The Gut Check on Trustworthiness

You can learn a lot from watching political panels, especially during an election year. The behavior you see—both between the panelists and in how they relate to their audience—is a microcosm of what we see as sales professionals in the marketplace every day.

People in sales and in politics have something really important in common: trust. Neither can be successful in meeting their goals unless they’ve earned it from their audience.  

I assess people for a living. I’ve learned to make observations about subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) things that point to whether someone is trustworthy.

In other words: I do a gut check by asking four questions.

1. How quickly is this person speaking?

This one is the easiest to spot because it’s so common.

Fast talkers reveal that they’re more interested in their message and themselves than they are in meeting the needs of their audience. Ask any woman who has met a man at a social gathering. You’ll never hear her say “I met this really great guy who I trust. And boy he’s a fast talker!”

To be clear, I am not saying that all dishonest people are fast talkers. Rather, it’s a cue: one that—fairly or unfairly—plants a seed of doubt in your audience. You wind up asking: “does this person lack confidence in what they are saying, and do they even believe it themselves?”

If you’re leading a sales team, take time to observe how your team members talk to each other and to customers. If your gut says their cadence is running in overdrive, odds are good that your customer is feeling the same way.

2. Do they interrupt others?

Interrupting is rude. Period. In conversation, it signals you’re not interested in what others have to say. No one likes to feel like they are being talked to. Political panels on TV these days are notorious for this: a blood sport decided by which speaker crams in the most talking points. Little wonder then why voter participation rates continue to be a challenge in many industrialized countries today: people tune out what they don’t trust.

Don’t let this happen to your business or your marketplace. When you or your sales team is engaged in a conversation with a customer, focus on your listening skills ahead of your talking skills. Your buyer has important things to tell you, if you’re willing to hear it.

3. What does this person’s body language tell me?

We say more with actions than we do with words. Sellers who are truly engaged in conversation with their customer make a point of maintaining eye contact and being friendly with their gestures. These are important cues that put your audience at ease.

Let’s look again at what happens with those TV political panels. Ever notice that the least effective panelists have a tendency to not look directly into the camera? They don’t smile. Often they look as though they’d rather be anywhere but on that panel, and spend what ought to be listening moments instead rolling their eyes at their fellow panelists.

The people you trust are always present in the conversation. They’re not stuck inside their own head. Get this right in sales and you can build rapport quickly and capitalize on opportunities. Get it wrong and you could lose it all.

A client shared this story with me: on her ride-along with his sales team, she noticed her reps having a conversation with two brothers who were co-owners of a family business. Joining them was their father—now retired—who was the company founder, and who also happened to have some points to contribute to the discussion that was underway. The sales reps ignored the father! They presumed (incorrectly) the only audience that mattered was two brothers. Big mistake. It came as no surprise to her soon after that the sales reps couldn’t figure out why they were struggling to close new deals with that customer.

4. Do they have a good grip on the facts?

Facts are not opinions: they’re backed by evidence, as opposed to what we feel is true. If you’re dishonest with the facts—if you’re selective with evidence, or you behave as through opinions matter just as much or even more than facts do—your audience will have every right to doubt your trustworthiness.

Remember, Honesty Sells! (Wait didn’t I write a book about that?) When you’re speaking with a prospect or a customer, truth needs to be your default setting. Always. Always. Always.

Your customers today have a baseline knowledge of the marketplace vastly exceeding that of buyers in the past. They will fact check everything you say. If you’re reckless or selective with your facts, they will find out. And they’ll never trust you again.

Your good rapport with your customer is too valuable to risk. So don’t fudge the facts. Take the time to research buyer objections. If there are pros and cons to buying your product or service, have an equally deep understanding of both.

As a sales leader, it pays to apply these four questions to your own work and make it your own gut check for trustworthiness. Implement it by participating in ride-alongs with your sales reps when they visit their territories. Each of these little gut checks will help you assess fully (and quickly) whether your team members are doing everything they can to earn and maintain trust of those hard-earned customers, and help you identify where more training or coaching might be required.