Trust is essential to successful selling, particularly when the stakes are high.

But here’s the problem. Trust is now trading at a higher premium than ever. Why is that? Well, look around. Economic uncertainty is extraordinarily high and threatens to remain that way for the foreseeable future. Unpleasant factors that once were cyclical seem to have to have become structural.

Call it the trust barrier.

These days, decisions are made at higher levels than ever – and with the participation of more parties than ever. In most cases, prospective buyers would  rather not buy what sellers are selling. They’d rather not even take a call or get entangled. They’d rather remain wedded to the status quo – however unsatisfying that is. They just don’t want to take a chance. The pain of failure (decision theorists call it “loss aversion”) weighs much more heavily on them than the promise of gain.

Constrained budgets are at stake…and careers…and reputations.  

And that’s why the trust barrier has risen to new heights – and why new strategies are necessary to surmount it.

Unsurprisingly, I hear more and more people making the case that face-to-face meetings are now critical. How else will you build trust? Of course, you are free to use your body as a prospecting tool, as Sharon Drew Morgen, author of Dirty Little Secrets, cleverly puts it. That may even make sense if the economics of the deal (or the proximity of your buyers) are right.  

But I wonder. Maybe there are better ways to cross the trust barrier.

Take the first meeting. Why should that meeting be in person? Our clients have found that you can sell higher and reach more senior decision makers if you don’t lock them into a face-to-face meeting initially. In fact, plenty of research suggests these meetings are a big disappointment anyway.

IDC found in its research on the customer experience that more than 50% of sales people were showing up to meetings unprepared. And Forrester Research found that just 15% of executives believe sales meetings meet their expectations.

Why in the world – if the odds suggest the sales meeting will be a drag – would a prospective customer actually want to invite an unproven sales person into his or her office and risk getting tied up for an hour? Well, they probably don’t. And they probably shouldn’t.

That’s why you might want to start with a 20-minute executive briefing (not a product demo) that you give from a distance via WebEx, GoToMeeting, Join.Me (or whatever tool you choose). It’s a chance for you establish an initial level of trust and credibility without asking too much from someone who is already (justifiably) wary and skeptical.

Trust is earned. Step by step. Conversation by conversation.

Fortunately, new tools enable you to powerfully stage and sequence your interactions without sacrificing the human touch. Few get this right, however. They either spend all their time trying to get in front of their prospects. Or they spend all their time trying to give them product demos at the outset.

What you can do, instead, is engage prospects with business-focused presentations – executive briefings – that provide compelling, often unexpected, insights and perspectives that are valuable to your prospects. You can share findings that reflect what their peers are experiencing and the actions they are taking. That’s particularly interesting to them because you talk to many more of their peers than they do. You have a wider, richer perspective in many respects.

Your briefing should be heavy on the potential problem and relatively light on the solution. You can determine if the prospect is truly experiencing pain you can address – and find out if the scope and magnitude of that pain justifies the challenge of change and cost of a solution.

Indeed, you can do all this virtually. Here’s what I recommend: Make a Skype-like personal appearance at the beginning of your conversation. Then provide some insightful slides as a backdrop to your conversation – as a visual explanation of the breakdown you’ve seen companies like your prospect’s experience and the breakthrough you’ve provided. Make sure you leave time for plenty of discovery questions and open discussion. And share a success story or two. Then, if you wish, reappear on the screen to complete the conversation.

Show them that you are a professional – and that you have valuable insights to share.

And keep it to 20 minutes (unless the prospect requests more).

You can convey much more about your insights into the possible problem and the value of a potential solution – in a shorter period of time and from a greater (physical) distance – by taking this approach.

You’ll establish yourself as a trusted authority – and someone who’s actually taken the time to examine your prospect’s situation.

Whether future meetings occur in virtual space or the prospect’s office, you will have taken the essential steps to build trust. You’ll have made appropriate investments in each other. And, if it makes sense to proceed, you’ll begin exploring a deal in earnest.

Through a process of mutual discovery, the walls will fall. 

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What to learn more about executive briefings and how they can help you productively acquire more customers? Contact me at 512-415-7936 or email me at Britton@VisibleImpact.com.