In a sales call, which of the following salesperson attributes is completely within the salesperson’s control:
The correct answer is B. Each of the other choices depends on the perceptions of others. Mahan Khalsa, author of Let’s Get Real or Let’s Not Play, described the idea with plainspoken eloquence back in 1999, when his book was first published: “The decision to trust doesn’t start inside [your prospect]—it starts inside of you. Intent is a choice, and your choice will have consequences. You will communicate your intent whether you want to or not . . . Based on your intent, people will decide to trust you or not.”
Not everyone adheres to this idealization. In a blog, 3 Sales Strategies to Build Trust When Your Prospects Don’t Believe You, Jill Konrath wrote, 1) Don’t say anything nice about your product/service, 2) Focus on being helpful in every interaction, and 3) Be truthful, even when it hurts. I can’t quarrel with her recommendations, but they tiptoe around the big beastly culprit behind distrust: bad intentions.
That sounds judgmental, so I’ll tone it down a notch. How about misguided intentions? They are everywhere in selling. Just sit in on a quarterly sales kickoff meeting, and breathe the smoke. Then, venture out into some sales calls. “My intention is to . . . close this deal . . . get this prospect to move to the next step . . . make my quarterly quota . . . keep my job for another year . . . make Club . . . impress my boss . . . make my bonus . . . outmaneuver my competitor . . . prove I can land a big customer.”
On the other end sits the prospect, who perceives the signals that emanate from those intentions. How many truly trust a salesperson who waltzes into a meeting, hellbent on closing the deal? The intention I’d like to see is “creating a mutually-valuable result that brings success to both seller and buyer.” I know it sounds soft and squishy. The same kindly sentiment you’d expect to hear Mr. Rogers say if he were making a sales call in his neighborhood. Hang in there with me, though. Any salesperson who doesn’t hold sincere concern for his or her client’s success isn’t trustworthy. But any salesperson who doesn’t appear to have a reciprocal concern for his own success appears strange—at least to me. “It’s not really important whether you buy from me. I just want to help out.” That seemingly-benign statement gives me the jitters.
A 2012 article from Psychology Today, Positive Intentions Build Workplace Trust, offers three questions to ask about personal intentions:
1. What is your attachment level? The higher your attachment to a particular outcome, the greater indicator of your intention.
2. What is your comfort level? If you’re feeling great about what you’re doing and how you’re doing it, your comfort level, most likely, matches a positive intention.
3. What is your assumption level? Check your intentions by the assumptions you make about others, since we tend to believe people are like us. If you’re well intentioned and trustworthy, you’ll assume most are, too. If you’re not, you’ll doubt others are.
Good stuff, though I disagree with #2. Not a week goes by that I don’t learn about a person with fiduciary responsibility caught stealing from the till. A person can have truly malevolent intentions without experiencing a shred of remorse. To my knowledge, nobody has said, “making those illegal deposits to my personal bank account over the past three years was one of the toughest things I’ve ever done!”
The road to sales is paved with positive intentions. But fostering positive intentions isn’t formulaic. Positive intent requires a combination of empathy, honesty and moral integrity – behaviors anyone can cleanly show in seconds on a PowerPoint slide, but can only be modeled over years of consistent practice.
Many things influence sales outcomes, but positive intentions are one of a select few that are under a salesperson’s full control. When building trust, why squander that important choice?