Building trust


There’s a saying that people only buy from trusted sources, and if you combine that with the one “people do business with people” you begin to recognise just how important it is that your prospects and customers can trust you / your organisation / your people.

Establishing trust is difficult and can take a long time. Destroying it can take seconds. I know I have quoted this before, but it bears repetition:

Trust arrives on foot and departs in a Ferrari – Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England.

The rules for maintaining trust are actually very simple.

Be consistent. Trust requires certainty and inconsistency is the enemy of certainty.
Be very clear. Nothing destroys trust faster than disappointed expectations, and they often result from a lack of clarity. Who is going to do what by when?

Keep your promises

If you are going to fail to meet a promise, tell your customer early!
Be responsive. If you don’t answer questions or provide information when requested, your customer will think you have something to hide.

Building trust takes longer and is a little more complex.

Be visible. Your prospect has to know you first. If you know who your prospects are, and where they are, make sure you are visible there. That might be a trade magazine, a particular website or an exhibition. If your prospects are there, you should be too.

Be helpful / of value Your prospect has to like you. If you provide something for nothing or for very little (an email address) you are helping your prospect. We like people who help. What can you give away?

Make it easy. Your prospect will still be nervous and hesitant. What can you do to make the decision an easier one? Is there a trial version or a low cost “light” program they can experience?

Give guarantees. You are confident that you deliver value, so guarantee it to your prospect.

That’s it from a customer / prospect perspective, but what about building trust within your teams?

Similar principles apply – do what you said you would do, when you said you would do it. That will take you a very long way.


Was the fault in the system or in the execution?

Every business has times when things don’t go according to plan. A customer was let down and made a fuss, you are embarrassed and have to take remedial action. All of this costs money and time.

It is really easy to jump to conclusions and decide it was the fault of an individual. You remonstrate with the individual and that makes you feel better.

It doesn’t make them feel better – and it may not make their colleagues feel any better!

Take a step back & consider if the fault was really with the individual, or was it with the “system” they are operating in?

Consistent performance comes from well-established processes and procedures that miniseries the amount of human input required to achieve the end result. In many respects that is the basis of a quality system.

Do you have a set of processes and procedures, or are you just relying upon the knowledge and skill of the individual? Is it a blend of the two? You have processes, but they only work because of the individual’s ability to interpret them and apply their experience?

The perfect system is one where you could put a new person on the job, give them the procedure and they achieve the right result. Ultimately you are trying to de-skill the operation, so that everything is easy.

One great advantage of getting the procedures right is that it allows you to assign more complex tasks to the people who were using all their skills and experience to get the result without the procedure. You can give the de-skilled process to less experienced or less capable people.

That allows you to recruit at lower levels, invest in training those new people to learn your systems and grow into the business. If you don’t de-skill the processes, you have to hire people with greater skill levels who are going to be more expensive.

Time invested in creating processes is never wasted – but be a little wary. If you create an “idiot proof” system, someone will prove themselves to be a better idiot!


Is loyalty hurting your business?


When I ran my own business I was proud of the fact that I cared about the people who worked for me. I gave them every chance, treated them fairly and looked after them.

I found out that one of them had been more than a little devious. He was a salesman, on the road all the time, visiting the office perhaps once a month. I had weekly reports on his activity and phone calls during the working day, and he was generating what appeared to be a sensible prospect list.

Somehow, the prospects never quite turned into sales. When I eventually let him go I discovered that he had actually been working for another business whilst claiming to work full time for me.

Looking back, I could see when this had all started. He had worked for me for about 18 months by the time I let him go – or more accurately I had paid him for 18 months. I think he was not focused on my business for perhaps 3 months.

I liked Derek and he was a really professional salesman. His initial results were so good I had him “buddy” one of the other sales guys for a few days.

I didn’t see the fall-off in performance until too late. I was suffering from misplaced loyalty – I thought he would come good again, but my delay and inaction cost us money.

Working with clients I often see the same problem. What is clear to me, as an outsider with no relationship to the individual, is clouded and obscured to the business leaders by their loyalty.

Sometimes it is not an individual in the business but a supplier you’ve worked with for years.

In every case you need to separate the emotional connection from the business need and do the right thing for the business.

If you don’t act, you are not doing good. You may be doing severe damage – perhaps even putting the business and all the others who rely on you at risk.

Weigh up all the facts and make the business decision.


Actions speak louder than words


In business it is important to remember that only a part of your message comes from your words, whether they are written or spoken.

You may have a company mission statement that refers to customer service and support, and create web content that talks about world class customer service.

Perhaps you have a statement that talks about continuous improvement, but do you actually have a system or process that supports the statement?

Internally, perhaps you have something in the induction program that refers to every team member being valued and part of the family?

In each and every case if you don’t follow through with actions to support those words they become worse than meaningless.

Your statements are promises.

You promise to provide a level of service and support, you imply that you value your customers and will “go the extra mile” to help them.

You promise to your customers (and your team) that you will improve the products or services.

You promise to make every new employee welcome and create a family atmosphere.

If your actions don’t support your words, you are breaking your promises. When you break a promise, you sow the seeds of mistrust. If you can say one thing but do another, why should I believe you next time?

If you say something – whether it is verbal, or on your website, or perhaps in a proposal – make sure you do it.

That means that sometimes you will have to say no, and disappoint the other party. No, Mr Customer, we cannot do it that quickly. No, Mr Customer, we don’t support that feature.

Say what you mean, and do what you say you will. Your customers and your team will respect and respond to it.


Bad Weather shouldn’t stop you

They say there’s no such thing as bad weather only inadequate clothing.

I walked the dog one morning in a howling gale and with heavy rain driven on the wind, but I was wrapped up warm with hat, boots and gloves.

In your business if you are properly prepared for whatever events are coming your way then coping with those events is easy.

What if events catch you unaware on the other hand?

That would be like going out in that howling gale in a t shirt, shorts and flip flops. Some people might enjoy it, but most of us would not (the dog wouldn’t care either way as long as she got her walk!)

What events might catch you out and what can you do to prepare for them?

If the market you serve – or the market your customers serve – is going through a down-turn, or seems likely to do so, does your business plan reflect that? It’s all very well taking last year’s numbers and adding a bit, but if in the meantime the market has taken a turn for the worse your plan is probably unrealistic.

If the market is picking up and there is more business out there, does your plan (and do your sales targets) reflect that or are the sales team getting an easy ride?


If you do business in multiple currencies, do you have a plan for exchange rate movements or are you just hoping for the best? At the very least you should be hedging your exposure but I’ve always preferred natural hedging, where your income and expenditure are matched by currency, whenever possible.

Customers and Suppliers

If your business is dependent upon any one customer or any one supplier, you should have a plan to secure your position, but also a plan to minimise your risks.

Throughout your business think of the external risks, seek to minimise them and develop a plan to cope should the worst happen.