One day many years ago I was chatting about sales with one of my mentors, Dick Westbrook, who also happened to work for me at Mustang Engineering.
Dick said something I found illuminating.
“All we ever sell is trust,” he told me.
He was right, of course. We might have thought we were selling our consulting services, but in reality what we actually did every day was try to get potential clients to believe and trust that we could deliver the best solution possible for them.
These days, everyone wonders about the new normal businesses will face as we work our way out of the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. I can tell you one thing. Regardless of what other changes that new normal brings, you will still be selling trust.
With that in mind, let me share a few thoughts about selling trust that worked for Mustang Engineering and I am confident will work for you:
- Trust begins at the top. If you are the CEO or owner of a business, or the leader of any organization, that sense of trust begins with you. Sales is part of your job, even if you don’t see it that way and even if you have a whole assemblage of salespeople working under you. As the person in charge, you need to sell your organization’s mission to potential clients, to employees, and to the general public in order to spread the word about what you do and how you’re better than or different from your competitors.
- Don’t oversell yourself. One way you build trust is by not constantly promoting your services to clients—especially when you’re not right for the project. At Mustang Engineering, the company I helped found, we sometimes even recommended that clients hire another engineering firm for part of a project when that seemed to make sense. That probably surprised a few of them, but if you refer clients to other companies, they’ll recognize that you have their best interests at heart. (Remember the scene in Miracle on 34th Street when the Macy’s department store Santa Claus directs customers to better deals at competitor Gimbel’s? In the process, he wins over Macy’s customers for life.)
- Focus your sales efforts. It’s especially important to be smart when you don’t have a huge sales force, which may be the case for more companies than usual thanks to the current economic downturn. Don’t waste time chasing projects you’re not likely to get. Be realistic and prove yourself on the work you can get (building more trust in the process), and those successes will lead to more and bigger wins.
- Partner with your customers to reduce their costs and yours. This may sound counterintuitive, but it’s a better approach that provides more work and happier customers in the long run. You can do this by using “reimbursable contracting,” where the cost is based on the actual expenses of doing the work, rather than a lump sum. This fosters a true partnership with you customers because you are working together in a collaborative manner to reduce the total project cost and schedule.
- Use your network to get your foot in the door with new clients. Ask your vendors to mention your name when they are calling on their other clients. This improves your possibilities of getting work because your company name has been implanted in the client’s mind. This approach, of course, doesn’t work if there’s not a lot of trust all around. The vendor is unlikely to give you a mention if you haven’t built a relationship of trust with them. At the same time, those potential clients need to have some trust with the vendors to give consideration to their recommendation.
As you move forward in whatever your new normal turns out to be, forget for a moment that you are selling automobile parts, computers, cell phones, books, clothing, power tools, or whatever it is your business does
Focus on selling trust. That will be the critical factor in determining whether your customers come back again and again.