Internet Sales Require Trust Building Skills of the Salesperson

Author John J. Hohn

Recently, I was asked if my experience as a successful career salesperson transferred into the world of Internet sales, an area in which I am actively promoting my novel, Deadly Portfolio: A Killing in Hedge Funds. My initial response was that no, that it did not. Then I began to think about it.

My publisher urged me to “create a buzz” on the Internet. Where to begin? At first, it appeared to be a numbers game, like the drummer methods in selling; i.e. make 25 calls with a memorized spiel every day and odds will eventually work in your favor. The law of numbers meant that every rejection brought you closer to a sale. Onerous business. But the comparison is fair.

The thinking behind cold calling and “creating a buzz” on the Internet is the same. More exposure increases the likelihood that someone will opt for your product or service. For those durable enough to use it, the numbers game pursued on the Internet will lead eventually to a level of success.

The trouble with both systems is that 1) they are boring, 2) they do little to help build trust between buyer and seller, 3) they are inefficient and time-consuming, and 4) often they fail to differentiate a superior product or service from the run of the mill offerings.

Most people feel comfortable making the buying decision once they develop trust in the salesperson and the company being represented. That being the case, the place to begin any sales effort is with an understanding of how to build trust with another and how to construct an ethical sales presentation based upon that knowledge.

Studies demonstrate that most of us want satisfaction in three areas when we are entering into a new relationship. We look first to see whether the new person shares our values. We notice in rapid-fire succession the person’s overall appearance including dress, hair styling, use of cosmetics, facial hair, tattoos, posture and body language. Once the person speaks, we catch tone of voice, word choices, grammar, syntax, accent, volume, enunciation, and courtesy. Finally, as a conversation gets underway, we monitor eye contact, firmness of handshake, sharing of airtime, and willingness to consider. One author, in fact, observed that we decide whether to continue a conversation within the first 90 seconds of interacting with a new person. We want to be satisfied in those three areas within that brief period.

First, we make value judgments. We are turned off by statements that conflict with our convictions and beliefs. That can include use of profanity, prejudiced statements, irreverent comments and opinions that differ with our beliefs and convictions. (Why else refrain from subjects like religion and politics?) We are attracted by evidence that the new person holds similar views on moral, political, and religious subjects.

Second, we gauge whether the person is knowledgeable about the subject under discussion. Usually, the opening gambit covers superficial topics like weather, sports, or non-controversial news, but once the preliminary threshold of small talk is crossed, we begin to listen for credentials and whether the new person is qualified to advance an opinion. At this point, qualifiers are often volunteered. Statements begin with phrases such as “I was there once, and . . .” or “I studied that at . . . “ or “I saw on TV where . . .” and the like.

Finally, we want a measure of the new person’s intentions. “What does he or she want? Am I going to be embarrassed or manipulated? Where is this leading?”  The trip-points in our decision making are not in any particular order, as presented here. Most of the time, we are chalking them up without being aware that we are doing it.

Face-to-face, all of these check points are logged with relative ease. To summarize, we want a measure of the other person’s propriety, competence, and intent. If our criteria is met, continuing the relationship has a better than 50/50 chance. But that’s face-to-face. Ignoring chat rooms and skype for the moment, the Internet does not afford that luxury. The challenge is to project yourself and your product to your market when personal access is not possible.

Internet is passive. We do not have the opportunity to correct a false first impression. We need to appeal to the broadest spectrum of readers; those with whom we are most likely have things in common or for whom our product or service will have the most appeal. Market then becomes the determinant of appropriateness.

The three dimensions of propriety, competence, and intent can be fulfilled with attention to detail. Your photo is the first thing most notice and it creates an immediate impression. Affected or artsy poses and composition will only appeal in a market that appreciates those qualities. Otherwise, the safer and therefore more productive choice would be a neutral pose and composition, one that presents very little to prompt rejection. Neutral photos can be balanced in composition and lighting and immediate in presenting you as those who know you well see you. You want a “That’s me,” look with no apologies or explanations.

Chances are, for example, that seniors are going to be turned off by tattoos, body piercing, and mucked hair styles a turn off. On the other hand, everything in the list might make you appear cool and with it to a younger crowd. (Remember, your author is 72 so if I missed on any of these points, it only proves my case.)

The guidelines apply to the description of your product or service. My purpose in this posting is simply to set pit the conceptual framework for subsequent postings. Space in this article allows only for commenting on a how to select a picture for your Internet postings. I plan to move into these subjects in greater depth in subsequent articles. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, I invite you to check out my web site. My novel flows out of my experience as a financial advisor whose success depended in large part upon his understanding of the psychology of the sales process. Your comments would also be appreciated. Thanks for checking in.