Some 98% of sales and BD professionals say trust is critical to their sales success.

In our studies we ask them on a scale from 0-11 how strongly customers trust them, as a person, the product and the company they work for (the brand).

Interestingly, when doing the same exercise with customers, sales professionals have assessed their customer’s trust in the product and the brand/organisation quite accurately. But when it comes to judging customers' trust in them personally, they typically overestimate it by 10-15%.

On the face of it that doesn’t sound much. But in practice it makes a huge difference. Let’s assume Andrew is the IT Manager for a large corporate and responsible for the selection of IT&T services and equipment. Our account manager, let’s call her Ellen, thinks Andy, as she calls him, would give her an 8 out of 10 on the trust scale. That would assume Andy trusts her.

He would welcome her calls and meetings. He would listen to her suggestions and be open to buying. He would still look around and query things (only at 9 and 10 out of 10  doesn’t happen any more), but generally feels comfortable with her. For Ellen this means she can be herself, not be totally on her guard, get off topic a bit and contact at will, knowing she is not bothering Andy.

Now let’s look at it with a 15% lower trust score from Andy at 6.8 out of 10. Our studies show that if customers score 5 or even 6, they mean they don’t trust, but neither distrust. Their trust neutrality means they are sitting on the fence, scrutinising and weighing up whether to trust, continue to not trust or distrust (0-4 is distrust, 5 and 6 neutral, 7 and 8 is low trust and 9 and 10 high trust).

At that level Andy would like to be called Andrew. He doesn’t just want to be contacted without good reason. Though he is a customer, he continuously compares and looks for better offers and he is price sensitive. He has a number of suppliers he can go to and will buy from that panel. If there is someone else he would give a score of 8 (assuming product and brand trust are similar) that person would be his preference.

Thereby, by misjudging Andrew’s trust by just 15%, Ellen’s account management and sales approach is wrong, if not detrimental. It precludes her from taking the right actions to build more trust to gain more business and make Andrew and Andy that happily buys from her.

That trust perception/reality gap is by no means unusual. Of course, we believe we are trusted – and highly trusted. We work hard for it. Just the mere suggestion that we are not trusted gets our knickers in a knot. ‘What are you saying? That I can’t build trust? That I’m not trustworthy?’. Being trusted is so much of our self image and our professional pride that the mere suggestion is an insult and a personal attack. Exactly that attitude though is what we need to overcome if we want to be more successful.

Acknowledging that trust building and learning how to understand our customer’s trust is not something we are born with, but it's something we need to learn.