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Chapter 10: Methods of Earning Trust

If you're like me, you look at those with inherited trust-earning ability and feel a mixture of envy and pity. Envy, for the advantage they now possess, but pity for the years they spent working for a boss in order to get it. You look at those with preternatural trust-earning ability and mutter "Freaks!" under your breath.

And then, you keep scanning the landscape to find examples of those who earn trust in a way that's compatible with your lack of pedigree and lack of magical trust-earning ability. That's when you notice the . . . what to call these folks? They have experimented and worked and found something  that helps them exceed their natural supply of God-given trust-building ability. In craftsman-like fashion, they've learned how to earn deeper levels of trust and become sufficiently competent at it. Let's call them the journeymen of trust-earning.

The Journeymen of Trust-Earning

This group contains four subgroups: the insider, the articulate craftsman, the mountain climbing guide, and the visionary. All of these subgroups have gotten reasonably good at something  that earns deeper trust, either as a direct outcome or as a second-order consequence.

The insiders  are transferred trust when given as a referral, or they use various forms of affinity  to earn trust.

With insiders, the buyer has decided to buy something specific and is evaluating options and finds that greater levels of affinity produce a warm, trust-y, like-y feeling. These affinities might include:

  • Shared experience(s)/background

  • Shared social group membership

  • Shared jargon

  • Shared culture

  • Shared worldview

  • Shared social status

  • Shared enemies

  • Shared authorities

Some affinities can't be predicted or created, they just happen. If you and a prospective client went to the same university, that might create a feeling of affinity and lead to some of that warm, trust-y, like-y feeling that affinity often creates. But you can't engineer this form of affinity for every possible prospect; it would be a massive overinvestment in university tuition and time!

Other forms of affinity can be engineered by learning your buyers jargon, culture, worldview, and so on. You can make yourself an insider—at least partially—to your prospects' world through curiosity, empathy, and work. You also can't engineer this form of affinity for every possible prospect, but if you focus on a narrow range of prospects, you can become an insider and thereby earn deeper trust.

With the articulate craftsmen , the buyer is suffering a problem, the consultant is offering a matching solution, and the consultant explains the mechanics of the solution well enough that the buyer feels that they can trust the solution, and thereby comes to trust the purveyor of the solution: you.

The articulate craftsman's ability to earn trust will be highest when the fit is good between the client's problem and the consultant's solution. In fact, their ability to earn deeper trust flows from how good the problem–solution fit is. This means that if the consultant wants to earn trust from a lot of people, they need to engineer a solution that fits a lot of those people's business problems right out of the box, with little or no modification. They need to engineer a consulting solution that looks like a product, and sell it using the kind of process you would with a product.

Alternately, the articulate craftsman can engineer a solution that fits just a few people's business problems and, if the underlying value is there, charge a lot for the solution. The articulate craftsman may end up being trusted by a few people, or by many.

With the (mountain climbing) guide , the buyer understands the journey they want to undertake ("I want to climb Mount Everest") but doesn't know the particulars of the journey (left versus right turns, which crevasses are actually dangerous versus merely scary looking). The buyer needs a guide. The consultant demonstrates expertise about this particular journey, and in so doing, earn the trust of an informed buyer.

The guide and the articulate craftsman differ in the scope of their work. The craftsman is building a solution that sticks closely to a pattern, while the guide is helping their client navigate a journey that encompasses more unknowns that have to be figured out on the fly (sudden storms, rockslides, etc.). The craftsman just needs to demonstrate the appropriate fit for the solution to earn sufficient trust. The problem and solution both operate in a domain with relatively few unknowns.

The guide operates in a domain with many more unknowns, and their trust-earning task reflects this. It is the task of describing past successes and  the thinking and problem-solving method that made those journeys successful. It is the task of conveying both accomplishment and flexibility in the face of future unknowns.

Finally, the visionary  helps prospects decide whether they want to be mountain climbers at all. They address those who have never climbed mountains or only climbed smaller mountains, and help them imagine what that accomplishment would look, feel, smell, and taste like. The visionary may also guide recruits on their climb, or hand those recruits off to someone else for guidance along the actual journey.

The visionary may actually know relatively little about the particular turns and dangers of the trip up the mountain. They may know a lot more about the dissatisfactions and limitations of non-mountain climbing life, and their desire is focused on simply seeing more people give mountain climbing a try. In less metaphorical terms, they might be focused on seeing general improvement in the market they're focused on. If we could hear their internal dialog, we might hear: "I wish these people would aspire to more !"

There is something about how these visionaries are able to talk about the accomplishment or transformation that comes about from the journey that earns trust from a sliver of the market. Maybe some prospects were feeling a vague itch to change and the visionary helps them settle on mountain climbing instead of deep sea diving. Maybe some prospects had decided that next year is the year they're going to finally climb a friggin’ mountain, and the visionary helps them decide on which mountain to climb. And maybe some prospects feel generally stuck, and the visionary convinces them that mountain climbing is the best way to get unstuck.

When done in a compelling fashion, the expression of vision both creates (or amplifies) the desire for change and earns the trust needed to facilitate the change.

The insider, the articulate craftsman, the mountain climbing guide, and the visionary are the subgroups we see when we look at the journeymen of trust-earning who have learned how to earn deeper levels of trust and become sufficiently competent at it. The insiders and articulate craftsmen have the easiest trust-earning task; the guides and visionaries have the most difficult task because theirs is the work of leadership .