Earn Trust – The Formula to Help You Get There

Earning Trust is the most important thing we can do.  Without trust, a superbly designed, executed, and analyzed study is meaningless.  Without trust it will not be accepted and acted upon.  Here’s the formula for generating trust . . .

The formula for trust

How about a formula for trust for us analytical types?  David Maister in his book  The Trusted Advisor  gives us this formula:

T =   C + R + I


T = Trust
C = Credibility
R = Reliability
I  = Intimacy
S = Self-orientation

Credibility and reliability are not enough

Credibility and reliability are what we typically go to when thinking about how to build trust.  Do you have the expertise?  Do you have the experience?  Will you do what you say?  Of course these are important.  But you might also say that these are cost of entry.  On their own, they do not generate trust.  We have to look further.

Intimacy generates higher levels of trust

Intimacy refers to the ability to have empathy; to see other’s point of view.  It is being authentic and open.  It represents the extent to which others feel they can confide in you and feel safe in doing so.  This is what moves an interaction from a transaction to a relationship.

When conducting research for big dollar B2B, we have found that this dimension is highly correlated with loyalty and growth.  Without this, the relationship tends to be viewed as simply transactional.

Touting our skill or accreditation doesn’t work—because it’s not really about us

When we focus on our skills, when we focus on how good we are, we can damage trust.  Take another look at that equation.  Notice that “self-orientation” is in the denominator.  The more we focus on ourselves and not our client, the more we run the risk of damaging trust.

Now don’t get me wrong, we need the technical skills.  Personally, I enjoy “geeking out” a bit and digging into a method.  But we have to view this as the cost of entry when it comes to trust.  We need to understand that trust is an inherently emotional construct.  We need to focus on the client.  It’s not about us.  It’s not about demonstrating how much skill we have.  It’s not about showing how smart we are.  It is about doing all we can to help our client.

The following are things we might do that fall into the “S” category:

  • We want to look like the expert – we make it about us.
  • We don’t have the time to really understand the issue so we recommend a standardized approach that we can do quickly.
  • We have a desire to be right or to look smart.
  • We have a lot of other projects so we select the quick and easy path to execute.
  • We try to move off a project too quickly because we under bid the hours – before the client gets what they need.

How to overcome self-orientation

The following are a few things we can do to overcome the big “S.”

  • Ask a lot of questions about the issue – make sure you really understand it.
  • Restate the issue and the decision the client faces to ensure you truly understand.
  • Do not jump too quickly to a solution or methodology; even if a methodology is apparent.
  • Ask to see and read other background material so that you can better understand the situation – and read it – perhaps ask questions about it.

Try posting this formula on your wall and think through how you can leverage each aspect.

As always, feel free to comment.  I’m interested in what you have to say.

Have A Point of View

We all understand that senior management values decisiveness. So why are many of our documents or presentations filled with qualifiers – “perhaps,” “tend to,” “may be,” “90 percent level of confidence?”

The truth is, as a profession, we offer a great deal of expertise, but we also tend to offer a great deal of ambiguity, and we often lack decisiveness. Our managers are looking to make decisions and for us to be decisive in giving recommendations that help them make those decisions. So the question becomes, are we giving them what they need?

I’ve cited in previous blogs the statistic that 85 percent of senior managers want market research professionals to be a trusted partner and internal consultant, but only 25 percent think we are.  I also read recently that companies are increasing their research spend, but limiting the research head count expenditures. This all tells me management values the information but not necessarily the researchers themselves. The fact that we are all too willing to serve up our data with a side of caveats and ambiguity rather than decisiveness may be one of the reasons we fall short.

We’ve all witnessed that painful sight when a less experienced researcher gets his or her shot at presenting to a senior executive. The researcher, rightly proud of the work, wants to share all of the great information. But as he or she does this, the executive becomes more and more impatient, waiting for the bottom line. Waiting for the answer.  And when he asks the key question “what should I do?”  he gets hemming, hawing and caveats. The researcher has just wasted the opportunity to influence senior management.

We are comfortable in shades of gray – but management is not

Researchers understand that few things in life are black and white. We live in shades of gray. We want our clients to understand these shades of gray and nuances. But our clients are not us. There is a point where we need to rise above the shades of gray and form an opinion or point of view as to what it all means for the company.

We need to recognize what most business leaders understand – there is no such thing as perfect information, and that we often need to make decisions without having all the facts.

For those of you who have been fortunate to work with strong leaders, you understand they want your opinion. They want to know what you think they should do and why.  When we answer with “well we could do this, but on the other hand, that has merit as well, ” we limit our effectiveness and do a disservice to ourselves and our firms. Yes, there are shades of gray. But since you understand all these shades of gray and nuances, evaluate them and state of point of view. Really, who better to offer an opinion than you?

Developing a point of view is not easy – nor typically within our comfort zone

I offer a workshop to my clients on how to get results heard. In most all cases, this is perhaps the most difficult challenge the participants face. They may understand the concept and the rationale, but many are just plain uncomfortable taking a position and having a point of view.  There is a risk involved.  What happens if the CEO disagrees?  What happens if we’re wrong?

The key to successfully offering and owning your point of view is to ensure your opinion is  based on evidence. If you can support an opinion based on logic and strong evidence, then you are on solid ground and your point of view will be valued – even if others disagree. You will have contributed to the decision. Others will have other sources of information and other points of view and that’s okay.  Perhaps their arguments will win the day.  But you brought your insights to the table for discussion and as valuable input for the decision.

There are hidden benefits to having a point of view

A huge side benefit of having a point of view is that it forces us to analyze our results with a different perspective.  It makes us think like leaders — not just reporting data, but trying to decide ourselves what we would do. This might lead to slicing and dicing our data in different ways, or integrating data points from other sources into our documents to support our points.  But if we do these things, we will become more comfortable with our own point of view and we will have produced a much more decision-ready report or presentation.

Owning a point of view makes us much more prepared to answer that question “what would you do?” And in doing so, we will have taken a step closer to becoming senior management’s trusted advisor.

Who Are You?

As research professionals, we evaluate a brand’s position in the market. We help firms identify how and where to position themselves, how to differentiate themselves from others, and we measure their brand health.

Yet, how many research firms or research departments think about how to position themselves? How good are we at managing our own brands? Those of us in marketing and market research are supposed to be the experts in brand positioning, but how can we make this claim when we don’t do it ourselves?

I recently attended a market research CEO summit where I met many smart researchers from firms we all know. I quickly learned through my conversations that most still struggle with the same issues – “how do we get new clients,” “how do we talk about ourselves.” On the supplier side, it seems we all say the same thing and few of us truly differentiate ourselves.

This also applies to those in insight departments on the client side.

When I was running a client side team, I tried to be intentional with “positioning our brand”. This is not just a theoretical exercise. The brand to which you aspire should influence how you staff the department and what you deliver. If you want to be internal consultants (as was my team’s objective), hire those who enjoy the consultative nature of our business and being part of our internal client’s team. If you desire to be technical experts, you hire accordingly.

This same thinking also applies to marketing departments. Are you, or do you want to be, the business lead who understands what clients want? Or is yours the creative group of experts in communications and creating ads?

This notion of “brand positioning” also applies to us personally.

I still remember a friend giving me some very good advice in my early days of research while at Hallmark Cards. At the time, I loved getting into the data and the methods. I would stay late trying out different methods. I thought that would be my path to becoming a great researcher. My friend Julie asked me if I wanted to be the technical expert, or the internal consultant who works with clients to help identify solutions – I couldn’t be both.

In reality, perhaps we can be both — but not in our client’s mind. So, although I still explored methods, I talked about them less. Instead, I would discuss concepts that came straight from Michael Porter’s Competitive Strategy or Tom Peters’ and Robert H. Waterman, Jr.’s In Search Of Excellence – two landmark strategy books at that time.

We must understand who we want to be. Are we consultants? Technical experts? Low cost? Innovative? Business experts? Data experts? Most of us would say “yes” to all. But of course, just as we all tell our clients that they must pick, we can’t be everything. So, what does your firm or department really want to be? Who do you really want to be?

The bottom line is we need to be intentional in defining who we are. Staff accordingly. Set team expectations accordingly. But also, communicate to your clients who you are — whether you are on supplier or client side — and live by it.

Just as we help our clients manage their customer touch points, we should be intentional with our touch points – even if you are an internal team. If you want to be an internal consultant, do your documents and presentations look like something a consultant would produce? Can you hold a conversation on business matters other than market research techniques?

Try this as a start . . .

This whole concept is hard. Really hard. My firm is about seven years old and we’re just figuring it out. In a recent meeting, a team member wrote down what we said about ourselves and created this video. I love it. I wish I were smart enough to put down in words who we are – but the good news is these are our team’s words. Not mine. But it reflects what I want our firm to become; who I want our team to become. There is more to do, but this moves us in the right direction.

Click here to view video.

Consider this exercise for your team. Have each team member identify a few words and phrases that describe who they would like your team to be. This can be revealing. This may capture the essence of your team. That’s the first step. The hard work is then figuring out how to become that to which you aspire. But at least you will now have a compass (and perhaps your own true north).