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  • Writer's pictureNick Klingensmith

3 Words to Establish Trust

Sometimes "I don't know" are the most powerful words you can use to establish trust in sales.

"Fake it 'till you make it" may still be OK when referring to your confidence in the unknown. But it's a crummy strategy for building trust.

Chances are the person you are selling to knows their industry, business and product/service better than you ever will. Why pretend? When asked a question you don't know the answer to, tell the truth. "I don't know... but I will get that answer and get back to you...."

Yes, if you are selling a tangible product, this may not apply to you. If you’re selling a product whose uses and benefits are widely known and understood, this may not apply to you. If your standard sales processes involve a cookie-cutter Q&A that can fit onto one spec sheet, you need to learn your product.

However, having spent much of my career in the logistics and supply chain industry, I find this rarely to be the case.

For me to never have to say I don’t know, I would need to know everything there is to know that even relates to supply chain. I of course need to be an expert in all services, modes and equipment.

But I would also need to be an expert in manufacturing.

I would need to be an expert in all sorts of raw materials and their applications.

I would need to be an expert in packaging materials.

I would need to be an expert in geography; labor; accounting; marketing; software; hardware; computer equipment; SaaS; network integration, computer programming; and oh, the law.

The questions I get asked aren’t about something on a spec sheet. They’re questions about how my service is going to interact with their process.

Saying "I don't know" helps to build credibility. No one realistically expects you to know all the answers, but they do expect you to get them. It builds trust since you're making a sincere effort to be truthful, even vulnerable. It also affords you the ability to set a next step and gives you the opportunity to bring in a subject matter expert to help solidify your case.

Many sales reps are concerned they will look unprepared and unprofessional. They don’t want to look stupid and fear the prospect won’t give them another chance.

One salesperson recently commented that having to say “I don’t know” means they don’t know what they are selling. However, most customers in B2B sales these days engage with new vendors to help solve problems.

Another salesperson commented they fear the prospect would not give them a second meeting. I don’t understand.

The prospect just proposed a question, not a test. Other than pen to paper, there is rarely a better way for them to express their interest. If you commit to getting them the answer, not only will you get the next meeting, but they will anticipate it.

Why else would they ask?

If you’re afraid of looking stupid by not knowing the answer, think of how stupid you’ll look when you get caught in a lie.

Even if you should have known the answer, it’s better to appear unprepared than insincere. If you don’t know the answer, anything other than “I don’t know” is a lie.

While it’s possible that not knowing the answer to a question could deny you a 2nd meeting, getting caught in a lie will guarantee it. #gostride

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