Bridging the Gap Between Likability and Trust in Sales

Bridging the Gap Between Likability and Trust in Sales

Most people want to be liked. More importantly, they see it providing professional benefits. Salespeople are no different. While likability can be a huge plus in sales, it’s not the only reason buyers buy. Today, with tighter budgets and multiple decision makers, there’s much more to it. Buyers buy whether they like the seller or not.  

Research in the Harvard Business Review supports this. One analysis of 450,000 salespeople is revealing. It found 89 percent of elite sellers said they do not need to be liked. However, among the weakest, 86 percent said they do. Further, those with the weakest sales records were more likely to believe making friends is their greatest asset.

This dichotomy is an opportunity. These lower-performing sellers probably mistake likability for trust. Of course, likability can be a part of trust. However, when it comes to closing deals, trust always triumphs. Here are ways to bridge the gap between being liked and being trusted:

Traps to Avoid

One pitfall of likability is its ease. Sellers get so caught up making friends they skimp the process or lose sight of goals. While establishing rapport and building relationships are essential, they are not the end game. Sure, it’s nice to share laughs, have a drink, and set tee times. But too many sellers are then left bewildered when their friend signs with a competitor.

When pursuing likability, beware the following:

  • A one-size-fits-all approach
  • Desperation
  • Skimping the sales process

When sellers befriend buyers, they can approach all prospects with this intent. They think if they establish the same rapport, they will be successful. This tunnel vision can hurt. All prospects are unique. While some appreciate personal relationships, not all want to be friends with vendors.

Plus, buyers are experienced. They’ve met countless congenial salespeople. They can see through sellers who want to be liked. And they can distinguish the likeable from the trustworthy. Worse, sellers who seek likability may be too accommodating. This places the sale over the prospect’s needs and leads to distrust.

A sales process is an organization’s best practice to achieve their goals. Of course, rapport, engagement, and relationships are part of this. But a need to be liked can breakdown the process. Sellers may do and say things counter to their organization’s objectives.

Transitioning From Likability to Trust

According to data in Forrester, B2B buyers crave trust. In their analysis of almost 20,000 survey responses, trust was the most important brand attribute for buyers. This makes it incumbent upon sales professionals to turn likability into the more tangible trust.

Here are ways to achieve trust:

Align With the Buyer

As sellers have a sales process, buyers have their own process and individual journey. Top sellers know aligning these builds trust. Consider the following:

  • Communication style
  • Shared experiences
  • Storytelling

How you communicate is key. Whether your buyer prefers phone calls or video, adapt to their preferences. Like sellers, today’s buyers are accustomed to virtual. A quick video chat offers several advantages over phone calls. For one, you can make eye contact, essential to trust. However, if your customer is old fashioned, don’t press the issue. Making them comfortable is paramount.

When buyers have problems, they want sellers who understand. Sharing experiences and expressing vulnerability is vital to trust building.

Often, how you tell a story is more important than the story itself. Too many sellers rush to share what they’re done, the success they’ve achieved. Instead, show you understand. Not only the buyer’s immediate situation, but the feelings they are experiencing. For more on storytelling, see our blog Tips for More Effective Sales Storytelling.

Active Listening

Active listening builds trust. Often, buyers need to feel heard. While slick-talking sellers are an old stereotype, top sellers gain more from listening. But this goes beyond letting buyers speak. Active listening requires a seller’s full engagement. For example:

  • Listen for tone, meaning, and feeling
  • Understand body language
  • Demonstrate empathy
  • Ask the right questions

More than the words they speak, prospects can reveal more in how they say them. This requires sellers to gauge tone, meaning, and feeling for hidden problems and pain. Often, buyers themselves are too close to see their issues objectively. Sellers who guide them to clarity aren’t mind readers. They’re trusted advisors who put the prospect first and see under the surface.

We all have tics and gestures when speaking. These include fidgeting, playing with one’s hair, or even sighing. In all, body language can show how we really feel. Sellers who can read these get beyond a prospect’s words. Thus, they can provide solutions that address core problems and gain trust.

Sellers who demonstrate empathy share in their customer’s problems. They don’t feel bad for them. They have compassion and understand the feelings behind the problems. It shows a seller is not pushing a product. They’re a participant in the buyer’s issues and pain, and someone they can trust.

Finally, asking the right questions is a component of active listening. Thoughtful questions not only encourage the client to share more information. They also help the seller clarify and validate their client’s needs.

Build Your Network

Today, building your network is essential. Research in Forrester shows buyers trust those they feel close to—physically, psychologically, and in their circumstances. Here, likability can help, but it’s more a means to trust.

In fact, over 90 percent of survey respondents say that buyers completely or somewhat trust peers in their industry. This makes expanding your network key. Consider the following:

  • Social selling
  • LinkedIn
  • Referrals

The ultimate objective of social selling is to leverage social media to find future customers. The benefits are obvious. According to HubSpot:

  • 61 percent of organizations engaged in social selling report revenue growth.
  • Sales professionals who use social selling close 40-50 percent more new business.

More importantly, research cited by is critical. It shows 31 percent of B2B professionals say social selling creates deeper relationships that build trust.

LinkedIn is the go-to social website for business. Of course, there are other social media sites. And HubSpot breaks down social statistics per generation and site. But in addition to making contact, LinkedIn can cut the sales cycle and build trust. For more, see our blog Leveraging LinkedIn as Part of Your Sales Process.

We all know the benefits of recommendations in B2C selling. Customers trust the experiences of their friends and family. They even trust perfect strangers on review sites. In B2B, referrals are a professional endorsement. These go further than saying a product worked or a seller was likable. In many ways, referrals certify sellers as trustworthy. In fact, according to, 93 percent of consumers trust personal recommendations the most.

For more, see our blog Leveraging Referrals to Build Your Network and Grow Your Business.

Thought Leadership

Another way sellers establish trust is being a thought leader. This means you have the experience and expertise to help clients succeed. Today, it’s sellers who are enabled by their organizations. They are armed with verified research and data that shows you know your stuff.

According to, 92 percent of B2B buyers will engage with sales professionals they see as thought leaders.

Here are ways to become one:

  • Know their business and industry
  • Leverage sales collateral
  • Employ testimonials
  • Form strategic partnerships

For sales reps, being a thought leader starts with knowing your prospects. It’s a deep knowledge of their organization and industry. Perhaps they are a medium-sized widget manufacturer in the Midwest. They sell through distributors, independent retailers, and agents. Sellers who understand the complexities of their business generate trust. Demonstrate your knowledge and the value you can provide. Link relevant news articles on their social media or in your email campaigns.

Next is the sales collateral you provide. These are typically blogs, white papers, and case studies produced by your marketing team. However, proactive sellers listen to their clients. They know the hot topics and what clients want to know. Have your marketing team produce collateral to engage individual clients at specific times.

Another form of thought leadership is partnering with other experts. Conduct research and analysis. Host a webinar. Join a podcast. Find a forum to build your brand and showcase credibility. According to Forrester, objective information commands trust. Over 80 percent say that buyers trust industry analysts. Also, about two-thirds trust business consultants.

As you can see, likability is a benefit in selling. However, the data shows trust wins deals. Of course, being liked is better than the alternative. But sellers who use their affability to form relationships and build trust succeed more. Of course, we hope all sellers are liked. And we hope this helps them gain the trust to do and achieve more for their clients.