‘I’m not bothered if you buy or not – here are the cakes’


We have a Sales Rep working for us, whose preferred way of handling customer meetings is to take a batch of cakes in.  No super science sales skills, no clever tactics.  And honestly no hidden agenda.  Just cakes.  He usually eats most of them too, with a cup of tea (2 sugars) and a lengthy chat.

This is how he’s always done it.

Customers love him, and trust him.  I’m always fascinated by the idea of trust, especially as we have built our business based on years of continued trust, with repeat clients and longer contracts than usual.  It’s difficult to put your finger on where that unique trust comes from, or how you even build it.  We always thought it just happened.

But I came across an interesting graphic called the Trust Matrix.  It perfectly articulated something we had been carrying out for so long, but didn’t have the words to explain.

The Trust Matrix says that you need a unique combination of both character and competence to build trust.  You can go online and read all the case studies in the world about a potential new supplier, but if something just doesn’t feel right, then it probably isn’t right.  Character forms a huge part of what we do – it’s why our customers stay with us for the long term. But how do you define it? Or even more complicated, how do you replicate character?

But what is character?

Who knows?  It could be our strong Brummie accents, or our cheeky Dad jokes.  We’re not quite sure.  Our Sales Rep strongly believes it’s the cakes.  Or perhaps it’s the lunches at the Vine around the corner (curry/pub that’s well worth a visit if you’re in West Bromwich).

The Trust Matrix believes character is a mix of integrity, openness and authenticity.  In our world, we think being true to our roots and straightforward with customers is better than an overly polished slick presentation and a sales script.  When we first work with customers, we deliver our FACE presentation, sharing everything about how the company came about, our approach and culture and what working with us is like.  Our customers want to know that they are buying into something real, honest and reliable; that when they encounter an issue, someone is there to help.  Sales have long left the building by the time your customer really needs you.  Being there at the weekend, against all odds, is what makes the difference between character and a good sales patter.

The problem with many sales training programmes is that they focus on how to make cookie cutter sales reps – with everyone acting in the same way, saying the same things and delivering the same presentation.

We don’t think that works and each of our Sales Reps operates in a completely different way to the next.  That suits some customers, and doesn’t suit others – no problem, people are individuals after all.  But those differences and quirks in our personalities make us real – and customers get a good handle on who we are as a company pretty early on.

Combined with competence

So what sits on the other side of character in the Trust Matrix?  Competence is the other key element, apparently made up of the capability to deliver, alongside relevant skills and experience.  This is the part where customers need to see proof that you can deliver the services they need to a great level, regardless of whether they get on with you or not.  Organisations that focus too much on improving sales without looking at what happens once a customer is actively engaged with your business tend to suffer from a high rate of customer churn.  This is where the client has selected you to work with, but quickly realises that the skills aren’t there, or problems start to emerge – and they ultimately walk away from the contract.

Character alone won’t see you through serious competency issues.  A high degree of results-based competence, built on evidence of previous experience delivering the same services, alongside examples of where you have performed well for other organisations.

Balancing the two

A recent article in Director magazine from the Institute of Directors picked up on how companies now need to have an Emotional Selling Proposition – as people make choices based on their emotional engagement with a brand.

Maybe this is why we build such strong, and long, partnerships with our customers.  The customers become friends and we partner in different ways as the company changes and our clients’ own businesses morph and grow.

Even in the B2B world, we believe that every decision is an emotional decision, based on a unique mix of character and competence, balancing that ‘je ne sais quoi’ with experience and skill.

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