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Earning Client Trust: Honesty, Expertise, and Consistency

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I’ve been in sales my whole life. In college, I went door to door selling window siding and roofing. I also spent a number of years working in software sales, learning how to grind out cold emails and hoping to get a few responses – the numbers game. 

Today, I work in media sales, specifically podcast advertising sales. In this space, building a relationship with buyers is a far more important skill because it’s harder to differentiate between advertisers. Ultimately, I found that buyers will go with the salesperson they like and trust the most. 

Learning what it means to earn trust

Between door-to-door sales and software sales, I also interned at a radio station/media company in college. This led to a full-time job with a small independent radio station. But just one month after I joined, they were sold to iHeartRadio and, suddenly, the company went from 14 people to 100 people. I wasn’t sure this was the kind of sales job I wanted. 

On the recommendation of Tommy McNulty, founder of AtlasOne, I joined him as part of the sales team at Zocdoc. Tommy was immediately the top salesperson at the company. I realized that it’s because he’s an excellent listener, a high-level expert in healthcare, and had great conversations. He was never pushy and had a calm demeanor. His customers trusted him.

After Zocdoc, I went to Indeed, which was a very fun experience. We had 50 people on the sales floor and everyone was making 80 calls a day. There was a competitive camaraderie based on work ethic and hustling. 

Indeed sent all of their sales reps to Dale Carnegie Sales training where we learned how to understand what motivates a client, not just what they need from our product. Successful sellers find out what they care about, how they achieve their goals, and what they really want (like a promotion). 

Learning what motivates a client goes a long way towards building trust. When they see that you care about making them successful, they’ll want to talk to you. You can become the top 1% of the people they want to talk to. I found this sales training to be so impactful.

If you google, “how to earn trust” you’ll get lists of ideas – some good and some bad. But in my career, I’ve learned that earning trust can be broken down into 3 steps: be brutally honest and transparent, be an expert in what you’re selling, and always be consistent.

1. Be brutally honest and transparent

It’s important to put honesty first at all times. That includes when you make an error. You’re not just a faceless sales rep behind a phone, so show your human side. A customer might choose to shop around more, but at the end of the quarter when they have budget to spend, they’ll go to you if you’re trustworthy and accountable. 

I work with The Athletic, and our audience is men ages 35 and up. If that isn’t your target audience, then we’re not the right match for you. Don’t mislead customers on things like this. You have one shot at a first impression. They’ll remember the time that you let them down, not the other 99 times that you did well. 

When I get on a phone call and a prospect tells me they have $10,000 to spend, but I know that our $500 package is actually the right fit for now, I’ll recommend that. In the short term, I make less commission, but in the long term, they’ll come back later with a bigger buy. 

2. Be an expert in what you’re selling

My company has 100 podcasts on the roster. Some have enormous audiences with half a million downloads per episode while others are much smaller, with 1,500 downloads per episode, and cost much less. I need to sell them the show that will perform better for their needs, it’s not always about a larger audience or a larger deal. 

It’s about knowing how and when your product makes sense and being an expert in the marketplace. Know what your competitors have to offer. For example, if one of my clients is considering advertising on Spotify, I’ll let them know that Spotify will dictate where you put your ads. The risk is that you might end up advertising on a controversial podcast that you didn’t want to be associated with. 

Another one of our competitors has a reputation for not being accountable to their advertisers. So if my client wants to see what this competitor can offer, I give them a list of questions to ask their sales rep. If they decide to go with another media company, it’s not a problem. Either the ad campaign works or it doesn’t. In media sales, there are no contracts that lock you in for a year and all ships rise with the tide. 

So, at the end of the day, I have no issue walking away from a deal or seeing a client go to a competitor. It’s more important that they see me as trustworthy. I’ll tell them to give me a call when they’re ready to work with me. 

3. Be consistent and build rapport

Always be consistent in your communication. If they need to reach you, make yourself available. Be on time and show up for your meetings. Accountability is part of being consistent. I had one client who told me about how something went wrong with a podcast ad they placed with a competitor. The sales rep took no responsibility for the issue and passed the blame. Clients really don’t appreciate that. 

Trust is about human connections in general. If a client trusts you, because you’re consistent, they’ll come to you for advice. Eventually, they’ll give you the order and the trust you build will pay off 10 fold. Trust takes time. 

So instead of walking away from clients that aren’t going to spend money with me now, I’ll tell them to text me if they need any advice and offer to grab a beer and be buddies. This gives me the chance to understand what they need to do their job well, what their KPIs are, and how I can help. At the end of the day, their boss is on top of them too. Let’s create a win-win situation. 

Finally, media sales is a small community. If someone leaves one agency, they go to another and maybe they’ll be more interested in what you have to sell them. Since you already have the relationship, you can sell them at a later stage of the sales cycle, making the process go much faster. Ultimately, never burn bridges in a small industry, you just never know. 

Earn trust, build relationships, sell more 

Whether you’re in media sales or software sales, earning trust doesn’t have to be hard. Find out what your client needs. Be a good listener. Recommend the product that’s the best fit for them, not for you. If you’re just trying to push through what you want to sell, your client will know that you’re not really paying attention to them. Brutal honesty, consistent accountability, and building your expertise are the foundation of successful selling.