Building Trust in Sales: What You Need to Know About Ethical Persuasion

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  • Influence your prospect’s expectations by paying close attention to every element of your first impression. You have less than a second to start building trust.
  • Michael Reddington, President of InQuasive, Inc., breaks down the psychology of the interrogation room and how it can be used in sales.
  • He says it’s possible to use the truth to your advantage if you keep your persuasive techniques ethical.

Have you ever been in an ethical dilemma in the middle of your sales process? Maybe tempted to stretch the truth to make the deal happen?

Persuading your prospects that it’s worth investing in you — and whatever you’re selling — is a tall order. Sometimes, they need a little push.

But how much truth-stretching is too much?

I posed this question to Michael Reddington, President of InQuasive, Inc. on an episode of INSIDE Inside Sales. Michael is a Certified Forensic Interviewer and developer of the Disciplined Listening Method. He’s mastered the art of ethical persuasion and now trains sales professionals to apply it to their interactions with prospects.

Take first impressions seriously

building trust in sales

The idea of a good first impression might sound a bit clichéd — like something you need to think about when you’re picking out clothes for a job interview. But Michael says those first moments when you meet anyone are even more critical than you might think. 

In fact, it’s the first few milliseconds. He references research that says we’re capable of judging each other’s faces within 100 milliseconds, and voices within 500 milliseconds! Of course, this happens unconsciously.

“Within a blink of an eye people can be gauging our trustworthiness,” says Michael. 

If we’re smart, we’ll consider how this biological superpower can advance our relationships with sales prospects.

They’re going to be judging us from the jump anyway. Why not do everything we can to make sure they conclude positive things?

Building trust = influencing expectations

Taking advantage of the human tendency for snap judgments begins with the basics, Michael says. What will a prospect assume about you based on all the clues you give them?

Before a meeting in any context, put yourself together! Pay attention to all the “little” things:

  • Get enough sleep so you can be as mentally sharp as possible.
  • Dress for the way you want to be perceived.
  • Groom yourself nicely.

If it’s a video meeting:

  • Show up on time — or early.
  • Keep things short and convenient.
  • Work out any tech issues beforehand. If there’s a problem with lighting or background noise, call it out right away so it doesn’t become the proverbial elephant in the room.
  • You might feel like you have less control over perception on video, but Michael argues that you have a better opportunity to guarantee a positive first impression virtually than in a face-to-face meeting. That’s because there aren’t any distractions or excess body language for your brain to filter out.

This all might seem like general life advice you’d hear from your mom. But the idea that “you never get a second chance to make a first impression” is a common refrain for a reason.

By carefully prepping yourself and your environment, you’re building trust with unspoken signals that reduce the perception of risk for the buyer — just like a great Amazon review makes us feel better about placing an order. The greater the risk reduction, the safer they’ll feel to pull the trigger.

Your buyer has studied for a lifetime for this moment

A customer shows up to an interaction with you having built up a lifetime of expectations about what it means to be sold to. They’ve likely been burned a few times by bad purchase decisions and the less ethical salespeople out there. Of course they’re going to be skeptical!

Michael helps us understand the place a potential buyer is initially by thinking about it in terms of Miranda rights: “A lifetime of making purchases has them clearly aware that anything they say will be used against them at our very first opportunity.”

building trust in sales

They’re going to hold back, and you’re going to have to work hard to convince them to do something they’ve been programmed to be wary of. That’s where some of that truth-stretching comes in handy.  

→ You may have to act as if your software has a feature that’s not quite developed yet (but will be when the sale goes through).

→ You may decide to exaggerate just how limited a “limited time offer” is.

→ You may throw in something “extra” to reduce that risk just a tiny bit more and push the buyer over the edge.

Michael’s not encouraging you to make promises you can’t keep — we all know where that can lead. But he is saying you’re not engaging in blatant dishonesty when you’re trying to reassure the buyer they’re not about to get swindled again. 

Nor are they being dishonest by withholding a bit until they trust you. You’re both playing the game in a smart way, by building trust mutually. 

Let the conversation — and the sale! — come to you

Even as a sales professional yourself, you’re probably familiar with the feeling of dread that arises when you’re about to get stuck listening to a pitch. 

When you think about it, Michael says, those of us in sales have a reputation similar to that of interrogators. One of our first jobs with new prospects is to debunk that pushy-salesperson stereotype.

Yes, your job is to persuade. But smart sales is about ethical persuasion. If you go into a meeting already in full-blown pitch mode, you could unknowingly undo all the hard work you did to make that great first impression. 

Too much talking comes across as needy, and trying too hard to be liked is a surefire turn-off. Difficult as it is to shut up when you’re leading the conversation, you’ll find that silence can work to your advantage — even if your prospect is guarded.

Listen for the truths you can leverage

What’s the ticket to a successful interrogation — or sale? Less manufactured conversation, more attention to our shared biology.

It helps to understand that interrogation suspects and customers travel the same cognitive path, Michael says. They have to overcome the trust barrier before they’ll begin giving away little bits of intelligence that fuel your approach.

Keep your eyes and ears peeled for those nuggets of truth to lead you down the yellow brick road. 

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