Selling: It’s a Matter of Trust

sleazyThe concept of selling has been around a long time. Even before the first coins were minted around 600-700 BC, selling was a common practice. The bartering of goods and services in exchange for other items of value required people to convince each other that any given item was more valuable than something similar offered by someone else. The exchange of items of value is, in essence, selling.

It wasn’t until 1886 that the idea of sales as a profession came about. John H. Patterson, the president of NCR would identify the top person in prospect companies, sell them a cash register, and then incent them to share the word with other business owners. This marked the first time that people were paid for selling something they didn’t themselves create. It didn’t take long for the practice to spread.

In 1916, the first World Salesmanship Congress was held in Detroit Michigan. President Woodrow Wilson spoke and led credence to the idea of salespeople being important professionals. The theme of the congress was “trust-based” selling, an indication that nefarious practitioners had already begun to infiltrate the profession.

Ultimately, trust is at the heart of any sales proposition. Whether bartering or exchanging products and services for currency, both parties involved have to trust the other. In today’s sales environment, the burden of trust rests most heavily on the shoulders of the salesperson. They must appear trustworthy is the customer is to believe that what they are receiving is of sufficient value to justify what they are asked to pay. You might get away with violating a customer’s trust once or twice, but that’s it. Broken trust leads to broken relationships, and sales is all about relationships.

It’s the concept of trust that allows us to function as well as we do. Researchers have identified three functions that trust performs in society and interpersonal relationships:

Trust makes social interactions predictable. When you first meet someone new, you don’t know how they are going to act. But after a very brief interaction, you begin to pick up on patterns in their behavior. It’s these patterns that determine how you anticipate their future actions. Having observed the behavioral patterns of individuals over time, you can predict how a potential interaction will unfold. We start to “trust” that people will act a certain way.

Trust creates a sense of community. We tend to associate with people who behave in ways we prefer. It’s our trust in the future actions of others that leads us to form social groups. Your circle of friends exists because you’ve come to trust this group of people will act in ways you find agreeable. We move toward people we trust and away from those we do not.

Trust helps people work together. As communities develop, you trust that any given member of that group will act within the accepted boundaries of behavior. This means we don’t really have to know a specific individual in order to develop a level of trust with them. By affiliating with a particular community, we assume an individual believes in the same things as the group. We expect their behavior to follow the predictable mold that drew us to the group in the first place.

Think about the individuals and groups you associate with. How has trust influenced the makeup of your circle? What behaviors drew you to these groups? What behaviors would betray that trust and drive you away?

As salespeople, we have chosen to align ourselves with individuals and communities that communicate particular levels of trust. You reputation depends on, and impacts, the perceived level of trust customers have in your coworkers, your organization, and even others in your same profession working elsewhere. Each of us has a responsibility to validate, and strengthen, the trust placed in us. It is trust that leads customers to willingly engage with us, join our community by purchasing our products, and continue working with others in our organization.


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