Trust: The Most Effective Tool In Your Sales Arsenal


“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.” —Warren Buffett


In a brilliant piece on first impressions, Amy Cuddy outlined that 2 judgements are made when parties meet for the first time:

Can I Trust This Person?

Can I Respect This Person’s Capabilities?

As Cuddy deems trust most important, let’s dissect this attribute and why it genuinely needs to be a part of your sales arsenal. On the surface, we can begin to develop this by letting the other party speak first, using positive body language, and actively listening. However, I’m more concerned with what effect trust has on the brain and why this matters to us in sales.

To understand trust and it’s hold on the brain we need to start with oxytocin, a brain chemical that facilitates teamwork. Focusing on this attribute initially not only creates a culture of trust within the relationship, but increases empathy, another by product of oxytocin that will benefit both parties. As trust and purpose reinforce each other, you can expect higher productivity, better quality negotiations, and of course increased profitability. From Silicon Valley to the rain forest in Papua New Guinea, the relationship between oxytocin and trust is universal.

So let’s take a look at some actionable ideas on how we can leverage trust in our relationships, meetings, and future correspondence:

Staying Away From Abbreviated Forms of Communication – Being trusted in today’s fast paced market means you stand out. It means amongst the swarm of unsolicited emails and tagged social media posts, your message resonates with the prospect or customer on a deeper level. To achieve and maintain this, adopt more meaningful communication methods like formal annual reviews, direct phone calls, or even FaceTime, once the relationship has been formed to give you and the client both a greater chance of nurturing a long term professional relationship.

Clarity In Purpose & Goals of Relationship – Think about the dreaded words “…well how come you never told me that in the beginning?” Nothing builds trust like clarity and nothing tarnishes it quicker than coming off as deceitful because it appears you could have disclosed more information up front. As you work to tailor your approach around solving the customer or client’s biggest problem, leaders need to make sure there are check-ins along the sales process to confirm the direction both parties are moving in and ensure progress on the solution.

Recognize Excellence – A great way to continue solidifying trust is recognition. Convey to the client that without their openness and professionalism throughout the growth of the relationship, the resulting business and fulfilling partnership would not exist. Tangible, unexpected, personal, and public recognition accomplishes this and has the largest effect when occurring after a goal is met. Two examples would include thanking key influencers in the final email thread that closes the deal or giving a toast to the client at a dinner.

This neuro association is evolutionarily old (see Reptilian Brain) which means that the trust and social spike in teamwork are deeply embedded in our nature. The challenge  is that the Reptilian Brain is self-centered or “me-centric“, so trust is essential to even fully engage your prospect or client when first meeting. You need to convey “I think you are worth my time” effectively, immediately, and consistently. This is why leveraging clarity in the purpose early on is so effective. Both parties working towards solving the established problem will release oxytocin and other neuro chemicals that intensify focus and strengthen social connections – effects on the brain I alluded to earlier. Use this standard with every prospect you interact with initially, not after you determine they have the volume needed to help you meet your quota. Simple shift in awareness. Big results. Good luck in the field.


Alignment. The New Secret Sauce? How To Cultivate This In Your Process Sooner Than Later.



As we look to close out Q1 this week, I’ve spent some time taking stock of the biggest wins and lessons learned. The most valuable being how much alignment plays a role in any winning process. It becomes very clear when connecting the dots between strategy, activity, and performance that without being able to align your:


…It becomes virtually impossible to achieve tangible results that are sustainable.

More often than not I see a disproportionate concentration on vision with a lack of focus on behavior. To get us closer to the middle, lets look at some keys to cultivating alignment for your sales process, business, or organization:

  1. Define The Outcome Upfront – A mentor of mine in the insurance industry used to constantly stress that most in sales live in the land of Wing City – a lowly place where sales professionals throw random activity up at a wall and hope something sticks. He was very clear, nothing of substance gets accomplished in Wing City. So start with the plan. And not just any plan, one centered on the end goal and corresponding reward if you and your team hit it. We are human. Humans love rewards.
  2. Define What This Means Daily and Monthly For You and Key Collaborators – Here is where you need to reverse engineer what this magnificent finish line one or two quarters away looks like. If it’s 6 accounts that need to be closed by June, what does that mean on a weekly basis for the 12 prospects currently engaged at the moment? What correspondence needs to take place? What tasks needs to be delegated? Overlooking this step can be detrimental once you build momentum and have to scramble to define roles and deliver to your clients.
  3. Does This Move or Behavior Match The Industry or Organization? Does It Need To? – Perhaps the toughest to decide on the list. Mainly because of what being deemed an outlier may mean for your career path. Differentiation and Innovation really keep the ball moving if anchored in alignment, but you will ultimately have to decide how much leeway you have to leverage your process in the current market space or if you can be a disrupter and influence consumers and the market for years to come.
  4. Do I Have The Systems To Measure The Progress and Patterns? – This may seem like a tall order if you’re used to currently “runnin’ and gunnin’.” So I would urge you to keep it SIMPLE. Pick 1 to 2 key collaborators and 1 to 2 areas you both feel drive success and check in consistently to discuss the results. A KPI report with these two metrics helps but do not replace the clarity gained from productive and engaged communication with glossy charts and presentations. If you cannot narrate where you are in your process and use the data to merely confirm that, its likely you don’t have enough activity to produce the results you’re looking for. No tragedy here, let the takeaways from the meetings guide your next steps and momentum for next weeks activity.

If Q1 wasn’t as fruitful as planned, use these 5 points to right the ship and get back on track immediately. Two to six weeks into keeping your awareness on these areas you should feel an:

Increase in level of insight of performance

Increase in quality of team correspondence

This is the alignment I am alluding to. Increasing the insight and quality here will make your process stronger, thus making your next round of goals stronger, and more aligned with your strengths and ultimate long term vision. While change or an alternative perspective can feel uncomfortable, just remember if the process was flawless you would already be getting the results you wanted. I challenge you to identify the area in your sales game that could benefit from alignment most. Good luck in the field!

Aston Fleming


Further Reading –

Body Language and the Sales Process: What Else Is Being Said To The Prospect Without Even Knowing?

We make sweeping judgements and inferences from body language. – Amy Cuddy, Psychologist

Nonverbal expression. The term simply refers to communication without words, but in sales, the meaning can indicate much, much more. In a New York Times article by Jonathan Mahler, the writer was unusually tasked with decoding one of the Presidential debates – while watching with no sound. The fascinating piece left me with many questions on what this may uncover for a sales professional, with the main one being – “Is what you say to a prospect more or less important than what is also being communicated through body language?” No matter your personal opinion on the value of nonverbal communication or body language, I would encourage you to open up to this concept if you’re not experiencing the success in front of a prospect or client that you are striving for. It’s another tool you can leverage as you move prospects through your sales cycle.

My inquiry into body language led me to one of my top sales executives for some additional insight on the topic and how it might play out in the field. Known for his charm and ability to provide initial value in front of prospects, he is familiar with the specific topic, surrounding fields such as neurolinguistic programming (NLP), and very qualified to speak on them. When asked how much nonverbal communication plays into his personal sales strategy and ability to influence the prospect, he replied, “Big time.” He explained, “I am always conscious of my personal body language and pick up very easily on negative communication in others.”

Mr. Mahler, in his Times debate piece, highlights this exact intent on expression in the precise assessment of one candidate “… they seemed determined to make sure that their body language and facial expressions didn’t communicate frustration or irritation … and equally determined to appear to be having fun.” This is insightful for anyone who may feel they are prepared for their sales calls, conduct sound discoveries in the field, and add value but cannot seem to move prospects forward. Perhaps it is not a lack of need or bad timing for the prospect, but instead, the communication and subsequent analysis that is the real problem.

I continued to probe for a better understanding of how this dynamic affects the sales cycle and ability to move prospects forward. Continuing on the immediate value of body language, the executive explained, “This awareness makes a huge difference. People have egos and they need to be catered to.” As I wondered how he handled specific cues that the prospect is getting irritated, and similarly,  if the prospect can read his frustration, let’s take a look at some practical insight centered on body language and learn how to proactively prepare and position yourself to influence nonverbal expression at different key points of the sales cycle:

  1. Observe and Instinctively React …. Quickly –Listening carefully and observing the prospect’s body language is the first step to prevent yourself from being over anxious and cutting off the prospect in favor of your own personal agenda. As the old adage goes, we were given two ears and one mouth for a reason. Before we can implement any specific tip, our radar must be attuned to what the prospect is conveying.
  2. Adapt and Acclimate – As our generous executive puts it, “the window for establishing rapport is not as wide as one may think”. When faced with cues of closed off body language from a prospect – crossed arms, shrunken posture, unwelcome expression – you can counter with warm body language – leaning forward, showing the palms of the hands, and ending statements with a smile – to engage the prospect and leverage a critical first impression.
  3. Mirror – In addition to acclimation and flexibility, if it’s not broken, don’t aim to fix it. Experts have suggested that mirroring a prospect’s body language can have positive long term value in leading to a close. If you’re getting a strong connection and buying signals, look for subtle things – the way the prospect is leaning, crossing of the legs, vocal intonation, or matching a smile – to mirror and create familiarity.
  4. Don’t Forget Eye Contact – Lastly, maximum eye contact reinforces interest. As Forbes magazine notes, “when we like or agree with someone we automatically increase the amount of time we look into his or her eyes.” This is a great way to engage the prospect throughout the meeting and coupled with the mirror technique, can show you if they are gaining interest as you move along.

As we welcome 2017, I encourage you to take the time to reflect on this specific nuance of sales. The prospects you almost closed, or the few that went inactive after bringing them onboard, should be reference for what was effective and what was not. Reviewing this in conjunction with your current pipeline can create the clarity and context needed to leverage areas like this, that you may not be paying attention to at the moment. What would it feel like for you to know your opening up the year with not only renewed focus and momentum, but also a better sense of nonverbal awareness as you qualify and open prospects?  What would it do for your confidence to know you’re making a better first impression every time you qualify one of these new prospects? I look forward to your progress and hearing some of your wins with this!


Further Reading and Insight:

Mahler Piece

Amy Cuddy video


Forbes Article on Body Language and Sales



Introducing Context & The Reptilian Brain

“Neuroscientists have discovered over the years that our instinctual self has a greater impact on our final decision than the rational us, or even the emotional us.” – Patrick Renvoise

As humans, we rarely know what we truly want. In fact famed behavioral economist Dan Ariely has deemed even our most reasoned decisions as driven by emotion or influenced by outside forces. So in sales, this insight, that our instinctual brain is better at determining what we want over our rational or emotional brain, can lead us to closing more business versus the dreaded and familiar, “…I’ll think about it” when leveraged the right way. However, rooted in dense backgrounds such as behavioral economics and neuromarketing, how can we simplify this knowledge and apply it to our own world? With our biggest competition in sales being no decision, or status quo, sales reps need to now, more than ever, that introducing context into the equation early on can make them stand out and move the sale forward effectively.

Before we look directly at context, let’s lay the foundation with what leading neuromarketer Patrick Renvoise refers to as, “awakening the reptilian brain“. The process, a combination of speaking to self interest and leveraging human’s respondent nature to contrast and visuals, can organically lead the prospect from cold and uninterested, to warm and ready to move forward. While easy to confuse with manipulation at first glance, this is far from manipulating the truth to appeal to the prospect, and instead, speaks to a more urgent need. As the inclination for status quo on the side of the prospect is too heavy of a force to depend on a stock PowerPoint, you, the salesperson, will have to move the prospect through the sales cycle and into becoming an active client. Why not use everything at your disposal to make the task easier?

Context – Sales context aligns the right solution with the right business challenge the prospect is facing. According to strategist Tim Riesterer, context creates a “clear, compelling sense that they won’t be able to hit their objectives by staying where they are that will prick the old brain’s survival instincts and cause it to start looking for an alternative to the status quo.” Some key questions to use that will create context are:

What was your biggest challenge last year?

What issues are at the utmost priority at the moment, and what’s the biggest roadblock standing in the way?

What steps are you taking to alleviate this problem?

What has happened in the past when you miss your target?

What does that mean for your boss and customers to fall short in this area?

Have your competitors been able to solve this problem?

Would your top 5 customers agree with your assessment, or have you put them in a position to need to shop around?

This line of questioning creates an opportunity for you to attain the prospects point of view enabling you to attack pain points that matter to them most. I will continue to explore more on the reptilian brain, as well as other neuromarketing concepts to stand out among others targeting the same leads. Please analyze your pipeline and recent sales correspondence to see where this can fit into your process. Perhaps adding one context driven question into your discovery can frame the conversation the right way for you to finally create a sense of urgency on the side of the prospect. Let me know if this resonates with you or if you already leveraging context with prospects and how you do it! Good luck in the field and have a productive week!

Aston Fleming


Further Insight:

“Flow”, The Comfort Zone, and The Power of Checking In

“In the end, even though we might feel powerless in situations outside our comfort zone, we have more power than we think.” – Andy Molinsky | Harvard Business Review

As we close out Q4, most sales reps and executives have one thing on there mind – “How did I perform in relation to my yearly goal/budget AND where does that leave me in terms of my goals and growth potential for next year?” However, the question highlights something deeper to me – the value and need for recurring evaluation and accountability. The value and need to check in.

One benefit of checking in is the abilitiy to identify what inspires you and when your most in flow. It has been researched by many, including Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, that one effective way to increase performance and fulfillment is to spend more time in flow.  This intensely focused mindset offers what Mihaly deems, “deeper enjoyment, creativity, and a total involvement with life.” For some reps and executives, leveraging flow state can be the difference between making or missing budget, or landing that client with ideal revenue potential. But how can you spend more time in this productive zone if your not consistently identifying your state and its effect on your performance?

If this self awareness seems foreign to you, it could be a red flag that the systems in your routine lack what is needed to identify whether your ahead or behind. Wing city as it was referred to by one of my first mentors in sales. Wing city is a very unforgiving and lowly place to reside and can have an insidious effect on a sales professional’s confidence and propensity to remain in their comfort zone.

So what’s the answer, and why do I need to highlight this before diving directly into The Check In? Simple. To identify the paradoxical relationship between control and freedom. While you may not want to buy a condo in Wing City, so to speak, you probably won’t want to set up shop on Rigid Island either. Each step of the way, at every fork in the road, you and I will need to “do the dance” – and re-calibrate what works and what doesn’t by balancing the need to control pitfalls, vices, while remaining fluid, curious, and playful with your approach and attitude. So let’s close this year out strong and open the next one even stronger with a commitment to cultivating this awareness in your game plan and choosing to dismantle age old questions like “What is it about the comfort zone that feels so good anyway?”, “Can I remain in this so called flow thing?”, and the inevitable “…so can I check in with you?”

Till next time.

Aston Fleming