The following is a guest post by Inside Sales trainer, Danna Zakai.

On the surface, it may seem that Sales is nothing more than “the exchange of goods or services for money”. That may be the definition and purpose of Sales, but it’s by no means its essence. Whether you work in a small startup or a huge corporation, Sales is all about building relationships. And just as in any productive and healthy relationship, salespeople must build a strong foundation of trust with their customers, because if there’s no trust, there probably won’t be a sale.

Sometimes we buy something, but we have a gut feeling right from the beginning that we don’t completely trust the salesperson. So why do we end up buying it anyway? For many reasons; because we hope we’re wrong about him/her, because we feel pressured, because we’re too lazy to look for better solutions, or maybe because we think “what could go wrong?” And of course when something does go wrong we immediately think, “I knew I shouldn’t have trusted them!” So we try to back out of the agreement if we can, with as little damage as possible, but most likely with memories of an unpleasant user experience. And from the Salesperson’s point of you, there’s also damage to contend with in the form of a lost client, time wasted, bad reputation for the company and product you represent, etc.

That’s why it’s not only just in the buyer’s interest that they trust you as a salesperson, but it’s just as much in your interest to earn the trust of your potential customers, because when they enter into the deal with a positive attitude and a confidence that they’re doing the right thing, it’s far less likely that the deal will flop.

So what is trust?
Let’s break it down to how a potential customer might think of it in the context of dealing with a salesperson:

I trust that you are telling me the truth.
I trust that you’ll do what you say you’ll do.
I trust that your product will produce the results you say it will.
I trust that you understand me and my needs.
I trust that you will take care of me, and if something goes wrong – you will be there for me, you’ll be “on my side”, and will do everything in your power to help me (us) solve the problem.
I trust that if there’s a change that might affect me (in the product, company, pricing, timelines, etc.), you will let me know about it in advance.
I trust that if there are new opportunities for me to explore (new features, new products, a better deal for me) you will let me know about them.
I trust that you’ll be responsive when I contact you and will provide me with excellent service, both before and after the sale is made.

Those of us who are salespeople, are also customers in our own everyday lives, so no one should know better than us how to deal with potential customers in order to put their minds at ease regarding each and every one of the typical concerns I mentioned above, and none of It can be done without first establishing trust.

Here are some tips for building a genuine foundation of trust with customers:

1. Be on time.
If you’ve scheduled a call, meeting or demo – always be on time. It’s better that you arrive earlier rather than later. Even if you have a legitimate excuse for being late, no one is ever really moved by sob stories and dramatic tales. To the other side – especially when you are still strangers – you’re still late, and they were still forced to wait around despite having arranged a set time to meet. What kind of start are you off to in establishing trust, if the customer can’t even trust you’ll turn up when you said you would? In short, do whatever preparations you need to in order to be on time, especially for your first meeting.

2. Be responsive. Don’t disappear.
Throughout the sales process, your prospects may have questions, they might need more information, or to schedule another call, or involve more people from their team. They need to know that you are there for them. If they call and email and don’t receive a prompt response, they might think, “If he’s not there for me now, how can I be sure he’ll be there for me AFTER the sale goes through?” so make sure you are accessible.

3. Be honest and transparent.
Don’t hide facts that are relevant to the lead or customer. If there is an issue that you fear will jeopardize the sale – find a creative way to overcome it, and present it to the lead. And if you can’t find a solution – then say so! Your customers need to know exactly what to expect, or you can expect a cancellation at some point, and probably some anger on their part (and rightfully so).

What happens if you sell a solution that doesn’t fully answer the client’s needs? Or oversell, and after a while the client comes to understand that he is paying too much for a solution that is not suitable for him? Living in fear that you’ll be “caught”, or wishing that they just won’t find out, is far from ideal. It’s better to lose a sale than to go ahead with one that’s based on false promises or an incomplete representation of the product/solution. It will only serve to damage your reputation and your leads’ resources.

Problems and issues can sometimes arise during a sales process or negotiation, but what really matters is the way you deal with it, just like in any relationship.

4. Handle problems and objections wisely.
Be prepared for problems or objections that might come up and handle them with empathy and creativity to help you both reach the right solution. For example, if there was downtime which caused your customer damage/discomfort, respond promptly, take responsibility, and take whatever steps you need to so that it won’t happen again.

5. Be clear when you explain the product, how it works, what value it can bring, what the implementation process is and how long it takes, costs and payment issues, and what aspects of the product or the deal each side is responsible for.

6. Provide relevant examples from your experience with other customers (discreetly of course) to demonstrate to your lead that you are connected to your customers and that you will know how to help them in every situation that’s within your company’s scope. This is also a great opportunity to share success stories.

7. Always treat your customers with respect.
Respect their time, their resources, their intelligence. Your customers are the reason your company was founded, and they are the reason your company is successful.

8. Make sure your voice projects trustworthiness.
A salesperson’s voice and intonation can actually play a big role in securing a sale, so speak clearly and make sure that your pace isn’t too slow (and definitely not too fast). For example, I enjoy speaking with salespeople who are patient, confident, knowledgeable, and have a warm and insightful voice. When the call feels pleasant, it sets the tone for the entire relationship, and it’s much easier to establish trust and help the customer make the right decision in a calm, ‘stress-free’ atmosphere.

9. Be consistent.
Always be on time, always be honest, always share important facts with your leads and customers, always care about their interests, and always be clear. Consistency creates a feeling of safety and reliability.

There is most likely a lot more that can be said about trust, but these 9 tips are the essential ones, in my opinion. If you create relationships that are based on trust, your customers will be far more likely to stay loyal to you and turn to you for advice, even long after the sale is made.

Finally, I’d like to end with an anecdote: A few years ago I started to work for a new company, and I contacted one of my customers from the previous company I worked for (not a competitor!) to interest him in the new product I was selling. He told me: “Danna, you are the fourth person who’s tried selling this to me, but because it’s you who’s selling it now, I will buy it.” Same product, different salesperson, different result. It was the trust that was already built-in to my relationship with this customer (thanks to my previous efforts) that made all the difference.

For good or for bad, your integrity and your relationships follow you wherever you go, so if you make it a priority to build trust with your customers and keep it, you’ll not only enjoy better results but also enjoy your work much more.

More posts by Danna Zakai:
8 Tips that ANYONE can use to boost their Salesmanship
6 elements of a well-crafted sales pitch
How to hire a Sales shark for your startup
Why Salespeople MUST understand prospective clients (and how to structure a winning Sales call)