No one is going to buy from you if they don’t trust you first. That can be a challenge for entrepreneurs, because we have to build that relationship from scratch, whereas a new salesman for IBM or Mercedes-Benz can coast a bit on the reputation of his firm.
Of course, trust naturally develops over time. If you’ve worked alongside someone for five years, you probably have a pretty good sense of her character. But most entrepreneurs can’t afford to wait years or decades -- we need to make sales now.
Here are four strategies to create trust -- and help your business -- more rapidly than you thought possible.
1. Create content regularly. It’s hard to trust someone if you’re not entirely sure they know what they’re doing. Dispel this concern upfront by creating prolific online content that demonstrates your expertise. It could be blog posts, podcasts, videos or a great Twitter feed -- anything that shows you’ve put time into thinking about these issues and have a knowledgeable point of view. Plus, it has the side benefit of enhancing your Google search results. If someone looks you up, they’re very likely to see high-quality material that you’ve created, rather than some of the more random things about you online.
2. Explain the pros and the cons. We all know what a sales pitch usually sounds like: someone bloviating about how great his product is, and how it’s absolutely perfect for your needs. You can up-end expectations, however, if you’re clear about what you can’t do or which situations would be a bad fit for your product or service. If you tell me you can’t service my home sprinkler system because you specialize in corporate accounts, I may be mildly disappointed in the short run, but I’ll remember your integrity in steering me to a more affordable option and am much more likely to remember and call on you when my business needs help with that issue.
3. Disclose any biases or conflicts. There’s nothing wrong with creating win-win arrangements, such as having someone pay you a referral fee when you send them business. But you don’t want the customer to find out later and wonder if you sent her to the best place or merely the place that compensated you best. It’s essential to be transparent and upfront about any arrangements. Don’t do anything to dent the trust that the customer places in you.
4. Limit your pitching. There’s a time and a place for making sales pitches -- and it’s usually not the first time you meet a new prospect (unless you’ve set up a meeting specifically for that purpose). You want them to understand that you would like to develop a long-term relationship, not just a hit-and-run purchase transaction. Take the time to get to know them as individuals, and wait for an opportune moment to mention your product or service -- when they’re asking about it or when it’s truly relevant. You’ll get much better results (and have more satisfying relationships) if you can put aside the “need to pitch” for a while and let it evolve organically. That doesn’t mean you never pitch -- it just means you should wait for the right moment when you can bring things up in a natural, unstilted way that doesn’t reek of high-pressure sales.