4 Principles of Selling in the Trust Business

Selling defines success. Nothing else is more important in your business. So what is this notion of the trust business?

Are you in the financial services business or the “trust business”? Your answer could well determine your success. The trust business is defined by what you provide for your clients. People hire you—or decide not to—based on how much they trust you. People reinvest or walk away based on how much they trust you.

Perhaps the idea of selling trust is new to you. If you think you sell products or services, you’re limiting yourself.  Here are the four principles you need to remember to be successful at selling in the trust business:

  1. You sell trust to people who want to buy trust.
  2. People buy when they like and trust you.
  3. Your success in business is defined by your closing ratio.
  4. Prospects want to trust you.

One of my coaching clients, Rebecca, talked about the trust business this way: “I’ve been one of the most successful producers in the state for many years. I’ve got a wall covered with recognitions. But the primary reason people invest through me is because they trust me. They want their family members and friends to trust me. The trust business is nothing abstract—it’s what I do, every day, year after year.”

Another client, Phillip, had this to say: “My uncle has been a mentor for me in this business. From the get-go, he urged me to focus on long-term asset development and my clients’ needs. He taught me that each interaction is an opportunity to develop trust. So I try to remember that when I build my connections.”

When it comes to developing his business, Phillip said, “I keep a long-term view on my business. Instead of looking at my firm’s six-month goals—say, $3 million in production—I extend it to a two-year goal of $12 million. Then I focus on developing the trusting relationships that will get me there. Some colleagues fail when they only get $2.2 million and drop off the payout grid. I’ve been at it for eight years, have $30 million in assets under management, but I know what that will mean in real dollars to my family in 10 years. There is no better business than the trust business.”

Here’s a more in-depth look at the four principles of trust that have helped both Phillip and Rebecca succeed.

Principle 1: You sell trust to people who want to buy trust

Have you ever met anyone you immediately trusted? Me too.

I would bet that the person you immediately trusted had the following qualities: she seemed to know what she was talking about, she said or did what she promised to do time and again, and she worked from her values. Just as this person earned your trust, you can earn the trust of others by developing the following character traits:

Credibility: expertise that demonstrates you know what you are talking about

Consistency: following through on your promises

Predictability: being consistent over time

Integrity: working from your values

It’s important to remember that you probably already have some of the qualities above, and you can build and improve in any area where you need to get better. The ultimate goal is to build integrity and earn the trust of your clients.

For more information on developing integrity, I strongly recommend Discover Your Sales Strengths: How the World’s Greatest Salespeople Develop Winning Careers. Its authors, Benson Smith and Tony Rutigliano, assessed more than 40 years’ worth of data from Gallup to make a compelling case for finding your sales “fit” through discovering your strengths. It offers an interactive profile (, that will help you identify your top five talents—and helps you start getting the most from them.

Basically, the book asserts that integrity results when you act in accordance with your strengths. For instance, if your strengths indicate that you are “strategic, in command, and a maximizer,” you will act with integrity when you work from those strengths with your clients and prospects.

To enhance your integrity, practice these actions:

  1. Practice building the four levels of trust every day.
  2. Get an accountability partner or hire a coach to support your actions.
  3. Make an assessment of your sales strengths and strive to use them.
  4. Walk and talk your strengths! Integrity cannot be faked.

Principle 2: People buy when they like and trust you

This principle is older than earth, and just as vital. Think about your personal buying habits for a moment. You may buy Caribou coffee from the same vendor several times a week because she always smiles or says something clever. You decided not to get your hair cut at a certain place because you just didn’t like the way you were treated when you called for an appointment. Something felt … wrong.

Just as you form immediate impressions and make choices based on intuition, people buy from you when they instinctively like you and trust you.

Psychologists such as Piaget talk about trust vs. intimacy as a stage in our youth. My experience is that we continually dance back and forth between trust and intimacy. We invest time and energy in those we like. We avoid intimacy with those we dislike.

Try this activity:

List your top 20 clients.

List the qualities of each.

Look for patterns.

My experience is that those top clients will reflect your interests or your values.

For instance, when Jeff, one of my clients, did this activity he said, “I never knew so many of my top clients were interested in NASCAR. We live in Charlotte, and there are thousands of people who are fanatical about the sport. But I never would have thought so many of my top clients share that interest.” You may not be surprised to learn that Jeff is passionate about NASCAR.

What are you passionate about? Try these hints to develop relationships with those who share your interests:

  1. State genuine compliments in every meeting, at least one every 20 minutes.
  2. List your top hobbies or interests. List how those interests will lead you to prospects. Make a plan for providing value or services to new people in those groups.
  3. Read Horsesmouth articles for more examples of how to build on shared interests with high-net-worth prospects.

Principle 3: Your success in business is defined by your closing ratio

You are a salesperson in the trust business. For some people the word “salesperson” may conjure up negative associations like sleazy, evasive, and deceptive. For others, the word “salesperson” brings to mind someone who is a provider, connector, or resource. If you view your role as a salesperson positively, you will convey the role of trusted resource, or trusted advisor, to your clients.

Of course you provide products and services to your clients. But your job is not to provide a feature or benefit and then move on. Your job is to use your two ears and one mouth (in that proportion) to listen for what your clients need or want and respond appropriately. Your job is to be trustworthy to your clients.

One of my clients, Pat, gave me the following example. Let’s see if you can find anything wrong with his approach. Pat said, “I went into my second meeting with a stack of portfolios that my prospects had requested. I had prepped for two hours. I showed them the features and benefits for five portfolio choices. They seemed enthusiastic. I got my ‘happy money ears’ when his wife said, ‘We really need to do this immediately.’ They are high-net-worth individuals. But I never closed the deal, and I never got another meeting with them. And frankly, I don’t know what I did wrong.”

Do you notice the red flags in this example? I asked Pat the following questions:

How much did you speak, and how much did you listen?

What did the husband say or do that indicated he understood any of the proposals?

Who was the key decision maker?

What do you know about their values, hobbies, or investment history?

Did you ask for their business?

If you find that you need to improve your closing ratio, consider taking these actions:

  1. Listen at least 60% of the time, even when presenting information.
  2. Assume nothing. Be prepared for anything. The samurai warriors lived by that code.
  3. Take a sales class from Sandler or Dale Carnegie or another proven trainer. High closing ratios are the result of asking for the business. The simplest example is just saying, “So, what would you like to do next?”

Principle 4: Prospects want to trust you

My client, Sam, was complaining that his target clients, busy attorneys in Washington, D.C., were not calling him back. He had the feeling they just didn’t want to get together with him. He explained, “I have a good system. I send my lead letters, then call within three days. My ‘meetings set’ to ‘meetings kept’ ratio is horrible, from 12% set to about 4% kept. Then it still takes at least three meetings to close the sale.”

After he vented, I said, “What if you adopted the perspective that your prospects really want to trust you? You are building a new relationship. That may require one meeting, or more than three meetings. You are trying to attract people who want to trust you. What if you adopted the perspective that each of your prospects really wants to trust you? Sam adopted this point of view and flipped his objections into a new paradigm. The results were tremendous within just a few months.

Try taking this attitude yourself, then build on it by explicitly incorporating it into the way you talk with clients. Make trust a central focus of your discussions. Start your fact-finding meetings by stating, “There are many reasons why you can trust me …” Then state them. When you are telling stories, be sure to use the word “trust” in them and demonstrate your trustworthiness.

Building the trust business is not always a quick sales proposition. But take a moment to reflect on successful advisors you know. I’ll bet each of them could tell you who they like and trust, what services they consistently provide, and how they ask for business. Work on earning trust, and soon you’ll have other advisors asking for your secrets!