As a salesperson, you need credibility to succeed. If you can successfully establish credibility and build rapport with customers, your chances of closing a sale are much higher.
Like building good credit and earning a good credit score, credibility must be developed through time, as the result of a series of smart behaviors and good decisions.
"Credibility is the cornerstone of a successful selling career," says Troy Harrison, author of "Sell Like You Mean It!" and president of Mission, Kansas-based sales and development company SalesForce Solutions.
"As salespeople, we place ourselves in the product distribution process between the manufacturer and end user," Harrison continues. "The only reason for us to be there is that we can add value to the process. This means discovering customers' needs and matching our products to those needs better than customers could if they were just leafing through a catalog or going to an Internet site."
Bruce Felber, MAS, creative director/account executive for Twinsburg, Ohio-based distributor firm Felber & Felber Marketing (UPIC: felber) and member of the PPAI Board of Directors, believes credibility is important because buyers are less loyal today. "Buyers are going after anything to save money," he says. "They're multi-tasking so they don't have a lot of time and they tend to look at the bottom line."
Harrison agrees. "Everybody's looking to save money, and one of the easiest ways to save is to cut the salesperson out of the process or beat them to death for a cheaper price. The more you build value, the harder it is for somebody to beat you up on price."
Michael Maslansky, CEO of New York City-based Maslansky Luntz Partners and co-author of The Language of Trust: Selling Ideas in a World of Skeptics, believes credibility levels the playing field. "Via the Internet, buyers can fact-check everything you say and they can always find another choice," he says. "If you don't have credibility you have no ability to sell your product. Credibility is absolutely a price of entry to the sales process today."
Today's emphasis on the bottom line can even take a toll on buyers themselves. "I think more and more people are getting hung out to dry by companies trying to do more with less," says Charley Johnson, CAS, vice president of sales and marketing for Salt Lake City-based supplier SnugZ USA (UPIC: SNUGZUSA). "So, someone who can deliver when they say they will has a higher value than ever before."
As it turns out, we really should sweat the small stuff. "It's the small things, like not returning e-mails promptly, that tarnish a reputation more so than the bigger issues," says Jean Kelley, author of "Get A Job Keep A Job Handbook" and leadership development practitioner for Tulsa, Oklahoma-based Jean Kelley Leadership Consulting.
"Because we make so many choices every day, people are watching our behavior all the time," Kelley says. "We're judged by our outward behavior that we choose to display, not our wonderful intentions."
"Whether you're a promotional consultant or a supplier, when meeting with your clients or prospects, you want to make sure that you become a credible and reliable resource," says Roni Wright, MAS, vice president of The Book Company, (UPIC: BOOKCO). "Building trust, especially in today's economy, is extremely important." Wright says there are a couple of ways to build credibility:
• Be able to discuss real life results based on successes you've achieved for other clients or that you've read about in books or trade journals, or that you've seen other industry companies do.
• If you don't know the answer to a question, be honest and say that you don't know but you'll find out. And, make sure you follow up with an answer in a timely matter.
James A. Simone, CAS, former senior vice president of marketing for supplier firm Norwood Promotional Products, Inc. (UPIC: NORWOOD), agrees with Wright and advises to do what you say you will do, when you say you'll do it. "Be transparent and respectful, and add value to help clients solve their marketing efforts within an agreed budget and time frame, and you'll win. The client will be the hero and you'll have an opportunity to help again."
Focus on basic behaviors such as these as you attempt to boost your credibility, says Kelley.
• Don't overpromise. Do what you say you will do.
• Be open about your motives behind a directive or decision.
• Fess up to mistakes.
• Keep people's confidences. Get permission before divulging sensitive information.
• Treat others consistently and fairly.
• Listen to others.
Another way to build credibility is to find out what people expect from you and then deliver on it, Kelley says. "Just meeting their expectations will help you in every single relationship you have, whether it's at home or work."
Our passive behaviors, such as our listening skills, are just as important as our active behaviors. "One of the things that upsets buyers the most is if a salesperson walks in thinking he knows what they need," she says. "It takes a lot of listening to be able to make the right recommendation. And you may not have the right service or product for that person. If you don't, you need to leave."
Credibility not only hinges on what you do, but who you are and whether or not your true self shines through. Authenticity is a buzzword in advertising today precisely because people want to know they're getting "the real thing."
"People want to know who they are dealing with and whether that person knows what they are doing," Johnson says. "Be yourself and don't fool people with a fake persona because that's what you think they want. Being yourself may lose you some customers or may offend some people, but I would rather be hated for who I am than liked for who I am pretending to be."
Johnson is on to something, according to Maslansky, who says in order to be credible we must get real. "It's very important that a prospect believes that the person who is selling is a real person," he says. "Some salespeople refuse to acknowledge the reality we all see—that the economy is tough, that profits aren't perfect, that certain things are not in favor of the product you are selling. All these things help make you real as a salesperson and they personalize the sales process."
When it comes to credibility, honesty is the best policy. "In a bad economy it's easy to keep selling to get more money, but you have to be honest with your clients," Felber says. "A client would rather hear you say, 'You don't need to buy those mugs, here's another item that's less expensive that'll give you the same result, if not better.' Being honest with a client will ensure that you get future orders because you managed their expectations and their money wisely."
Because product knowledge is so readily accessible online, Harrison believes personal integrity is paramount in today's selling process. "If customers believe what you say, they will be comfortable doing business with you."
Accentuate The Positive
"In a lot of traditional sales training, you're supposed to create a disturber, which is making sure your prospect understands the problem you are trying to solve," Maslansky says. "That line of thinking has become very outdated because people understand the problems already. We understand how political campaigns work, how marketing campaigns work and how sales works. We've seen the movies, TV shows and news coverage."
As a result, when a salesperson attempts to scare a prospect into buying, customers see through it. "In today's market, salespeople should talk about positive solutions as opposed to negative problems," he says.
Kelley believes now is the time to stay positive by serving clients even if there is no business. "If you can do clients a favor of some kind, do them a favor," Kelley says. "If you can introduce them to someone, do that. If you can help their child find a job, do that. Whatever you can do for your customer in the hard times will not be forgotten."
To build credibility salespeople should become a hub of referrals, Harrison says. "The salespeople who do this create a level of professional attractiveness, so people want to be around them because they know good things are going to happen to them," he says.
Salespeople should ensure something good happens every time they see clients, Harrison says. "Always make sure there is a positive outcome. If you walk away from a sales call and your customer thinks they're a little bit better for that time, you won't have to worry about getting your next appointment, your next sale or even your next job."
Freelance journalist, Brittany Glenn writes about current issues, trends, and the economy for consumer and business-to-business magazines. She recently published an article in Promotional Consultant Magazine featuring Michael Maslansky.