How to Accelerate the Trust-Building Process By Being Vulnerable

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Aja Frost
Aja Frost





Salespeople used to build relationships with buyers by taking them out to dinner or for a round of golf.

These days, not only are relationships no longer enough to close deals, many salespeople don’t even have the opportunity to meet their prospects in person.

In fact, they might be conducting the entire sale over emails and phone calls.

So how can you earn your prospect’s trust and make them feel comfortable in your presence when you’re essentially just a voice on the other end of the line?

Try being vulnerable.

The Power of Vulnerability In Sales

In her TED talk, “The Power of Being Vulnerable,” research professor and author Brené Brown discusses the emotional connections that form when we’re willing to share our imperfections.

You might be thinking, “Sure, vulnerability is important to a personal relationship -- but I could never show it on a sales call without making my prospect lose confidence in me.”

However, being vulnerable usually has the opposite effect. First, it humanizes you. Once people recognize they’re working with a real person, warts and all, they’re far more likely to engage with you.

Second, admitting you’ve made a mistake or aren’t perfect helps your prospects feel more comfortable admitting their own knowledge gaps. Being honest shows them they’re in a safe, judgment-free zone. After you’ve put them at ease, it’ll be easier to learn how their pain points impact them and their companies.

How to Be Vulnerable With Prospects

Showing vulnerability cannot be planned or forced -- the second your attempt feels fake, it’ll backfire. So rather than trying to shoehorn a “vulnerable moment” into every prospect interaction you have, look for opportunities that arise naturally.

To give you an idea, here’s a snippet from a demo I listened to last week:

Prospect: I’m looking for alternatives to my current tool because I find it a little hard to navigate.

Rep: I understand. I’ve never used that specific tool, but I’ve definitely come across software that’s been really tricky to figure out. In fact, at my first job, my manager used to get mad at me because I was still making mistakes with our tool after a year on the job.

Prospect (laughing): I’ve been using this one for 18 months and it makes me question my IQ. Everything takes twice as long as it should.

Once the rep admitted she’d previously struggled with a tool, her prospect completely opened up.

Sometimes, being vulnerable means being a little self-deprecating. Here’s another real-life example:

Rep: How’s your Thursday going?

Prospect: I only have three quick meetings scheduled, so I can’t complain. What about yours?

Rep: Well, it was going pretty well -- until 30 minutes ago, when I spilled coffee all over my brand-new white shirt. That may or may not be the third time I’ve ruined a white clothing item with coffee …

This rep and his prospect ended up laughing for a couple more minutes about wardrobe malfunctions. By the time they transitioned to the actual topic of the call, the buyer was happy to volunteer any information the rep asked for.

Showing vulnerability can also translate to admitting when you don’t have the answer. Not only will your honesty impress prospects, it’ll also make them more likely to take you at your word moving forward. 

There’s a time and a place for vulnerability. It’s a good idea to wait until you’ve demonstrated your expertise or built up some trust to admit knowledge gaps so your prospect doesn’t get the wrong impression of you.

You should also be careful not to cross any lines. Getting too personal or emotional will definitely make prospects feel uncomfortable, which will negate the entire purpose of showing vulnerability: To put them at ease. If you’re not sure whether what you’re about to say is appropriate, don’t say it. It’s better to be safe than sorry -- and usually, your inner alarms are going off for a reason.

Need a second way to make sure you’re being appropriate? Don’t say anything to your prospects that you wouldn’t say to your in-laws. This rule of thumb tends to save you from any “too much information” moments.

Being authentic with your prospects can make a big impact on the quality of your conversations. You might not be eating steak or shooting holes-in-one together, but you don’t need those interactions to create an environment of trust.

Topics: Trust in Sales

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