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Understanding Why Trust Is a Challenge for the Sales Profession

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I believe in the nobility of sales and the sales profession. We create incredible value for our customers when we use authentic and practical sales skills. We possess the power to inspire our customers to say YES because we seek to build win-win solutions WITH them.

Trust is not present at the onset of a new customer relationship. Without trust, there's no foundation to build a partnership.

Salespeople and marketers face significant headwinds and challenges when it comes to trust. Hubspot's 2016 Global Job Survey asked a thousand participants about the trustworthiness of different professions. The results were concerning.

Only 3 out 100 surveyed see the sales profession as trustworthy.

Salespeople rank just under marketing at 3%. Only 3 out of 100 believe that sales is a trustworthy profession. The highest-ranking jobs were doctor, firefighter, and teacher. You need to drop below lawyer and investment banker to finally find the marketing and the sales professions. That's a challenge for us. We feel it every time we engage customers. Customers are worried about being sold a lemon, a false story, an unrealistic expectation. They are concerned the salesperson is only fulfilling his self-interests. Customers recognize the potential for conflict when they engage us. Maybe they are conflict-averse like most people. If we're pushing and pushing, that forces the customer to uncomfortably push back. It may be easier for customers to avoid us than engage with us. A relationship without trust is a relationship that can't progress.

I've done a bit of research to try and figure out why trust is low for us sales warriors. The prominent negative stereotypes are looming in pop culture. The Wolf of Wall Street is not a glamorous portrayal of a salesperson. A second example is the Alec Baldwin character in Glengarry Glen Ross, the stereotypical pushy salesperson "motivating" the other salespeople to "Always Be Closing." Yes, it's great to get the "close." However, these stereotypes do more damage than good to our noble profession. 

Interestingly, in the trust survey from Hubspot, the car sales profession was classified as a separate professional sales category. I feel bad for my brothers and sisters in car sales. I was wondering why is it that they get a bum rap. What the research shows is compelling. In life's most significant decisions, real estate and buying a car, most customers are working with low tenured and inexperienced salespeople (on average.) Home purchases and car purchases are material financial and lifestyle decisions we make.

Turnover rates in real estate and the auto sales profession are some of the highest in sales. Barriers to entering these sales roles are often lower than other sales professions like capital equipment, professional services, software, and healthcare. Thus, there aren't as many seasoned real estate salespeople and car salesmen serving as thoughtful partners while you make significant life investments. We all know what it feels like to work with a salesperson lacking strong sales skills and product knowledge. We sour on salespeople who can't help us make the best decision. The challenges we have with salespeople in life's most significant purchases amplifies and spreads to form negative stereotypes for salespeople in general. The best real estate and auto salespeople are gems. The challenge our profession faces is when a sour experience with a poor salesperson on a material purchase stains all of us.

The first step in building trust with a customer is having the awareness that trust doesn't exist at the beginning of the relationship.

Great salespeople orientate to a trust-building posture early in the new relationship. They find "=" sign connections, remain thoughtfully authentic, and choose their communication approach with purpose. I'm confident that The Sales Warrior Within can take on the trust challenge each time out. Once trust lives, the relationship rotates to an open and sharing environment. It's here where the true win-win outcomes thrive.

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Andy Olen is a speaker, guide, and activator for salespeople and leaders. He hosts the podcast The Sales Warrior Within and shares his sales insights and leadership innovation.