Using Sales Assessment Tests to Measure Reps' Ability to Create Trust

Ed Marsh | Nov 15, 2023

Sales Assessment Tests

Introduction to SignalsFromTheOP

Guide to Episode

  1. Trust is simultaneously more important in complex sales AND harder to create
  2. To build trust you must leverage culture, content and sales reps' competencies to build trust
  3. Using sales assessment tests you can measure a rep's ability to create trust - a critical capability of a sales force testing program
  4. Along with relationship building and consultative selling, the trust building competency is critical to sales success

Transcript follows:

Hello, I’m Ed Marsh. Welcome to Signals From the OP, my biweekly video blog that acts like an observation post for industrial manufacturing execs, providing early warning about topics that I believe are lurking just beyond their awareness but which will affect them.

A Buyer Trust Crisis

Today’s topic is buyer trust.

When business was done in person, with 1st and 2nd-degree connections, trust was implicit and easily verified. Referrals and introductions, testimonials, and case studies were meaningful because they came from folks you knew or knew of.

It seems like that’s changed.

Not only do we have a trust crisis socially in terms of politics and media, but we have one in business, too. The internet makes it so easy for someone half a world away or in their basement around the corner to create what appears to be a large, ongoing business with testimonials, reviews and authority. Of course it can be a Potemkin village – nothing but a façade. So we’re less sure who to trust.

At the same time, buyer hesitance and resistance have increased.

Buying team committees make it harder to reassure everyone. Behavioral economics teaches us lessons about the pain of loss far exceeding the pleasure of a win, and increasing professional competition within companies means that the perceived professional risk of a mistake is increasing. It doesn’t even need to be wrong, it could just be something that many don’t like.

So, the executives and managers to whom we sell are increasingly hesitant to trust any vendor.

Buyers Don't Naturally Trust Sales Reps

This is confirmed by research. Ian Bruce, a VP and Principal Analyst with Forrester, recently shared some of the findings from Forrester’s 2023 Brand & Communications Survey1.

On the one hand, most trust buyers' and peers’ opinions, as well as independent voices like analysts and consultants.

But here’s the mic drop finding.

Only 29% of buyers trust vendor salespeople.

Is it any wonder that prospecting success rates, forecasts, sell cycles, close rates, and just about every other aspect of complex sales seems so fraught these days?

I guess if you’re buying copier paper for a 3-person office, and can run around the corner to Staples if there’s a problem, you don’t need to trust the rep who promises quality and on-time delivery.

But suppose you’re buying a piece of capital equipment. In that case, you need to be able to trust the sales rep and their company that they understand the requirements, can satisfy them, will stick with you through the inevitable commissioning hassles, and will support you going forward.

And that’s if you have a specified requirement and project. If someone’s reaching out to you cold to pitch some idea for which you have no time, then trust is even more critical. If you think they’ll make you more effective with some creative ideas, you’ll try to listen, but if you think they’re just pitching you, of course you won’t.

How to Foster Buyer Trust in Complex Sales

That means that trust is critical.

We need to foster trust.

That’s the premise of the partner marketing trend. While that can help us get a meeting, we must go beyond that.

Of course, we need a culture that embraces the hard rights over the easy questionables. We must celebrate moral courage and police ourselves and our teams, pushing back on anything that might breach trust. But embodying trust is not enough in a world where buyers only trust 29% of salespeople.

We need to exude trust.

We need sales enablement content that we understand will engender trust. We need to study behavioral economics and read books like The JOLT Effect together as teams to understand the dynamics of trust in the buying journey.

And, we need to measure our current and prospective reps’ ability to build relationships and foster trust.

I hear you asking “Right. How am I going to measure that in any way that’s accurate and predictive?”

Good question. The key is to use an effective sales assessment test. The tool that I help companies use to understand their current team’s strengths and opportunities and to screen potential hires is 91% predictively valid as determined by a third party (there’s a trust signal, right?)

It measures six attributes that comprise the sales competency of “Building Trust.” Among others, these include their ability gain trust early, their integrity as a seller, their ability to develop rapport and to make prospects comfortable sharing information early in the process.

Additionally it measures seven elements of the sales competency “Relationship Building,” including whether customers follow them to new companies and build long-standing customer relationships. It also considers 15 elements of the Consultative Selling competency which is critical to establishing authority and trust.

An accurate and predictive sales assessment test gives you an empirical tool kit to guage a reps ability to engender trust – an increasingly important skill in today’s market with skeptical buyers.

Content Marketing That Builds Trust

Then let’s think about our content and sales approach.

If all we do is talk about us, how much trust does that build?

Content that’s not objective, informative, of specific turns buyers off. Think about the droning “About us” pitch decks you’ve endured (but hopefully not dispatched your sales team with!) and “whitepapers” or blog posts that just talk about a vendor in a thinly veiled promotional piece. Those don’t create trust.

And when sales reps answer questions about technical details, they’re not creating trusting, authoritative relationships. They’re a biased, vendor knowledge base.

In contrast if they ask important and insightful questions as part of a consultative sales process, they inherently create some trust because of their demonstrated expertise. That also creates a competitive advantage compared to reps who blabber on with a message that’s basically, “Trust us, because we’re us. We’ve been around for X years, have Y many square feet, etc.”

Using Sales Assessment Tests to Optimize Your Reps' Trust Building Capability

There’s a lot that goes into trust. Your culture, your marketing, your sales methodology and process, and your sales rep’s skill. You can’t just pick one – you have to work on them all.

But the hardest to measure traditionally is your reps’ and sales candidates’ ability to develop trust with buyers. We can change that with an accurate, predictive sales assessment test.

I’m Ed Marsh and this is Signals from the OP. I hope you found this episode helpful. If so, please hit the bell. Like the episode, subscribe to my channel and share this with others.

1 - Forrest Brand & Communications Survey