A crisis of trust and an opportunity

by David Tovey

Barometer falling

The Edelman 2012 Barometer of Trust report, presented at the World Economic Forum in Davos, makes sad reading yet presents a fantastic opportunity.

Trust in governments has reduced by nine percentage points to 43% and trust in business has reduced from 56% to 53%. The only country to have seen a significant increase in trust is China.

Yet again the further decline in trust towards governments and business deepens what Stephen Covey and Greg Link call a trust crisis in their latest book ‘Smart Trust’.

Betrayed by people with no principles

It started with the banking crisis and big business failures like Enron; so many long established trusted pillars of the establishment dashing our faith in financial organisations that were and are still (in some cases) household names. Millions of people all over the world affected not just financially but in a way that caused them to question the trust they had in institutions that they had been loyal customers of, sometimes for a lifetime. The hurt was deep and still is, we felt let down; betrayed by people who seemed to have no principles, no values other than to look after themselves, whatever the cost.

That hurt and fallout is still being played out in our newspapers and on TV day by day as we watch the Leveson enquiry unfold.  The news organisation, that campaigned with such pomposity against the people and institutions involved are in the news themselves. They seem to have now betrayed a trust by taking the tactics used against celebrities who might have been seen as ‘fair game’ to ordinary people who found themselves in extraordinary and often painful situations. “Is there any level they won’t stoop to for an edge in a story’ one relative of an alleged ‘hacked’ victim said on the BBC news recently.

Selling in a world without trust

A client recently said ‘It seems you can’t trust anyone to be straight anymore’. We’ve all learned through the hard knocks of life to have a healthy dose of cynicism but now it seems many people almost expect to be misled, expect everyone to try to get one over on them. The default position is not to trust.

Why should this affect our businesses, why do we need to be aware? Because for those of us who have to sell a service or a product there was already plenty of suspicion that people who ‘sell’ things might just say or do anything to get a sale. It’s a view held by too many people who sell; and worse, it’s a view held by people who buy – even when the seller has the best of intentions. Today, sales people (or anyone who looks like, sounds like or smells like a salesperson) risk not being trusted.

The opportunity

The Edelman report highlights what it describes as a ‘dramatic switch in whom people say they do now trust’.

Today’s most trusted sources are:

  • People like me
  • Social networking
  • Microblogging
  • Content sharing sites
  • Academics
  • Technical experts

Traditional approaches to selling, are failing miserably. We need a different approach for a new era.

This presents a real opportunity to get ahead of the game in what are really exciting times ahead for those who get their business development approach aligned with the new expectations of customers and clients. There is an opportunity to differentiate thought the way we business develop and an opportunity to make social media a friend that helps grow a profitable business.

Trust has to be a core belief and not a technique to manipulate relationships.

The good news is that there are now so many ways to demonstrate trustworthiness before ever trying to win business. It has never been easier to deliver valuable content via websites and social media and valuable content campaigns that help to build credibility and trust.

However, trust has to be a core belief and not a technique to manipulate relationships.

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David Tovey

David Tovey is a professional speaker, coach and author of 'Principled Selling' published by Kogan Page.

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