From the October 2002 issue of Startups

With the continuing move toward online selling and Internet marketing, lately I've been receiving many newsletters referencing "building trust." What is trust? Why is it important? Moreover, if it's that important, how do I get it?

Tons of business books suggest that building relationships with your customer both offline and online is important. But what constitutes a business relationship? Do I have to like people and be their friend before they'll buy from me?

These questions are crucial to all sizes of business and all types of sales, whether you're selling a product or service, selling directly or via the Web. But entrepreneurs who don't yet have brand name recognition within their market face a few unique challenges.

Challenge #1: Before you sell your product or service, you have to sell you. Long ago, salespeople subscribed to a concept of multiple tiny purchases called the "series of decisions" sales model. They were taught to get minor commitments throughout the sales process that edged the prospect closer and closer to a purchase decision. Today, if the prospect doesn't know who you are and what you represent, a salesperson may never get the chance to ask for any kind of commitment. The first job is to earn the right to communicate with a potential customer.

Challenge #2: Your prospect's time is limited. Starting out any new relationship is hard. Starting out without a proven name or brand behind you is close to impossible. Look at your e-mail inbox this morning. There's a constant and never-ending flow of requests for your time . from sources you've never heard of.

Things don't get any better away from the office. We all have hectic schedules that place huge demands on our attention and limit the amount of energy and interest we give each other.

Challenge #3: Everyone wants guaranteed results. Relationships are successful because both parties are comfortable with the expected outcome. When someone buys from companies like Dell, IBM, Nike, Taco Bell, Hertz, Budget and so on, they already know what they're getting before they agree to purchase. They've been conditioned over time. We know that "if it absolutely has to be there," we're going to call Fed Ex.

If you and I expect a guarantee of service from the people with whom we do business, it stands to reason that the people you sell to would expect the same. How do they know what you'll actually provide in the way of service? Is your product going to do what you say it will? For a small business or service provider, it's sometimes tough to make these claims.

The Real Issue

The Real Issue: Without a Brand You Have to Make the First Sale First!
Clients pay me to teach them how to sell, but I still can't make the sale for them. And while techniques, strategies and processes can help, if the person using them just doesn't care about the customer, there won't be any sales conversation. Before anyone can hear you and your offer, you have to spend time and effort establishing your credibility and developing a rapport with your visitor. This is the first sale. This is your personal "brand."

Even though you ultimately want to GTM (get the money), you still need to make the sale. If you don't, you won't even get a chance to ask for the money, much less get it.

A first sale isn't limited to offline selling. A slick Web site and the latest technology don't really tell who you are. Establishing your credibility--essentially, your personal value, what you stand for--is vital to getting the visitor to read the copy on the site.

The first sale is all about like. It's a feeling of comfort. It's about trust, caring, having a deep interest in what your customer's problems are and sincerely wanting to help them. In past articles, we talked about techniques--things to do and say during the sales conversation that moved the sale forward. Notice, I haven't even talked about benefits, wants, needs, qualifying questions and the traditional "sales stuff." Instead, I'd like to just emphasize that, while what you sell is important and has to provide value to your prospect, there's a higher value that must be purchased first.

Your personal brand is the value you bring to the sales conversation. Here are some questions to help fine-tune your personal brand:

  • What do you value during the sales conversation: your customers' best interests or your commissions?
  • What part of your sales job are you passionate about? Is it the money you earn or the service you provide?
  • Would you buy from you? Get on the other side of the sales call. What is the customer's perception of you? How effective are you in communicating your personal interest in solving your customer's problem? How do you know that?

Every opportunity to interact with another person brings risks and opportunity. This is especially true during a sales conversation. Your customers don't really care about your past accomplishments. They aren't even interested in what you might do sometime in the future. What is important to the person across the desk or phone from you is knowing that you care about them as a customer.

Watch any successful sales professional in action, and it's easy to see the passion for what they do and how they can help. Then look at your efforts--in person or online. Do you have a personal brand? Have you made your "first" sale?


James Maduk is one of North America's leading sales speakers. He is the creator and publisher of more than 80 online sales training courses, and he broadcasts daily on VirtualSelling Radio. You can reach James at (613) 825-0651 or visit his Web site at www.jamesmaduk.com.