One of my greatest assets as a salesperson is that trust is usually easy for me to gain. Part of this is because I am a straightforward person. If I don’t know the answer to something, rather than make up an answer, I admit it. People tend to respect this admission and also tend to believe the rest of what I say more readily. A great deal of my success in sales came from this approach of being honest with people, admitting my own limitations, and conducting myself as a professional.
Another important part of building trust is how you communicate with people. In my experience, there are way too many creative people who talk down to “average” people, as if the artist is somehow more intelligent than everyone else. Of course, there are dumb people in this world. Of course, there are artists who are very intelligent, but there are also some extremely intelligent people in all walks of life. Just because a person doesn’t have a formal education in a particular area doesn’t mean that person doesn’t have the curiosity or capacity to learn. Here’s two quick examples to illustrate this point:
My grandfather was about 6′ 5″ and close to three hundred pounds. He spoke with a fairly thick Appalachian dialect that descended directly from Middle English. He was a expert marksman in his National Guard unit that served in the Korean War. His highest level of formal education was high school, and he was a rural mail carrier for thirty-three years. People who never looked beyond the surface saw an ignorant hillbilly and dismissed him out of hand, but anyone who spent any time around this man quickly learned that his curiosity about the world was infinite. He knew as much about geology and botany as anyone I’ve ever known personally, and on more than one occasion, he amazed me by telling me what certain rock formations meant or describing in detail the varieties of certain species of plant. He was also an avid bird watcher and kept at least three bird-feeders outside his front window to attract robins, blue jays, and hummingbirds. The people who dismissed him as dumb missed out on one of the finest human beings I’ve ever known.
My next example comes from when I started graduate school. On the first or second night of my first graduate level creative writing class, a group of us went to have a beer after class. At some point, the conversation turned to Bluegrass music. I’ve never claimed to be an expert on any form of music, but I enjoy listening to all kinds, and Bluegrass just happens to be one of my favorites. However, either from a severe head injury I received in high school or just genetic defect, I have a terrible time remembering the names of people and songs. It’s very frustrating for me, but one Bluegrass artist I greatly admire is Bela Fleck. I love what he’s done bridging Bluegrass with Jazz and respect his ability as a banjo player. On this particular occasion, my instructor, who had joined us at the bar, turned out also to be a mandolin player in a Bluegrass band, and rather than embrace me for my interest in his music, he chastised and demeaned me because of my apparent lack of knowledge as he rattled off name after name of musicians who I simply couldn’t recall. I’m certain that I had heard many of them play, but that deficiency in my recall of names gave him the impression that I was not sincere in my love of the music.
I tell that story because from that point forward, I lost trust in what he tried to teach me. His looking down his nose at me and talking down to me as if I were simple cost him my trust. That’s something I’ve seen other writers do when they’ve encountered fans who didn’t have the same depth of knowledge of a particular subject. If you want to maintain a person’s trust during the sales process, you need to talk to them on their level as if they are your equal. Selling is not a pissing contest, and it’s not a measure of how much smarter than everyone else you are. It’s about making a connection with a person. To that end, find what you have in common with them and focus on that. Talk about subjects that interest them and let them share their knowledge and passion with you. If you do this, you will find that people trust and respect you a lot more than if you smack their nose and send them running with their tail between their legs.
To many of us, this sounds like common sense, but in my travels at various conventions, I have witnessed countless writers, artists, and musicians get into these kinds of ego matches with potential fans and customers. In those cases, the sales process is dead before it ever gets started.