Case study: Trust is the key to winning business

Case study: Trust is the key to winning business
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I believe that trust is one of the most important things in the business world. I learned this when I was a young consultant really starting in the world of essentially selling advisory work to help companies improve themselves. One day I was at home with my partner; it was Sunday and we were about to go out for lunch. The phone rings and it’s a project team who was getting ready to make a sales presentation for the next morning. They want me to come in and help, so I looked disappointed, my partner looks angry, but off I go to the office. It turns out that they’ve realized that they haven’t understood quite what the client wanted, and because I had a relationship with the client in the past, they asked if I’d phone him and ask him some questions. So I get my address book out and find his home number, and I call him and ask a few questions.

Two and a half hours later I came off the phone, and he had told me so much about what they wanted, what the team really needed to do, and I went back and reported it. They turned the presentation around and we won the work. Afterwards I asked the client: “What was the reason you did do that—what was the reason you really told me all of those things?” And he said: “Because I trusted you to do the right thing for my company.”

It really made me think a lot about trust, so over the years I’ve examined what you need to do to build trust; about being open and honest in what you know and don’t know, do what you promise and building a relationship. When I found out about the trust equation I immediately recognised what trust meant for me a combination of building your Credibility, your Reliability and Intimacy.


Credibility for me is about how we look, act, react, and talk about our (technical) expertise. This takes a moderate amount of time to establish compared to the other components of trust. Our rational part of credibility (believability – not telling lies) can be examined or checked. The emotional side of credibility (honesty – telling the complete truth) takes longer to evaluate because honesty has to do with being comfortable with you. A few ways I use to enhance my credibility is:

  • Telling the truth.
  • Don’t over exaggerate.
  • Avoid saying things that others may construe as lies.
  • When I don’t know, I say so.
  • Do my homework.
  • Love what I do.


Reliability is about whether colleagues/customers think you are dependable and can be trusted to behave in consistent ways. Mostly it is determined by the number of times they have interacted with you. We trust those we know the best and assign less trust to those whom we have not interacted. Reliability links words and deeds, intention and action. This action orientation distinguishes reliability from credibility. The rational part of reliability is the repeated experience of links between promises and action (you do what you say). We unconsciously form opinions about someone’s reliability by the extent to which they seem to anticipate our own habits, expectations, routines, and quirks. Thus, reliability in an emotional sense is the repeated experience of expectations fulfilled. A few ways I use to enhance my reliability is:

  • Deliver on what I promise or let the colleague/client know well in advance if I can’t deliver according my promises.
  • Send information regarding content of the meeting in advance.
  • Share goals of the meeting in advance, not just the agendas, but also the objective of each agenda item and check at the end of the meeting if goals are met.
  • Review agenda of the meeting with colleagues/customers, to check in how the time will be spent.
  • Reconfirm scheduled meetings before they happen to ensure everyone is aligned.


Intimacy is for me very much about making sure that I get my ego, or my self-interest, or my company’s self-interest, out of the way, and make sure I hear from the other person exactly what it is they need, rather than what I think I want to give them. Being totally open minded in the conversation.

For me this is all about;

  • Let my colleagues/clients fill the empty spaces in conversations.
  • Ask the colleagues/customers to talk about what they see as the real issue compared to filling in for them.
  • Use open-ended questions to get a better understanding of their perception of the situation.
  • Focus on defining the problem, not guessing the solution.
  • Global listening, checking if what is being said is congruent with the non verbal signals.
  • Summarizing what we’ve heard to make sure we heard correctly what was said.
  • Checking first on my role if communications fails.
  • Think about how I would help my client if I were completely responsible for this person’s future success. Make their concerns my concerns.
  • Be honest with myself.

To better improve on my weakness, I reflect if I stayed away from the following behaviour:

  • Relating stories to myself
  • Finishing sentences for other
  • Fill empty spaces in conversations
  • Unwillingness to say I don’t know
  • Name dropping
  • Mostly wanting to have the last word.
  • Putting forth ideas on solutions before fully understanding the client’s situation.

For me trust is an essential aspect of developing good business relationships. Building personal as well as work relationships with business colleagues can be a sure-fire way to win and retain business. I rate myself frequently in relation to my business partners on my Credibility, Reliability and Intimacy to define where I need to improve.

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