The Credibility Gap

Dave Kinnear1-On Leadership

Sharing Before Caring:

Recently I was in a meeting with two other well-established service providers. These are successful men (yes, it happens all three of us are male); at least I believe many would consider them to be successful. The conversation turned to how difficult it is to get potential clients to “pull the trigger” and hire them for their respective services. They intend to grow their businesses, but seem to have “hit a wall.”

I have come to expect that this kind of conversation will eventually get around to how the sales process has changed. This conversation was no different. The discussion began to


focus on one of us who asked that we evaluate his process, services, etc.


I found that what followed was a realization that even though we understand that the buyer of goods and services for non-commodity items drives the process now, we still try to sell ourselves as being the most qualified vendor.

Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.

— Theodore Roosevelt

As we listened to our colleague explain how he approaches potential clients once he was “in front of them,” it became obvious that he inadvertently slipped right back into the old selling process. What he thought he was doing, and what he wanted to do, was to establish his professional credentials.

The Hard Sell

I think we all can fall into this trap of turning our attempts to establish credibility into what amounts to a hard sell. That shouldn’t surprise us. Moreover, we create the gap because salespeople, by definition, cannot be trusted. So credibility is almost impossible to establish if you’re perceived to be selling. The reason we want to develop our credibility is so the buyer will hire us or order our product. In other words, we have our own interests at heart, not the buyer’s interests.

We never know how what we are saying will land on someone else’s ears. I’ve heard many professional speakers who frequently refer to clients during their presentation. I believe that they intend to establish that they have experience in the area being presented or discussed. However, to some people, the constant referrals to clients is a thinly disguised reference to the fact that the presenter is for hire.

The “constant reminder” that they are for hire diminishes the value they are adding with their presentation. By sharing valuable concepts and data in the presentation, the presenter is automatically establishing credibility.

To Question Is The Answer

I struggle with this whole concept of not selling to sell. My new mantra is, “If you want to sell more, then stop selling and telling.” The only way I come close to getting this right is by making sure that I am forever asking questions. Alternatively, I am answering questions that the buyer is asking. I work hard to understand their real needs, provide value through asking the right questions, and only talk about myself or my services when directly asked by the buyer.

Giving advice to or coaching someone without their permission is abuse.

— Anonymous

I grew up being trained and eventually paid to be a problem solver. My sales training was always focused on getting the order. Even when I was being trained to find what the customer needed, it was with the expressed purpose of closing an order.

I often find myself wanting to blurt out, “Well, here’s what you have to do.” It’s a struggle to keep myself in the questioning mode rather than the telling mode.

Happy Days

The path is clear. My clients are willing to do and they are insisting on doing what used to be my work. That is, they research what is available for the product or service they want, they research the vendors who provide it, and they contact the one or two best vendors to help them finish up the process. I am no longer needed to make cold or warm calls to tell or educate the customer up front.

My job is to be found when the customers are searching and to ask the right questions to make sure I am a good choice for a solution. My job isn’t to take an order off the table. It is to build a long term relationship with the potential customer. I no longer need to be a salesperson. Instead, I need to serve the customer. That means making sure I ask the right questions.