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Warning: Customers Don't Trust Leaders

Less than a fifth of your customers believe business leaders can or should be trusted.

If there's one word that's touted as a panacea throughout the business world, it's probably "leadership." Everybody is told to be a leader. Everybody wants to be a leader. There's only one problem: customers don't trust leaders.

You read that right. According to the 2013 Edelman Barometer of Trust, less than a fifth of the general public believes that a business leader can be trusted to tell the truth or make an ethical decision.

To put that into perspective, that's almost as low a percentage as people who don't trust government leaders. When it comes to credibility, business leaders rank just about the same as members of congress.

Edelman attributes this "continuing lack of faith" to the unending drumbeat of corporate and investment scandals. Whatever the case, this lack of trust should have a profound effect on how you sell products or services.

Many companies still try to use their CEOs in ad campaigns or top execs (including CEOs) as "closers" in sales situations. If Edelman's research is valid, those strategies are no longer effective and may actually make selling more difficult.

Rather than the "leaders" that everyone seems to be striving to become, customers tend to trust two very different groups of people: 1) experts and analysts, and 2) colleagues and peers.

If you're a CEO, therefore, you should only get involved in sales situations when a customer CEO is the lead decision-maker. Otherwise, your presence in the account is likely to gum up the works.

Same thing for C-level or VP-level execs--don't assume that your title is bequeathing you any particular credibility. Chances are that it's doing the exact opposite unless the customer you're working with holds a similar title.

Furthermore, you actually have a job in sales, don't characterize yourself as a "sales executive" or have a business card to that effect. Instead, emphasize either some specific expertise that you possess or commonalities that have with your potential customers.

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Last updated: Apr 19, 2013


Geoffrey James, a contributing editor for, is an author, speaker, and award-winning blogger. Originally a system architect, brand manager, and industry analyst inside two Fortune 100 companies, he's interviewed more than a thousand successful executives, managers, entrepreneurs, and gurus to discover how business really works. His most recent book is Business Without the Bullsh*t: 49 Secrets and Shortcuts You Need to Know. If you enjoyed this post, sign up for the free weekly Sales Source newsletter.

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