Even though buying cycles seem to stretch out longer as buyers require more time to make decisions, salespeople are doing their best to close quicker.

Much of what’s popular in selling, such as sales techniques, figuring out a prospect’s hot buttons and schmoozing and even relationship building, can be enormously overrated. Here’s the problem. Simply put, too much of what passes for best practices in sales focuses on what the salesperson should do to get the order, starting with a perfected elevator speech.

To make the concept vivid, the salesperson is like the classroom teacher of 30 or more years ago who was the instructor, the one who was in charge and who passed information to the often passive and less than attentive learners.

The result? Good salespeople with great products and services that are a good fit for their customers lose sales because they take the role of instructor, passing information to passive and often inattentive learner-customers.

Such behavior is understandable. Whether it’s the unpredictability of an extended buying cycle or the fear of a competitor entering the picture, they sense the possibility of losing the sale and immediately response by getting into a control mode, cutting corners, taking shortcuts and jumping to the close before the customer is ready to buy.

Trust makes the difference

Faced with such a reality every working day, it becomes clear that the critical component for making more sales is gaining the customer’s trust as quickly as possible. It has always been important, but never as much as it is today. Trust is the bond that endures no matter the length and difficulty of the selling cycle.

To be totally clear about trust, it doesn’t develop from schmoozing, making unverified or exaggerated claims, or providing incomplete information. Today’s customers are doubters; they’ve been burned too often. They want value — lots of value — for their money. To put it simply, they don’t trust salespeople. Much of the success of Amazon.com and Apple is built on recognizing customer doubt by keeping their promises.

Distrust is so fundamental today that those who ask a friend, family member or coworker for a referral, engage in their own vetting process before making a decision.

Salespeople understand the trust issue and they have their own views about how to develop it. We’ve heard most of the solutions: respect, acting with integrity, being responsible, sincere, honest, truthful and on and on it goes. Unfortunately, the words are generalizations, lacking specificity — they don’t mean anything to customers.

So, the question remains, what do salespeople do to create trust? Answer: trust develops between customer and salesperson when the salesperson asks the right questions. It’s the questions that create value, understanding and confidence.

Yet, salespeople like to talk about “meeting customer needs.” They talk about it, particularly in their presentations. But what does meeting customer needs mean? Not too much. If anything, it’s abstract and non-specific, more like a view from 30,000 feet, where you see everything and nothing at the same time. Meeting customer needs is meaningless — unless a salesperson fills it with content by taking the time to ask the right questions. 

Graham, of GrahamComm, is a marketing and sales consultant and business writer. He publishes a free monthly eBulletin, “No Nonsense Marketing & Sales.” Reach him at johnrg31@me.com, (617) 774-9759 or johnrgraham.com.

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