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Home » Run Your Business

Are you trustworthy?


Buying is quite often an emotional decision. When a client is faced with a choice of two competing offers the chances are they will buy from the person that they trust the most.

At one time big business would equal trust worthy. But with a number of corporte scandals over recent years, big is often treated with distrust and small is seen as the new big.

We live in a topsy turvey world.  So how can you build trust when you deal with clients?




A few years ago Small businesses were told to embrace their “smallness” by showing photographs of the owner on the about page. Now that’s changed to showing a video from the business owner, telling stories from your personal experiences.

People trust people. So the advice is always to show the personality behind the business,  but not to bend to a style which you’re not comfortable with or doesn’t reflect your true personality.

This is all fine as it stands and helps to create trust between you and your potential customers. But understanding the process that buyers go through when making decisions to buy your professional services will help you close more sales and make more money.

Traditional Sales Model

The traditional sales model represents buying as some sort of rational decision making process. This model (as shown below) makes 3 major assumptions:

1) that the buyer follows some sort of rational decision making process

2) the selller aspires to sell better

3) that the buyer follows a rational process when it comes to buying.

The trouble with this approach is that professional services aren’t sold this way.  Over time buyers come to acknowledge an issue. Whilst buyers may initially screen on the qualifications or experience of the consultant/designer/coach etc but they asses on trust based on how well the consultant/designer etc understands the particular issue facing the client.

Generally speaking most sellers of professional services aren’t sales people and therefore the biggest challenge that the sellers of professional services face is to incorporate sales into their view of professionalism.

Secondly as Charles Green notes in  Selling Professional Services:

Smart clients don’t just compare and contrast. Smart clients know that they, and the firm they hire, will never have enough data, time or money–that they must deal with risk and uncertainty for high stakes. What they want, above all, is an advisor who can be trusted, in all respects, in the face of high levels of uncertainty.

Finally, if you’re selling widgets or physical goods rather than services, you’ve got to remember that the sales process is part of the buying process.  Title passes to the buyer at the point of sale, after sales is handled by someone else. That doesn’t happen in professional services.  The seller is usually the person who does the delivery.

So as sellers of professional services, we need to adopt a different approach.

Trust based selling

Trust needs to exist in all sales relationships, not just selling professional services.  According to David Maister in The Trusted Advisor trust is made up of 4 components:

C = Credibility – buyers believe what you say

R = Reliability – buyers believe what you’ll do

I = Intimacy – buyers trust talking with you about X

S = Self orientation – buyers trust that you’re focused on them

Whilst the first two items are the basis of rational decision making, the other two are mainly not rational in their nature.  These elements are assessed on the basis of interaction and ease of communication. They are based on shared understanding and shared perspectives.

Here’s how trust develops:


Engagement happens when you build a sufficient level of relationship with your prospect so that they recognise that you are the person to talk about their problem.


Listen happens at two levels. What is being said and what is not being said. What is not being said is often more important than what is being said. But you need to listen without interruption and complete concentration. Many people think they are good listeners. When you’re listening to someone speak do you think you know the answer before they’ve finished telling you what they have to tell you? At which point you stop listening. do not offer any input until the other person has finished speaking.


Framing is where you identify the exact root of the problem.  Where you ask questions to clarify your understanding of the client’s problem, rather like a Doctor when they ask “when you do this,  what happens to the pain?”. Each question seeks to understand further and at the same time getting from the client a “warm feeling” that you understand their issues.


Envison is where you jointly agree an alternative reality with your client. For example say you’re talking with someone about wanting to loose weight. How much weight, are you talking lifestyle choices such as stopping smoking or exercising or are you just talking about dieting? How much exercise can you commit to? All of these questions and responses help create a picture of what the future looks like and that the future is much better than the current situation.


The final stage in the process is gaining commitment to action. Put  simply it is the step by step actions that you and the client will need to take to move the project forward.

Trust based selling model will work for rational decision making but also for the irrational elemements.  At the begining of the process establishing reliability and credibility will be key, but for not rational decision making it’s the middle 3  elements – Listen, Frame and Envison, which become critical.

Trust based selling will work for those professionals who are uncomfortable in “selling” but more importantly it reflects the process by which the buyers of professional services make a decision. Therefore, by establishing trust with your prospective client, you’ll form a much better relationship which should in turn secure more sales, but more importantly form a long term successful partnership.

What do you think? Could adopting Trust Based Selling help you sell more of your services? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.