Setting aside your product, sales pitch and perfect script, the first thing you need to make a sale is trust. A prospect might sit through your call, but whether they take you seriously or follow up depends on if they trust you.

“We are processing, thinking judging machines, constantly looking for indicators of whether or not this person is worth our time,” says Liston Witherill, host of the Modern Sales podcast, which uses behavioral economics and psychology to understand how people make buying decisions.

When you first get on the phone with a prospect, your most important job is to build that trust. You do that by understanding how you can meet their needs and describing exactly what to expect from you.

“Basically, your proposal should be a formality,” Liston says.

Liston joined our episode 137 to share his tips on how to build trust and prospects leaving that first call with so much clarity.

Hone you online presence

Almost all prospects will check out your company’s website or your personal LinkedIn profile before they get on a call with you. If your presence doesn’t look legitimate or professional, you won’t get them on the phone.

Because you often connect with prospects for the first time through LinkedIn, your profile is essentially your first impression.

Liston offers these tips to spruce up your LinkedIn profile and be taken more seriously:

  • Use a professional-looking photo. You don’t have to pay a professional to take it, but you shouldn’t use an old family photo with the rest of the family obviously cropped out.  “If you have a modern smartphone, you can get a professional-looking headshot,” says Liston. “Just go out and stand in the sun and have someone else take your picture.”

  • Fill in your work history with relevant positions. It doesn’t have to include every job you’ve had since high school, but list jobs relevant to your industry to showcase your experience and establish authority.

  • Give and get recommendations. Both indicate trustworthiness, so ask for recommendations, and pay it forward.

  • Align your messaging with your target audience. Your goal isn’t to be recruited, so don’t make your profile about you. It’s not your resume; it’s a sales tool. Use it to appeal to prospective buyers.

“It’s going to take them one minute to make a snap judgment about whether or not you’re worth it,” he says“. So you have to check those boxes. A website and LinkedIn presence are now requisites. These aren’t nice to have; you have to have them.”

Make and keep promises (it builds trust)

You can set a good tone with someone by making commitments — but only if you stick to them.

“In relationships, it’s all about creating expectations and meeting them,” Liston says.

That includes the smallest details. If you say a call will only take 30 minutes, end it on time. If you say you’ll email a proposal by next Tuesday, get it done by then. Without even realizing it, they’ll judge your ability to stick to those commitments.

That can also mean making promises to give yourself an opportunity to follow through and build trust. Set deadlines to guide a prospect’s expectations and hold yourself accountable, for example.

“The absolute most important thing is to make promises and keep them,” says Liston. “That is the number one thing you can do [to build] trust.”

Be transparent about your strengths and weaknesses

Transparency in business and sales, Liston says, is not only “the right thing to do, but it also helps people trust you more.”

That means letting a prospect know not just why your company is a good fit for them but also why it might not be.

If we say something that’s clearly not in our self-interest, that’s trust-building for the person,” Liston points out.

It doesn’t mean you should write a script that points out a few shallow weaknesses to appear trustworthy. Instead, genuinely understand the customer and whether or not what you’re selling is right for them.

To do that, Liston recommends asking six questions on each discovery call:

  • What’s going on?

  • How long has this been happening?

  • When did you notice this was a problem?

  • What have you done to fix it?

  • Who else is this affecting?

  • Why is now the right time?

These questions achieve a few important goals on that first call, including:

  • Keep the conversation focused on your prospects.This call isn’t about pitching or selling yourself; it’s about getting to know the customer.

  • Learn why they want to talk to you. Let them tell you exactly what their problem is and how you can help them fix it, so you know which pieces of your value proposition will appeal to them.

  • Let them sell themselves on your product. Get them talking about how you can help and why now is the right time to buy, and you won’t have to do any selling at all! 

  • Discover whether this is a good fit. If you actually can’t solve their problem, now isn’t the right time to buy, or they haven’t yet tried a cheaper or simpler solution, this isn’t the right customer. Letting them answer these questions helps you both discover that before you launch into a hard sell.

If you discover that your solution isn’t a good fit at this time — and you’re honest with them about that — you’ll build trust. And it’s no loss, because they weren’t the right customer for you, anyway.

“If you feel that you have to lie, you’re doing a crappy job of prospecting,” Liston points out. “You’re talking to the wrong people, and you don’t have enough pipeline.”

Listen, and listen well

After asking his six questions, Liston recommends asking the prospect if you can take a minute to repeat what you’ve heard.

This basic active listening technique is a simple way to let them know you care about what they say, that you’re not just there to get through your pitch.

“There’s the asking and listening, but also, you have to do something with it,” he says. “And you have to confirm that you understood it correctly.”

He relays the information he’s gotten like a narrative, illustrating the problem and offering a solution: “I was in a state, and things were good. And then something happened. And things started to suck. And I wasn’t sure what to do. And I started to look for answers. And here I am, because there’s this other future I want to get to, and I’m not sure how to get there.”

Repeating this information gives the prospect a chance to notice anything they didn’t mention and would like to talk about, or to correct your understanding of their problem if necessary.

What’s the proposal for? Just ask 

To avoid spending time writing proposals that never get a response, get on the same page during the call using the techniques above.

If they request a proposal, ask how it will help them. Potential answers include:

  • It’ll help decide whether you’re a good fit. If that’s their answer, then ask what questions they still have. You’re better off answering and letting them decide now than spending hours on a proposal just to show them you’re not a fit.

  • They need to share it with other stakeholders. Maybe they’re sold but need to convince their boss or someone else. Ask them who else will see the proposal and what information you need to include to help them convince internal stakeholders. 

If they can’t provide a clear reason for wanting a proposal, it might not be the right time to send one. Getting clear on the purpose of the proposal will  save you a lot of work.

“If they are invested in working with you, they’re going to tell you answers to all of these questions,” Liston says.