Why trusting relationships with clients and prospects are a must

"Trust" definition in dictionary

Just made a new network contact? It’s now your job to build a strong enough relationship that will earn you the right to ask for their business. Building strong and trusting relationships with your existing customers is also fundamental to the long term success (and profitability) of your business.

Many people I have met confuse familiarity with relationship and trust. Familiarity is what you build up by regular exposure to someone, like your dry cleaner or newsagent. After a few years you know them well refer to each other by name but really don’t share a very deep relationship. Most of us have experienced this kind of relationship with a neighbour; you’re always friendly and often chat at your letterbox but don’t really have a deep relationship. These are good examples of familiarity and will very often be the type of relationship you have with many of your clients. This is dangerous!

On the other hand, many of us have also experienced a strong and trusting relationship with a neighbour (have you ever been close enough with a neighbour that they have a key to your house?) This is quite common. So what’s the difference between familiarity and a trusting relationship? It’s down to the level of engagement. You can control this and with some practice you can become very skilled at building strong relationships. The secrets to this are context, timing and engagement.

Let’s talk first about context. When something is within context it’s deemed appropriate and when it’s out of context it’s deemed “weird”. For example, if you have a new neighbour it’s in context that you introduce yourself and appropriate that you engage with them over time. This could be in the form of having them help you move some furniture or feed your pet. The secret is how quickly you can ramp up the engagement without being weird. Let’s say you wish to do this as quickly as possible. Think about an appropriate way to ask for their help and then an appropriate way to thank them. You might ask if you could borrow their ladder and then say thanks with a bottle of wine. All of this is in context and a great start; you just need to keep finding more and deeper engagements.

A good example of an out of context engagement might be trying to form the same relationship with someone two streets over. They are still arguably neighbours but it’s all a bit “weird”. You can also make it weird by asking for inappropriate engagements with your real neighbour too early. This is where timing is involved. Imagine you’ve borrowed their ladder, given them some wine and then said, “Here’s a key to my house, can I please have yours too.” You can also get a bit weird by repaying someone’s help inappropriately, such as repaying your neighbour who lent you his ladder with a bottle of Penfolds Grange. “Bit weird”.

All of these examples hold true for your prospects and clients. You need to initiate the engagement whilst thinking about context and timing. It could start with you inviting them to an event (where it’s more than just you and them) and then maybe to some one-on-one engagement. Use your own experience and gut reaction for what’s in context and OK timing.

Earlier on I said that just having familiarity with your clients was “dangerous”. I want you to imagine that you need to re-bid or re-price your products or services to an existing client. You’ve worked out what’s a fair and appropriate price but now you’re worried that if you bid this price and it’s too high, your client might just take their business elsewhere. Many business people end up “fear pricing” this is where you bid your lowest price because you’re scared that your fair price might cost you the business. If you had taken the time to build a strong and trusting relationship with your clients you don’t have to fear price. Even if your client thinks your fair price isn’t OK your relationship with them will ensure they discuss this with you and not just walk away.

I hope you can see how you can build a strong and trusting relationship with someone by initiating some engagement and managing context and timing. These three things will enable you to grow past familiarity and develop trust.