Establishing trust and rapport in non face-to-face situations

When I was approached to write this article I thought, “sure, no sweat.” After all, I run a company that helps meetings industry organizations grow their business through phone and email lead generation programs. I’ve been teaching my clients and employees how to build trust and rapport for the last 14 years we’ve been in business.

How to establish trust and rapport in an online environment

But things are seldom as simple as they might seem. That’s because I believe the sales universe has shifted. On the one hand social media advocates suggest we are faster to make connections or create “rapport” (think Twitter), but research shows we are slower to trust companies and salespeople.

Incidentally, I believe we are all salespeople – suppliers and planners. If planners are looking to promote registration, secure sponsorship or land a coveted industry speaker for an event, they are selling. So they too must work at establishing trust.

So if it all comes down to trust, what can be done to have the best possible framework for your organization?

  1. Be present online – The 2011 Edelman Trust Barometer annual study found that online search engines are the top source of information for companies. To establish a high level of trust, you must have a compelling and current presence online. Have you ever viewed a site and found their last blog entry is months old, or their client list includes names of companies that are no longer around? Not very trust-building, is it?
  2. Make is personal – Boost your trust factor by showing who is behind your company. List your team members along with their biographies and links to social media sites such as LinkedIn or Twitter (but only if that person uses Twitter strictly for business purposes). Resist the urge to use stock photos – the more personal you can be about your business, your staff or your event, the more trust you will earn.
  3. Offer value first – Prospects visiting your website want to know you are worthy of their business. Demonstrate your expertise with downloadable resources such as checklists or best practices. This will elevate your status from just another company trying to sell stuff to one that cares to educate and provide valuable information. Ask for the person’s name and email address, and this can turn your website into a lead generation machine!
  4. Be consistent – If your goal is to build trust with a regular communication mechanism such as an e-newsletter, make sure you send out your information consistently. Ottawa-based sales expert Colleen Francis says, “Trust is built with consistent behaviour over time… reliably delivering your message to your clients will demonstrate you can be trusted to deliver what you said.”
  5. Work your groups – One of my favourite ways to build new, trust-based business relationships is LinkedIn Groups. I have posted questions in groups and have received valuable advice. I have also answered questions and been able to help others. The key is not to promote. Recently I received the following message: “Hi Doreen. Your name just keeps popping up in my ‘people you may know’ list. I run a web development shop in NYC specializing almost exclusively in associations. Looks like your services might be very complimentary to ours, and I would love to learn more. Touch base when you can. Regards, Jim.”  Because it was a personal message, I was instantly more trusting!
  6. Improve your testimonials – Ever been to a website that lists a company’s client list with just big company names? How much do you trust that? How about a testimonial that says, “I loved this hotel for my meeting! Thanks, N.B., Association Executive.” How believable is that? If you don’t go all the way with testimonials, you may not be maximizing your trust potential. Nielsen Research measured consumer trust in advertising channels and found that the most trusted source of information is social proof – recommendations from peers and on-line opinions. It’s the Trip Advisor effect!  Wait, you say, “I can’t put the name of our client on our website competitors might try to steal my business!” That is true, though I’d argue if you lose the business that way maybe you didn’t really have a loyal relationship in the first place. But what if it can also bring you new business because prospects think, “wow, they do business with so-and-so”?

Building trust and rapport in new business relationships is a long, arduous process. In this mobile, online world it often starts with your online presence before anyone even picks up the phone. Make sure you cover your bases so that prospects will trust and be drawn to you!

About the author:

Doreen is co-founder and Chief Strategist at Greenfield Services Inc., a demand generation consultancy specializing in helping meetings industry organizations grow their business. Fluent in English and French, Doreen graduated from the University of Ottawa with a BBA in Marketing. Before founding Greenfield, Doreen was VP Marketing for The Sutton Place Grande Hotels Group. She also held various sales and marketing positions with Inter-Continental Hotels, Mariposa Cruise Line, Four Seasons Inn on the Park, Park Plaza Hotel Toronto, and Ottawa's Château Laurier. Doreen has been a member of Meeting Professionals International (MPI) since 1989. She began her volunteer involvement in Toronto, joining the Professional Development committee within months of becoming a member. In 1992-93 she took on the presidency of the MPI Toronto Chapter and subsequently served on the Canadian Council of MPI. After she started Greenfield Services and moved to the Canada’s capital, she joined MPI’s Ottawa Chapter. Soon she joined the newsletter committee and then the Board in 2004. She became President of the Ottawa Chapter in 2006, and a member of the MPI Foundation Canada Council in 2008 where she served for two years. This year she is back volunteering at the local level, contributing to the Ottawa Chapter newsletter committee. Doreen is an avid reader and fan of historical fiction, but as soon as the weather warms you'll find her tending to a one-acre perennial and vegetable garden at the home she shares with her husband Heinz, their teenage daughter Iliana and their cat Tommy.

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