Trust Trumps Features and Benefits: First, Seek to Understand. Then Sell

Rick Phillips
Posted on October 30, 2019

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are more than 150 million people currently employed in the U.S. Out of all those hard-working people, about 15 million or so consider themselves to be salespeople. So, essentially, one in every 10 working Americans is out there, trying to sell something for a living.

Now, let’s play a word association game. If you took a random survey and asked people on the street to think of a salesperson, what words do you think might come to mind? “Trustworthy?” “Professional?” “Knowledgeable?” Perhaps someone with their “best interest” in mind? Probably not.

In fact, you would likely hear something a lot less flattering. According to Daniel Pink, in his book, “To Sell Is Human,” nine out of 10 people have a negative perception of salespeople and generally don’t trust them. Moreover, he found that most salespeople don’t even trust other salespeople. The fact is, there are a lot of salespeople out there, but not all are of the same caliber.

The cautious consumer

In 1962, President John Kennedy introduced something called the Consumer Bill of Rights. This was specifically designed to protect the consumer against malicious business practices. Despite this, a lot of people still feel a little sense of “caveat emptor,” a Latin phrase that means “buyer beware.” It’s based on the premise that the seller knows much more about what’s being purchased than the buyer, so it’s up to the buyer to perform due diligence before making a purchase.

There are many resources available for consumers to utilize. We live in the most marketed society in the history of the world. It’s a very competitive, very crowded and very loud market. There is so much information out there that most consumers are as confused as they are informed.

Buying decisions are heavily influenced by a person’s behaviors and impulses, and even their mood.

People are naturally skeptical of salespeople because they make a living competing with other salespeople for their attention and money. And make no mistake: The competition is fierce — to the point that many times, “selling” is now defined as “winning.” Consumers hear this and wonder which role they are supposed to play in the winner/loser equation.

Knowing vs. caring

Consumers are not as rational as they like to think. Studies show that buying decisions are heavily influenced by a person’s behaviors and impulses, and even their mood. They act on emotion and then justify their actions with logic.

It’s important to make a positive connection with your customer, or potential customer, as soon as they become engaged. The most effective way to do this is by taking a genuine interest in the specific problem they are trying to solve. This not only gives you credibility, but also helps establish trust. Once the customer knows you have their best interest in mind, and are not just trying to sell them something, the conversation changes.

Slow it down

By far, the most common error salespeople make is to jump right in and start trying to “sell” features and benefits before understanding the customer’s needs. In Steven Covey’s book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, Habit No. 5 is “seek first to understand, then be understood.” He talks about empathetic listening and creating an atmosphere of caring and problem-solving. When you are able to achieve this level of trust with a customer, you are no longer viewed as a salesperson. You are viewed as a trusted advisor.

Take time to discover as much as possible about the customer’s problem before trying to present a solution and close the sale. The more time-invested in discovery, the less time will be needed for presentation. Trying to compensate for a lack of understanding by selling harder is a quick way to lose credibility and destroy trust. The customer will respond with stalls and objections. This, of course, is typically countered with some sort of additional discount or other concession in an attempt to preserve the sale. Sound familiar?

People are busy. They just want to do business with someone they can trust and not have to worry about being taken advantage of. In today’s competitive environment, with countless brands looking for ways to stand out, being a trusted brand is a great differentiator. The more trust your customers have in you, the riskier your competitors seem in comparison.

You are busy, as well. There are a lot of things competing for your attention. Make sure you prioritize effectively. Paying proper attention to your customers’ needs and earning their trust should be at the top of the list.

Sell well! ■

Rick Phillips is CEO and president of Disruptive Concepts Consulting LLC, a Sandler Training firm based in San Antonio, Texas. He has 40 years of sales and marketing experience in the tire industry working for Yokohama Tire Corp., Triangle Tire USA and various independent tire dealers. For more information, visit

Related Topics: retail, Rick Phillips, Sales Tactics

Comments ( 1 )
  • Ken Olan

     | about 2 months ago

    Rick, your article is on point, especially in an environment that is increasingly moving to “markets on one.” Selling is no longer simply a features and benefits exercise. People are too busy for that. So your point about first understanding is critical to a focus of bringing only the most relevant opportunities into play, at least for starters. Case and point. We do a lot of work with car dealers, and each Is attracted to specific elements we can offer. Understanding what those may be, first, creates a clean, consultative collaboration, and secondly creates a far higher likelihood of a successful outcome for both parties.

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