customer at ABC corp’s email to you tomorrow”) it is essential that the promise be fulfilled completely. One little broken promise can undo a whole chain of successes.  When you lose sales, be sure that you are losing them due to competence assessments and not sincerity assessments. Customers know that products and services change over time, so even if you do not have the winning combination today, you may have it next year (especially if your customer is sincere with you and you listen well).  But customers harden when they detect insincerity from you or your company – “the tiger doesn’t change his stripes”.  

Strategic Venture Consulting’s Conversation Driven Business(TM) can help you master the assessment and development of trust in your network of conversations, accelerating sales cycles and win rates as well as transforming the effectiveness of internal collaboration and coordination.

(c) 2013 Strategic Venture Consulting / Robert Kimball all rights reserved.

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