October 1, 2015 | 4 minutes

Building Trust with Skeptical Clients or Colleagues

By Nathan Strum


How many times have you met someone and thought of how easily you both connected? At that moment, the conversation is flowing, you establish a positive perception about the person, trust each other, and you quickly find yourself brainstorming ideas together. You both cannot stop thinking about all your ideas that are being bounced back and forth, and a new project is now on its way. Well, that is an ideal situation that sometimes isn’t all too realistic.

Many times when you meet someone you can automatically feel the disconnect. Sometimes relationships seem like a strict business. Getting someone to trust you and see the value in your work is oftentimes difficult. There are many skeptical people in this world who feel like you have the need to prove yourself to them. These situations are extremely awkward because when it’s a strict business and you try to slip in a “How are you today,” here and there, their response is one-worded. That sense of disconnect makes it hard to enjoy what you are doing and bounce ideas off of each other because the relationship just isn’t there. I think a key factor is to establish trust with your new business colleague. Here are a couple of ways to speed up the process.

In Mike Schultz and John Doerr’s article “Building Trust with Skeptical Executives,” they give the following useful tips which I proved to be very helpful. They state:

  • Find areas of commonality and discuss them, but don’t get too personal too fast. [Skeptica]l Steve is willing to open up, but he takes a while. Get to know him over time. Move too quickly, and you’ll get rebuffed.
  • Live, face-to-face time will help. When setting meetings, make sure there’s a compelling reason to meet in person over and above “getting to know each other.”
  • Don’t embellish or be “larger than life,” as this will turn him off.
  • Don’t be too demonstrative, and don’t read too much into his lack of gestures and feedback.
  • Give [Skeptica]l Steve time to respond. Press him too hard, and he’ll disengage.
  • Focus your interactions in smaller groups, preferably one on one. The larger the group, the more Steve is uncomfortable.

Shultz and Doerr are both great at explaining and giving advice on strengthening client relationships. Mistrust incompetence, mistrust of professional dependability, and mistrust of motives as outlined by Shultz and Doerr are the three main issues of mistrust skeptical clients have.

In an excerpt from their article, this is what they had to say about mistrust incompetence and how to rectify it. They state, “In this case, it’s likely sellers have sold their ability to get something done in the past to an executive and were unable to deliver what they said they could deliver and unable achieve what they said they could achieve. Buyers can be burned by this. The more they’ve been burned, the larger a barrier they erect for new people and companies to prove their mettle. As well, if you’re selling something new – a new idea, new product or service, new company – buyers may be naturally skeptical because of your lack of track record. If you’re selling the ability to achieve something that is not certain in its outcome, such as great increases in revenue, reductions in cost, the outcomes that will be the result of a major change initiative or anything that could be a real breakthrough, buyers will be naturally skeptical.”

This is their suggestion in building that trust:

  • Use your historical success as a proxy for future success in stories, case studies, and references.
  • Demonstrate a deep understanding of their businesses, their challenges, their opportunities, and their markets.
  • Know your content cold.
  • If you don’t know something, admit it.
  • Create experiences that demonstrate your competence and allow buyers to get to know your content and capabilities deeply. Webinars, white papers, research, speeches, and seminars can help.
  • Package services and products in pilot tests or phases that can prove the case and prove your ability to deliver.
  • Oldie-but-a-goodie: under-promise and over-deliver.

Using the advice above can really benefit your future work relationships.

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