Creating a lasting relationship: How to build trust with clients

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9 June 2022
Written by Speak First Linked-in icon

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When talking to clients, there’s a number of approaches you can take: the light touch, the hard sell, influencing, manipulation, and the list goes on. These all have advantages and disadvantages, with many being effective in the short-term but leave your client feeling uncomfortable in future interactions.

Genuine and strong long-term relationships with clients need to be built on trust. However, clients are shrewd and don’t trust easily – particularly when it involves handing over their hard-earned money.

Trust is not a magic bullet which is fully effective immediately, it’s a process and takes time to develop. You can start working on it as soon as you meet someone, but the relationship and benefits strengthen over time.

We’ve got some practical tips and things to consider, to help you make the right impression on your clients and start developing that mutual trust.


What creates trust?

In a recent article, we showed you how to use body language to develop a rapport with someone. This is a powerful technique for increasing your influence by making them feel comfortable, developing a synchronicity and showing you’re on the same wavelength. This can help you build and further a relationship, but they aren’t quite going to create real trust.

Trust goes deeper, it’s not just about liking each other. It hinges on your reliability, credibility and whether or not they feel you’re only interested in yourself. In other words, you need to be honest, keep to your word and don’t act like you’re only there to make a sale.

Trust isn’t binary. It occurs across a spectrum, so a client may trust you to deliver but not necessarily believe you have their best interests at heart when you’re trying to upsell them. Complete trust takes time, but you need to start somewhere.


Overcoming the sales problem

When it comes to getting your clients to trust you, there’s an unavoidable challenge in the relationship – the sale. You both understand that you’re talking to them to get them to buy from you. If you didn’t see them as at least a prospective customer, you wouldn’t be talking to them. Equally, if they weren’t at least slightly interested in what you’re selling, they wouldn’t be spending their time talking to you. There’s an inherent level of self-interest in this relationship. 

This immediately affects the dynamic. Under different circumstances, two people might start with neutral feelings towards each other, but here you’re both sizing each other up, working out what they want from you. And even more so if there was no prior relationship at all, such as in a cold call.

The key is to prove you want to be a genuinely helpful partner, identifying and selecting the best things for their needs, not just pushing them into buying something they don’t need. You both know that you’re going to benefit from making a sale, but that isn’t mutually exclusive from also trying to help them out. This is where consultative selling proves its value.


Ask questions and offer helpful solutions

In order to only suggest products and services they’ll really benefit from, you need to understand your client’s wants and needs. The most effective method is asking questions to learn about their circumstances, feelings and motivations. Then you can offer them something that solves a problem and has real benefits for them.

Open questions – where there’s no fixed answer or options, such as “How are you today?” or “What are your company’s needs? – are great ways to gather lots of information and get the conversation flowing. If you can build rapport with them, and get them talking, you’ll be in a great position to provide a consultation based on their genuine needs.

Further into the conversation, you can used closed questions – with fixed answers, such as “Do you want these?” or “How would you rate it out of 5?” – to focus in on specific requirements, check your understanding and to begin closing the discussion. Again, by showing you’re actively aiming to see what they need, you’ll build up trust.

When you eventually start discussing your products and services, always frame benefits within the scope of the client’s situation. This means you can’t rush the process. The more you can show you’re really listening without pushing your own goals, the more trustworthy you’ll sound.


Recognise their behavioural styles

We’re all a product of our unique backgrounds, upbringing and experiences. This means, we all have our own ways of behaving and personal preferences for interactions with others. Some people are more confident and direct, while others will be slower to act and eager to please. Being able to recognise clients’ behavioural styles is a key part of the process for building trust.

If someone is highly data-driven, they’ll be unlikely to simply take you at your word that your service helps – they’ll want to see stats to back up your claims. If they’re more of an early adopter and make decisions based on enthusiasm and gut feelings, they might be more drawn to product demonstrations. Being able to communicate with your clients in their preferred style, and show them what they need to feel happy and confident with a decision, will greatly boost their trust in you and your products.

We’ve written much more about behavioural styles, identifying your own and ways to act with different people in this article.


Don’t push!

Unless you want to immediately undermine all your work to build trust, don’t push the client towards the sale. We’ve all met salespeople who felt far too eager to close, and it all feels disingenuous and off putting, even when we might have wanted their product to start with.

The process up to this point has been about proving you’re not just in it for the money. As we’ve already said, you’re allowed to care about the money, the sale and your job performance, but your goal shouldn’t be to close at any cost. At least in the eyes of the customer, you’re there to help them.

However, as a good salesperson, you do want to close. There’s a big difference between being pushy and gradually leading the conversation to a natural conclusion. If you’ve asked your questions, made helpful suggestions based on their answers and they like it, you can gradually begin to move the conversation towards the sale. They’ve probably made their choice by this point, and so if throughout the interaction they’ve decided they want it and you’ve proven yourself trustworthy, you shouldn’t face much resistance.


Continue to be reliable

Once you’ve made trust the foundation of the relationship, you have to honour it. It should go without saying that you need to deliver on promises and anything clients have paid for. This means you can’t over promise or under deliver.

Of course, once in a while an unforeseen issue, from technical problems to supply chain holdups, means you aren’t able to do what you said you’d do. This may risk your reputation and relationship, but if you’ve proven yourself trustworthy in all other interactions, then most people will give you the benefit of the doubt. Goodwill only goes so far, however, and your ongoing customer service needs to be as good as can be.


Remember that trust takes time to earn and only moments to lose. Never take clients for granted and always remember that you need them just as much as they need you. Treat them as a partner in the deal and not just as a person to “win,” aiming to learn about them and offering benefits. That’s the path to long and beneficial relationship.


To learn more ways we can help improve your Sales and Business Development Skills, take a look at our Learning Solutions.