I participated in the conference on Thought Leadership on the Sales Profession  at Columbia University recently.   One of speakers got a laugh when he expressed concern about “big data and small ideas.”  Today sales leaders and sales professionals are being supported with big data to help them understand more about their clients so they can anticipate needs and bring ideas that produce business outcomes and close sales.   But while research and data, insights and ideas are imperative, they are proving not to be enough to persuade clients to make a change.

Relationships have always been acknowledged as important in selling and that is true today.  But while the words are there, the value of relationships is being seriously downplayed as nice but ….  The emphasis on data and technology, as important as it is, has overshadowed  the value of relationship and corresponding trust building.  We are seeing the impact of that on deals that are pushed and pushed from quarter to quarter and in the frustrating increase of no decisions.

The social scientist, Jonathan Haidt, in his new book The Righteous Mind  offers research that shows that we can’t use reason alone to change someone’s mind.  Reason in sales is research, experience, data, insights, outcomes, ROI, benefits, and success stories (but success stories cross the line to selling to emotions too). Helping clients think differently is a big part of selling.   If reason isn’t enough to persuade clients to move from the status quo, then what is missing?   A very big part of the answer is trust, the core of a true relationship.  Trust is a major factor in decision making especially in times of uncertainty.

Having a trusting relationship alone is not the answer of course but without it,  risk adverse clients will avoid making decisions and taking action. The trust part of the sales  equation must get back on an equal footing with the value creation part that rightly has been elevated.  And that makes your role as the messenger more important than your message.

As you move through your sales process how much attention are you paying to the attitudes and behaviors that build trust?  For example, using validators in Phase 1 of your sales process by leveraging a referral, being transparent  by acknowledging a  vulnerability such as describing a weakness of your offering as you position  your solution’s strengths (which, unless the weakness is major, increases a client’s willingness to make the purchase), demonstrating integrity by recommending the lower priced alternative, or sharing personal interests and values so your clients know you as a person and are motivate to share in return.

Research by Haidt and a wave of other studies show that data and reason alone usually are not enough to change a person’s thinking.  Then what does?   Embedding that data, research, insights, and ideas in sales conversation  that clients trust.  That trust can be harder to build than a compelling solution.  Relationships are formed on the basis of expertise that produces business outcomes, skill that makes the message collaborative, and common values that lead to trust.   Without trust the other elements lose much of their potency.   It is the combination that gives clients in times of uncertainty the confidence to be certain and say yes.