Thursday, August 07, 2014

Trust in Business Part 2: Maintaining and Transferring Trust

In Part I - - I introduced the four stages in a trust relationship: Meet, Vet, Establish, and Maintain. That articles covers the first three stages, all of which are about setting up the trust relationship.

Now let's look at maintaining and transferring trust.

Trusting Your Team

It actually takes a lot of work to "set up" a trusting relationship. You have to go through several cycles of making promises and then keeping them. You need to set expectations and then deliver. And when you over-deliver, you build even more trust.

One of the reasons that big corporations are essentially only sales operations is that there are very few one-on-one relationships with clients. Small businesses have it easier in that regard. All client relationships start with a one or two people from each company trying to work together. Trust grows from there.

If your company has a number of technicians or engineers that will service clients, you need to introduce them properly. This is the great promise of having employees: They will do a lot of the work. But you have to be careful how you "hand off" the client. You need to introduce the new employee. You need to literally walk into the client's office together and introduce them. Then you need to look into the client's eyes and tell them that the new tech is really good and will do a great job.

It's always bad form to tell a small business client that you are going to send over someone they've never met before.

Small business clients want to know who they're working with. You have to build a LOT of trust before you can send a stranger to take care of a client relationship just because he's wearing your company shirt.

What you're doing with employees is delegating trust.

Delegating means that they are working on your behalf. In the world of trust, that means that the employee is using YOUR trust equity to continue and manage the relationship. If the employee doesn't perform, you lose some of that trust equity. That's the danger.

On the up-side: When an employee does a great job and really impresses the client, three things happen. First, they begin to build their own trust relationship. Second, they help you maintain your trust relationship with the client. After all, you said this was a good tech and you delivered. Third, some trust equity is transferred from your personally to your company or brand.

Branding is all about expectations. Consistency in performance goes a long ways - even if it's delivered by someone other than you.

Joining the Client's Team

If you work at it long enough, you will be considered part of the client's team. That means that you will be invited to sit in on important decisions. Your input will be sought and your advice taken seriously.

It's hard for you to force that stage of the relationship. Holding regular roadmap meetings will help a lot. If you invite yourself in and then avoid sales talk during the roadmap meetings, the client will see you promise to be strategic and then follow through on that. Eventually, they will invite you it and trust you to keep it strategic.

The more involvement you have and the more "layers" of connection with the client, the harder it is to delegate trust. Even if the client completely trusts your team for technical support, that doesn't guarantee trust with regard to strategy and planning.

In addition, gaining the trust of your primary contact is not the same as gaining the trust of the owner or the majority of end users. Everyone needs to have experiences that allow trust to grow. Here and there you can delegate trust up and down the org chart. But most of the time, most of the people will need to have their own experiences that allow trust to emerge for them.

The Ultimate Delegation of Trust: Selling Your Business

I have quite a bit of personal experience with this one. I have worked with companies that have been bought and sold. I have helped companies buy and sell pieces of themselves. And I have been involved in selling my own business.

There are two primary kinds of trust that need to be conferred when you sell a business: Personal trust and service delivery trust. If you have personal relationships with your clients, they are far more likely to stay with the company after it has been sold. But that means YOU might have to stay around for awhile as well.

When KPEnterprises transitioned to America's Tech Support several years ago, we took two huge steps to pass along trust and maintain clients. First, Mike and I wrote a letter to clients and described what was happening. We assured them that we were going to sit in the same seats, in the same offices, and do the same things we always did. The only difference was that Mike was going to be the owner and I was going to be the senior engineer.

Second, we set up meetings with the clients who had personal relationships with me. That was about 90% of the clients who had been with us for two or more years. Mike and I both met with them. We basically made the same promises that were in the letter. But we looked them in the eye and assured them that everything was going to be great. They all knew Mike. Now he looked them in the eye and said the words "I'll take care of your business."

That's huge.

Time and again I've seen businesses go downhill after being sold. They lose clients who have with the company for five, ten, or fifteen years. Personally, I think this almost always do to mis-handling the trust part of the relationship. Either the buyer and seller did not manage the hand-off properly, or the buyer failed to focus on building his own trust equity.

It is very common that a business sale includes a requirement that the old owner stick around for some period of time. The excuse given is stability. But, really, it's the stability of the trust relationships more than anything else. Very often, a piece of the sale price is tied to continued revenue from existing clients. If they all leave, the seller receives less money. So he sticks around to maximize his return.

The other big failure is the failure to maintain the trust that has been built into service delivery. The only way the new owner can build and maintain his own trust equity is through performance. He has to deliver the kind of tech support the clients are used to. He has to build the relationship on his own, because the delegated trust only lasts so long. As it fades, the new trust relationship needs to grow in its place.

I heard a new owner say one time that he didn't want personalities to be part of the equation. He had contracts with clients. He would deliver services. They would pay their bills. It should be that simple.

Maybe. But it's not that simple.

If your business is built on service with no relationships, that means no trust. You are a stranger. And if you stay a stranger, then that client is never "your" client. They are just "a" client and you are just "a" vendor.

Clients can always give their money to strangers who make better promises.

What strangers can't do is to build instant rapport and instant trust.


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