Sales: Earning trust to make tough decisions easy


Recently, I had a 30 minute meeting with a truly competent salesperson, who helped me to clarify a business decision that I had been struggling with for several months. In one line, he summed up the correct choice. I am implementing it.

The decision details need to remain confidential now and there may be rather painful repercussions (generally most decisions have downsides as well as upsides). Yet the process by which I made up my mind provides some insights into effective sales approaches.

Since I cannot provide details of the specific circumstance (or identify the salesperson here), I realize these observations may not have the same power as if the actual examples could be shared. Nevertheless, the rules still apply.

I trusted the sales representative because I’ve known and worked with him for many years.

Relationships matter, and earned, long-range relationships carry the greatest weight in decision-making. This suggests that while you can, in some cases, go in cold and seal a major deal, generally you won’t get far unless you have built the groundwork. This is why in assessing go/no go decisions for RFP responses, one of the key question is: “Have we worked with the potential client in the past, or do we have some special connection and relationship with the organization and its decision-makers.” If not, (unless there is a truly exceptional story), the answer is you should pass; or at best, align yourself with another organization with whom both you and the potential client have a great relationship.

He made his advice not primarily based on self-interest.

Yes, there is one variation of the potential arrangement resulting from our conversation that would be in the person’s self-interest (and probably mine, as well), but his take-away advice would be relevant regardless of that option. In other words, while he had everything to gain by being helpful; being helpful would in no ways guarantee him a gain. Here, integrity in the selling process requires us to be thoughtful of the real needs of the potential client, and do what is right.

He kept it simple, and the choice clear.

I think he summed up the key elements that led to my decision in one or two sentences with about 20 to 30 words. Of course he could boil down the substance because he knew the back story and the details behind the decision, but he didn’t need to mask his observations with complexity and overwhelming data. Sometimes you can spend a lot of time building in “what ifs” and complex calculations — and for certain circumstances, these may be necessary. But the best sales decisions can be simplified to a practical and immediate call to action.

Regardless of the decision, we would continue the relationship.

The best example of how not to do this right occurred some years ago, when sales contractors in one of our markets tried to forge an alliance with a significant local industry association. In the end, the association declined the project. My sales contractors simply gave up on the group. This, with hindsight, was folly because the connections, community and trust we could have won by continuing to work with that association, without selfish intent, would have been incredible. (On a personal level, when a certain woman after three dates suggested: “Let’s be friends”, I accepted that answer, and was friends with her for a decade. Then we were both ready for a relationship change. We’ve now been married almost 24 years.)

Solid salespeople can influence really major decisions from often-skeptical decision-makers in minutes with simple insights and observations. However, they don’t get there by banging in the door and pushing for a “close”. Integrity, competence, and lasting relationships really matter.

You can reach me by emailing or visiting this page to share some ideas and insights.

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