Customers don't buy from people they don't trust. Unfortunately, most sales gurus (including some that are quite famous) define selling as "convincing," "persuading," and "winning"-presumably with the customer being the convinced, persuaded loser.

No wonder so many people put up a barrier the minute somebody tries to sell them something!

Fortunately, it's easy to build trust in a business relationship. Here are the rules, based on a conversation with a true expert in trust-building Jerry Acuff, author of The Relationship Edge: The Key to Strategic Influence and Selling Success.

1. Be yourself.

Everybody on the planet has had unpleasant experiences with salespeople, and many have walked away from a sales situation feeling manipulated. So, rather than acting or sounding like a salesperson, simply act the way you would when meeting with a colleague.

2. Value the relationship.

If you want people around you to value having a relationship with you, you must truly believe that relationship building is important. You must also believe that you honestly have something of value to offer to the relationship.

3. Be curious about people.

People are drawn to those who show true interest in them. Curiosity about people is thus a crucial element of relationship building. Having an abiding fascination in others give you the opportunity to learn new things and make new connections.

4. Be consistent.

A customer's ability to trust you is dependent upon showing the customer that your behavior is consistent and persistent over time. When a customer can predict your behavior, that customer is more likely to trust you.

5. Seek the truth.

Trust emerges when you approach selling as a way of helping the customer-so make it your quest to discover the real areas where the you can work together. Never be afraid to point out that your product or company may not be the right fit.

6. Keep an open mind.

If you're absolutely convinced the customer needs your product, the customer will sense you're close-minded and become close-minded in return. Instead, be open to the idea that the customer might be better served elsewhere. In turn, customers will sense that you've got their best interests at heart.

7. Have a real dialog.

Every meeting should be a conversation, not a sales pitch. Spend at least half of every customer meeting listening. And make certain the conversation is substantive and about real business issues, not just office patter or sports chit-chat.

8. Be a professional.

Customers tend to trust individuals who are serious about what they do, and willing to take the time to achieve a deep understanding of their craft. Take the time every day to learn more about your customers, their industry and their challenges.

9. Show real integrity.

Be willing to take a stand, even when it's unpopular with your customer or your company. You don't need to be adversarial, but have the ability to make decisions based upon what you know is right. And on a related note: Never promise what you can't deliver.

Needless to say, gaining trust is only part of the equation. You must also have a product that customers want and need, and the ability to show how you're adding value, solving problems, and so forth.

However, if you don't earn the customer's trust, they'll probably buy from someone else whom they do trust-even if the offering isn't as good.

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