Building Trust in Sales: The Doctor is in... and Listening

Really, the title says it all. People buy from people they trust. And building trust means being willing to listen as much as anything else.

Why are we writing about something so obvious? Consider:

  • The vast majority of sales and marketing literature discusses problem solving; most modern companies call their products and services solutions. It’s usually assumed that solving a prospect’s problems is the #1 way to start building trust.
  • However: the most successful salespeople are the ones that find ways to add value by meeting their prospects’ unconsidered needs.
  • Many times, a prospect will be aware of immediate problems… but they might not be aware of 1) future problems that are coming down the pike, or 2) the underlying, systemic causes of their immediate problems.

Taken together, these three facts suggest that the best salespeople are a bit like doctors. They are professionals who can listen to a prospect (“patient”), observe or uncover immediate pains (“symptoms”), and make an underlying recommendation (a “diagnosis”). Once the diagnosis is made, the salesperson has not only established their credibility—they’ve gone half way to selling a solution.

Let’s take this metaphor a little farther. What qualities make for the best doctors? And how does that translate into the world of sales?

They Listen

A good doctor doesn’t come in with a preconceived idea of what’s wrong with you—or, if they do, they keep it to themselves. They listen to you pains and problems. The ask questions. Their goal is not to prescribe medicine or sell you on surgery, but to first figure out what’s really wrong.

So, if you’re a salesperson, and you want to establish trust, don’t rush to solve problems. Listen first. Try to figure out what’s really wrong.

They Look for Patterns

A good doctor is experienced, and that experience let’s them see patterns. Where we might see a runny nose and ask for a box of tissues and some NyQuil, a good doctor will say: “No, you have a sinus infection. Let’s get you on some antibiotics.”

A good salesperson is the same way. They can listen to a prospect and, when they’ve heard everything, nod their head and say “Yup. I’ve seen this before. Here’s what you should try.”

They’re Personal

Even though a good doctor sees general patterns, they remember that each patient is a unique person. They work to establish a good one-on-one relationship built on the listening and expertise mentioned above. The approach is kind and candid, not canned.

In sales, the more traditional mass-selling approaches appear untrustworthy. For example, the salesperson who blasts an outreach letter to a few hundred (or a few thousand) prospects without any sort of customization or follow-up will get very few responses. But, in the process, they will make the brand look desperate and make themselves look predatory.

So, if you are eager to build trust with a prospect, don’t worry so much about appearing likable. And don’t rush to solve their problems, either. First, slow down. Take the time to listen to them and ask lots of questions. Then, when you see a pattern emerge, you can share your knowledge and experience with the prospect. Do this in a way that’s personal and human, and you’ll be well on your way to making the sale.

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