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Selling is not so much about the features of our products or services—or even the benefits the customer receives. Rather, it is about our relationship with the customer. People do business with people they trust.

That does not mean people will not make an occasional purchase of a specific item or service from someone they do not trust, because most people will. However, those purchases tend to be exactly that—one-time purchases.

To generate consistent, repeat business, to generate high-quality referrals, and to generate larger, more profitable sales, you cannot rely on the occasional one-time purchaser. To build a sales business, you must develop a book of clients who trust you.

Most people will pay a little more, sacrifice a little, or wait a little longer when buying from someone whom they really trust and respect. The hard part is building the trust and then maintaining the trust.

What are the keys to building client trust?

1. Know what you are talking about

Customers and clients want to be able to trust that you know what you are talking about. When you tell them something, they want to be able to rely on what you said. If the information you relay turns out to be wrong, you have created a doubt. Create just a few doubts in a client's mind, and you have destroyed your ability to gain their trust.

So what do you do when you do not know the answer? Unlike many, if not most, salespeople, you do not make it up as you go along—or guess. You simply let the client know that you do not know but you will find out—and then find out. You might even be able to make a call to get the information while you are with the client. If you cannot, give a specific date and time your will provide the information. In addition, before calling, double-check to make sure the information is correct.

2. Give the right advice

Just as clients or customers want to be able to trust the information you give, they want to be able to trust the advice and recommendations you give. This means that if your analysis of their situation indicates that your product or service is not the right solution for their problem, you let them know and then direct them to where they can get the right product or service.

Nothing will destroy your credibility and clients' trust faster or more surely than if they believe you are giving false or prejudiced, self-serving advice or recommendations. And once caught giving (or being perceived to be giving) self-servicing advice or making self-serving recommendations, you will never recapture the customer's trust or respect.

This is tough, and it takes a great deal of integrity. That is the core of establishing a relationship built on trust and respect. Once the client knows that you are willing to sacrifice an immediate sale for the sake of maintaining your integrity, your reputation with that client is sealed.

Such clients may not purchase from you now, but they will come back because they know that you will lead them in the right direction—even if that direction is away from you.

3. Know your customer's expectations

Crucial in creating a trust relationship with your client is meeting their expectations and priorities. Unfortunately, this tends to be one of the weakest areas for most salespeople.

Even though one of the most popular buzzwords at the moment is "exceeding client's expectations," seldom do salespeople or companies actually do it. Why? Simply because they have no idea what the client's expectations are. They think the know, but they do not.

Most salespeople and companies act and think like all customers and clients are identical. They have a belief that they know what their clients expect and then strive to meet those mythical expectations. They seldom, if ever, ask the customer or client what their real expectations are. Moreover, without asking, the most they can hope to do is meet or exceed what they believe their client's expectations should be.

To gain and maintain trust, you must ask every client exactly what his or her expectations during the sale are, and then do everything in your power to meet—or exceed—those expectations. Only by knowing exactly, what your customers want and expect can you possibly insure they get the purchasing experience they want.

Furthermore, clients have more than simply sales expectations. They also have product or service priorities. A sales expectation is an action the client expects to happen during the course of the sale. Moreover, a single client may have multiple expectations—to be kept fully informed via email, or to be notified only if an issue arises. They may expect delivery at a certain time—or they may only expect delivery within a reasonable timeframe. They may expect personal training on the product. Or any number of other things.

Nevertheless, they also have priorities for the product or service. These also can be many and varied. While one customer may indicate that the primary priority is that the product do X, another's priority may be that the product's price not change between the time of placing the order and receiving the product. One may have ease of use as a priority, while another may have multiple functionality as a priority.

Most salespeople tend to think of these as items that are their company's or the manufacturer's responsibilities. They sell the product or service, the company provides the product or service. Customers do not think that way. To customers, you are responsible for making sure that what you sell them meets their priorities exactly.

If there is anything that falls short of their priorities, you must either find a product or service that meets them or gain their acknowledgment that the product or service misses the mark to one extent or another.

For if, the product or service does not meet their priority list and you have not explained where the product or service falls short, your credibility and trust will suffer just as much, if not more, than the company's.

4. Do what you say you are going to do

The fourth key to gaining your customer's or client's trust is simply doing exactly what you say you are going to do—exactly when you say you are going to do it.

Our performance and integrity are judged on what we say and what we do. More than any other part of our interaction with customers and clients, how closely our actions parallel our words will determine our ability to gain the trust and respect of clients. This interaction of words and deeds is more important than anything else—it trumps price, it trumps competence, and it trumps personality.

Of course, customers want to work with a competent individual they like and get along with well. But if given a choice between a highly competent, likable person they don't trust and a less competent individual that they don't click with but whom they trust, people will pick the trustworthy person almost every time.

Salespeople tend to lose credibility and trust due to a lack of communication and follow-up. Salespeople tend to have no problem communicating good news, of course. Where they habitually drop the ball is in regards to negative news. They seem to hope against all hope that when problems and issues arise with a customer's purchase, the problem or issue will rectify itself and the customer will never know the difference. Seldom does that happen.

Most often, the problem or issue becomes more serious because the salesperson did not communicate in a timely fashion with the client, leaving the client with little or no alternative once he or she does discover the problem.

Timely communication of issues must be a priority for all salespeople. It is your obligation to your client to give as much forewarning as possible. You owe it to your customers to give as much notice as possible so they have an opportunity to make other arrangements if necessary. Yes, you may stand a chance of losing a sale, depending on what the problem or issue is. However, to gain and maintain trust and respect, you must keep your client fully informed.

Equally at fault for costing salespeople trust is not following up on commitments, not being punctual, and engaging in rude behavior. Although customers may never mention it, they will notice if you commit to sending something and don't send it, don't return phone calls in a timely manner, are consistently late for appointments—even just a few minutes late—or take phone calls during appointments.

If you claim by your words that you are a professional, you must demonstrate that professionalism in everything you do. You dress professionally, do exactly what you say you are going to do exactly when you say you are going to do it, and respect your client's time. Many a salesperson has lost his position with a client by not taking care of the little things.

* * *

You must earn your client's trust and respect—and that trust and respect are maintained over time by doing the things you did to earn them in the first place. You do not have to be Miss Personality, nor do you have to be the expert. You have to be trustworthy in both words and actions; your words and your actions have to compliment one another.

Trust is easily earned by someone with character and integrity, but hard to earn if you lack those qualities. And, even if earned, it can be quickly lost.

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Paul McCord is the author of Creating a Million Dollar a Year Sales Income: Sales Success through Client Referrals (John Wiley and Sons) and the upcoming Planning Your Success: The Ultimate Guide to Creating Your Personal Marketing Plan. He is president of McCord and Associates, a sales-training and management-consulting firm. Reach him at or via

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