About a year ago I wrote a column on the ABCs of selling.
When I came to the letter T, there was no doubt what that word would be: Trust.
It's the most important word in business.
Trust is central to doing business with anyone.
Without it, you have another word that begins with T: Trouble.
Unfortunately, trust in business plummeted worldwide last year, according to an Edelman survey released in late January. The public relations firm discovered that just 38 percent of respondents aged 35 to 64 said they trusted business, down from 58 percent a year earlier—the lowest rating in the survey's 10-year history. It's interesting that U.S. respondents ranked third. People in Ireland and Japan were even more suspicious.
As a life-long businessman I find this especially troubling. In my business, there is nothing more important than trust, although I would list likeability, people skills and chemistry close behind.
I've always believed that telling the truth is the best policy. In business, especially today, it's a must. A few years back, the Forum Corporation of Boston, Mass., studied 341 salespeople from 11 different companies in five different industries. Their purpose was to determine what separated top producers from average producers. When the study was finished, the results were startling. It was not skill, knowledge or charisma that divided the pack. The difference came down to one trait: honesty. When customers trust salespeople, they buy from them!
At MackayMitchell Envelope Company, we don't tolerate anything less than honest negotiations and delivery guarantees. An envelope is a very standard commodity. Sure, the paper, the glue, and the size can vary. The end product can probably be duplicated by a hundred companies. But nobody can match us day in day out, job after job, envelope after envelope, smile after smile. Our customers know we'll do what we promise and try to deliver even more. They've even occasionally forgiven us for an honest mistake because they know we'll make good on our word.
When bailouts, bankruptcies and corporate scandals erupt and occupy the front pages for months on end, people tend to mistrust all of corporate America. That's not fair, but something of a natural reaction.
Is this a recent development? Not exactly. Nearly one hundred years ago, President Theodore Roosevelt addressed the issue: "We demand that big business give people a square deal. In return, we must insist that when anyone engaged in big business honestly endeavors to do right, he shall himself be given a square deal."
When people get in trouble, what do they typically do? They consult someone they already know and trust. When a problem hits, it's a poor time to look for help. How can you depend on someone you have known for half an hour? I would rather rely on someone I know I can count on, even if his or her experience is limited, than start from scratch. That person can usually lead you to someone who can help you if different skills are necessary.
Trust is key.
Wayne Huizenga, the only person in history to have founded three Fortune 500 companies (Blockbuster, Waste Management and AutoNation), knows plenty about building trust. He says: "I don't want to be just a voice on the phone. I have to get to know these guys face-to-face and develop a sincere relationship. That way, if we run into problems in a deal, it doesn't get adversarial. We trust each other and have the confidence we can work things out."
When trust exists in an organization or in a relationship, almost everything else is easier and more comfortable to achieve. Trust is built and maintained by many small actions over time.
Author Marsha Sinetar said: "Trust is not a matter of technique, but of character. We are trusted because of our way of being, not because of our polished exteriors or our expertly crafted communications."
Trust is telling the truth, even when it is difficult, and being truthful and trustworthy in your dealings with customers and staff. People do not or cannot trust each other if they are easily suspicious of one another. Trust involves being optimistic, rather than pessimistic. When we trust people, we are optimistic not only that they are competent to do what we trust them to do, but also that they are committed to doing it.
Mackay's Moral: It takes years to build up trust, but only seconds to destroy it.