Let me tell you an old story, a fable really. A man was getting ready to take a journey through a strange land. Be careful, he was warned, there are two communities of people who live there. They both look exactly the same, but one is honest and trustworthy and the other lies with every breath.
Walking along on his journey, the man comes across another person on the trail. Don’t worry, the person says, you can trust me.
That’s hard to say, but one thing is definitely true: Training and trust are inexplicably linked. If people distrust the messenger, the message won’t sink in. Coaching can’t work without having trust as a two-way street. Even with elective, non-mandated training, the learner has to trust the process and the potential outcome.
Trust isn’t always an easy issue, especially during periods of economic hardship and other trying times. Happily, trust can be the by-product of good training.
That brings me to the wide world of sales, where trust and training collaborate for the benefit of all involved. If you take either of those elements from the sales process, the bottom line starts to suffer. Without some level of trust, sales don’t get made. And without some level of training, sales people can’t hit their full potential.
But trust plays another role in sales, sadly as a hurdle to be cleared. The general public perception of sales people isn’t always good and that wave definitely rocks all boats.
But the good news is things could be worse.
I recently came across a survey conducted by Sandler Training, a leading provider of sales and management training. The survey gauged public perception of various professions to determine which are considered the least worthy of trust. Sales people were No. 2 on that list, but they were a very distant second.
Politicians – no surprise there – topped the list, with 68% of respondents ranking politicians as the least trust-worthy profession. Sales people were next up, but cited by only 9% of respondents, just ahead of lawyers (7%), journalists (6%), bankers (6%) and mechanics (5%).
Personally, I’m trying to ignore the fact that I’ve been employed in two of those low-trust positions (think back to that fable: Would I lie to you?). So let me quickly dazzle you with numbers, because anyone who can cite a lot of statistics is always reputable. (You’re probably thinking about the old joke now, about how 67% of statistics are made up on the spot … 78% of the people know that.)
Back to the real world. The Sandler survey looked deeper into the issues of sales and trust and came up with some pretty fascinating breakdowns. Car salespeople were listed as the least trustworthy of sales professionals by 38% of respondents. Financial salespeople were second on that group, followed by sales professionals who hawk business services, insurance, training (sorry to see that there), telecommunications and home improvements. The most-trusted groups of sales people, interestingly, were retail clerks.
Want more results? The survey also looked at preferable methods of contacting new customers. Not surprisingly, the impersonal touches of email and social media are most preferred (75%), and door-to-door salespeople were ranked most annoying. Phone calls from sales people also riled a large number of respondents, especially those who are reached by cell phone for sales calls.
Naturally, sales is a necessary element in the business world … products are manufactured and marketed with the singular desire to be sold. And that, of course, is the cue for training to come on stage. Being aware of these perceptions is important, but only training can alleviate those fears.
Listen to David Mattson, CEO of Sandler Training: “Salespeople need to establish trust and gain credibility with a prospect. This requires the right skill set, which can be achieved through a reputable sales training program.”
If a goal of your training initiatives is to boost your company’s sales performance, spend some time thinking about trust, and what that means to your clients and prospects. Universal problems like this can be hard to solve, but this is also one of those cases where you get credit for trying, for moving the ship in the right direction.
Feel free to share any ideas you have for improving the sense of trust for salespeople, or any of the professions discussed here. I’m not sure we can do anything about the issues of trust in politics (“I don’t think there’s anything in that black bag for me,” Dorothy said), but the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
Trust me on this.