Attention Salespeople: Build Trust, Not Relationships
Scott D. Clary | Mental Models, Performance, Business & Entrepreneurship
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Attention Salespeople: Build Trust, Not Relationships
The last time I got a call from a salesperson (which wasn't too long ago) I had absolutely zero interest in talking to them. It's pretty rare to find someone who entertains sales calls these days. They're just too disingenuous – and far too frequent.
I didn't realize the true root of the issue until very recently, though, during an interview with super-salesman and entrepreneur, Ari Galper.
Ari explained to me that it's the art of trust-building salespeople need to learn, rather than surface-level relationships that disintegrate after the money has been exchanged. Trust-based sales, Ari says, is the only way to come out with optimal results – both for the buyer and the seller.
You could say that Ari has revolutionized the entire sales mindset. You could even say that he's single-handedly saved hundreds of salespeople from a slow and painful death in the industry.
And the best part is that he did it by teaching them the one thing we all wish they'd learn to begin with: trust. Let's dig into this a little deeper.
The Phone Call That Changed It All
Ari is the founder and CEO of Unlock The Game. He's the world’s top authority on trust-based selling (a concept he launched into the spotlight).
In his best-selling book, “Unlock The Sales Game”, Ari describes his revolutionary sales approach based on getting to the truth and why having a mindset of focusing on deep trust, instead of “the sale” – is ironically, 10 times more profitable.
But let's rewind a little and hear about where it all began; the 'origin story', as Ari called it.
“About 20 years ago, I was a sales manager in a software company (now called Google Analytics). And this one call came in – huge opportunity. Lots of websites, big international company. The guy's a really nice guy, we had a great conversation. And he agrees to us having a conference call and live demo.”
This is pretty standard in the industry – you get a lead, you follow it, and you hope for the best.
“So I introduced myself, gave a live demo of the products, and I was hearing this noise on the phone call like, ‘Wow, this is great. This is amazing.’ And they started asking me all kinds of questions. How does it work? How do we install it? How to implement this? I mean, there were so much chemistry on this phone call. It was like a love fest on the phone.”
An Unexpected Twist
If you're a salesperson, you're drooling right now – right? It's the total dream. But you'll never guess what happened next.
“So I said my goodbyes. By complete accident, I hit the mute button instead of the off button. And a voice inside of me said ‘Ari, go to the dark side. Be a fly in the wall. Go where no one's ever gone in the world of sales before and listen in for a couple of seconds – you have nothing to lose.’ So I pulled my thumb back for a couple of seconds. They thought I’d hung up the phone.”
(I was on the edge of my seat at this point).
“Let me share with you what I heard, verbatim, word for word. I'll never forget it. They said, ‘We're not going to go with him. Keep using him for more information, and make sure we shop someplace else cheaper.’ Knife-in-heart twist – I was in a state of shock. I could not believe it.”
Let's be honest. Getting let down in the sales industry is in no way a rare occurrence. Most of the time, people already believe they have what they need – and if not, they have ten other options they're looking at besides you.
It's tough out there. I feel you, Ari.
“I finally stepped out of it and hit the off button. With a wall in front of me, I said to myself, ‘What did I do wrong?’ I was competent. I was professional. I wasn't pushing. I did everything I was supposed to do. And look what happened to me.”
This was a really tough moment, and a letdown to say the least. I imagine it was probably similar to a romantic interest leading you on, only to tell you they have a boyfriend after the fifth date.
It's lucky the letdown happened, though, or we might not have been having this conversation on the podcast at all. Being confronted with dishonesty was what triggered Ari's revelation.
“I had an epiphany, actually. It was this: somewhere along the way, it has become socially acceptable not to tell the truth to people who sell. Customers say things like ‘sounds good.’ ‘Send me information.’ ‘We're definitely interested.’ Without any intention of buying.”
He isn't wrong. I think we're all guilty of telling a salesperson 'I might be back later!' just to shake them off. They won't remember us in a few weeks, so why not? It's become the normal thing to do: the salesperson wants something from the customer, so they do what it takes to get the salesperson off their scent.
“You spend your entire time chasing and chasing. That's just so dehumanizing. They're always gonna keep their guard up, and give you just a few breadcrumbs to keep you interested. Because they're gonna hold back the truth from you, because they believe that your intention is to make that sale.”
This was the problem Ari saw – and without much hesitation, he made a plan to create a new normal.
Introducing the Trust-Based Sales Approach
After the shocking phone call, Ari got to work on his new idea.
“I realized that if I could figure out a system and a model to crack the code on this, and remove the pressure for the process, I could shift people's mindset away from the goal of the sale. Instead I could build a real trust with people – I mean deep trust, where you build what I call ‘moments of vulnerability’."
How refreshing does that sound? I'm just thinking back to the many times I've felt cornered, conned, or straight up manipulated in a sales situation. I'm guessing you have, too. Imagine if we could all just skip the games and get to a place where we're each honest and authentic with one another?
“We've been conditioned over the years to pursue and move this sales process forward with our own agenda, which is not their agenda. There's a crisscross happening. It's interesting because we're unconsciously aware of this. But we unconsciously put pressure into the process. We step on our own toes," Ari explained.
If you're in the business of sales, I'm guessing you've seen the many hundreds of sales 'gurus' and their books about mental manipulation. It's an entire industry; say the right words, convince the customer you're their friend. Wear the right clothes, even. Do what you have to do, right?
Wrong, says Ari. Get rid of the crap and work on building trust. That's the concept he now teaches to salespeople through Unlock The Game, whether they're new to the industry or have been selling for years.
“Your goal is not the sale at first; your goal is deep trust. We teach people how to do that very effectively.”
How To Follow Ari's Advice
The section of our podcast interview I want to focus on here is the practical; the how-to of developing trust-based selling. Trust is a critical component of any sale, and it's something that needs to be earned. Let's take a look at Ari's tips for building trust with potential clients.
1. Get Rid of the Relationship Obsession
All too often, we hear sales gurus banging on about this idea of 'building relationships'. For some reason it's the most alluring concept ever. But you wouldn't try to get friendly with some random person you just met on the street, would you? No, because it's not necessary.
The same goes for sales – trying to build a relationship with a potential client is a waste of time.
“We're taught by the gurus to build rapport. Get them to like you and know you. Once they like and know you, then they'll buy from you. But they know it's all the game. They know, with social norms, they have to be nice to you.”
We'd like to think that we're tricking people with our cheesy smiles and caring words, but in reality, potential clients can see right through it. Of course they can. Can't you?
“Here's what we do to build a relationship: 'Hey, how's it going? Nice to meet you. Where are you from?' We lay it on real thick in the beginning. And they know it's fake. They know it's just sales stuff. They don't want to become your friend anyway.”
It hurts, but it's true. When you answer a cold call from a salesperson, there's not a single part of you that wants them to be your friend. You just want them to fix your problems or go away.
“We've mixed the word relationship with trust. Stop building relationships with people in your sales process. Relationship building and trust building are mutually exclusive."
What's the Alternative?
You might be wondering – if I can't be friendly, what's my other option?
Simple: be friendly, but in a genuine fashion. Be friendly only to the extent that it's helpful in developing trust. According to Ari, there's an enormous difference.
“Trust building is different [to relationship building]; it's like a doctor-patient relationship. When you go see a doctor, they don't try to become your friend. They don't try to build a relationship with you. They say ‘Where does it hurt?’ They address the problem.”
There's your alternative – address the problem. Cut straight to the chase. Don't beat around the bush. This is what potential clients want from you, and it's what will help you to develop trust.
2. Put the Ball in Their Court
This is something we often forget. We're so busy talking about all the amazing things our product can do. 'It can spin in circles!' 'It folds your laundry in three seconds!' 'It can write emails faster than you can blink!'
And while we're screaming about our product's features, the potential client is trying to think of an escape route. To avoid this, you need to get your customer talking – not the other way around.
“Here's how the call should go: You show up in the call, ‘Nice to meet you. Nice to meet you as well.’ You put the ball in their court. ‘Can you tell me a little bit about your situation, about your business model? Tell us the challenges that you have right now, and we'll go from there.’ And then you give them an open ended question. And then just let them talk.”
What a powerful thing the open-ended question is. Stop talking for a moment, and you start to hear all the things your potential client has been wanting to say.
Here are a few things you can ask to get the person talking:
- What are some of your biggest problems with [x, y, z] at the moment?
- Have you tried anything to fix the problem so far?
- What are your thoughts on the current solutions out there?
- How much time and money have you already invested in this process?
- What has worked/what hasn't?
This only reveals the tip of the iceberg, but it gives you a start.
3. Go Down the Iceberg
Now we get to the good stuff. The potential client is talking, and they're starting to trust you. They've opened up about their business. It's go time – so go deeper.
“What I teach my clients is what I call going down the iceberg with people. That means peel back and unpack their problem; amplify it, show them the impact of it. And see if they want to fix it or not. That's before you go on your solution.”
This is where you really begin to channel your inner doctor. If you're a tech salesperson, you are now the IT doctor. If you sell furniture, you are now the house surgeon. (Or something. You get the idea.)
You need to diagnose the problem – and to do that, you need the patient to spill their guts. You need to ask some hard-hitting questions.
“So the first question is, 'Can you tell me a little about your situation and your challenges and your background?' They open up, you grab one of the problems they've got. You peel it back. ‘How long has that been a problem? For last six months? Wow. It's a serious problem.'”
Once you're aware of the problem and how significant it is for the customer, you've got somewhere to land. Now you need to find out where their priorities lie.
"And here is the definitive question to ask: ‘Is this a priority for you to solve?’ They've got to own the problem before you're allowed to provide the solution. It's like a therapist and a patient. If the patient doesn't own their own issues, they're the worst patients in the world.”
Compare this scenario to the overwhelming, relationship-first approach. Before, the customer hardly got a word in edgewise; now they're the one in control. They're the one steering the conversation. And most importantly, you've helped them understand the gravity of their own problem.
“This is not a happy conversation, because your job is to get to the source of the real problem. They won’t tell you at the beginning, because they don't trust you. It's your obligation to help them understand the gravity of their situation.”
4. Ask Permission
The final tip I'll cover here is this: Ari insists that the salesperson must ask for permission. No matter what you are asking or telling. Regardless of how friendly or easy the conversation has become. Always, always ask for permission.
“The number one rule is always ask for permission, whether it's to give information or to get information. You're always asking these questions: 'Is it okay if I tell you this?' 'Is it okay if I share this with you?' And people are more than happy to comply."
Isn't it amazing what a little bit of respect and politeness can do? It's a simple thing, but it goes a long way.
“Ask permission all the time. Don't just jump into it. ‘Let me show you a demo.’ ‘Let me show you some slides.’ ‘Would you be okay if I walked through our roadmap for how we help people solve the problems you've got? Would that be okay with you?’”
I don't know about you, but this makes total sense to me. I would be horrified if a doctor started cutting me open without asking permission. I would be even more horrified if they didn't explain what they were doing and why.
The same goes for salespeople. We need to build trust before we can start selling. And the only way to do that is by asking permission and giving information – on our buyer's terms, not ours.
(TL;DR – don't try to cut open any chests before you get permission from said chest's owner. It might be alarming. You may also lose your high-paying job.)
I've really only scratched the surface of what Ari teaches as part of his trust-based selling approach. It's a nuanced system, but it makes a lot of sense – especially when you consider how important trust is to the evolved human psyche, let alone the sales process.
If you're looking for a more in-depth exploration, I'd highly recommend reading Ari's book, Unlock the Sales Game. And of course, there's plenty more to hear in our podcast conversation which you can watch over on my channel. We talked more about cold calling, closing a sale, and the issues with traditional sales approaches.
As always, thanks for reading. Go out and build some trust today!
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