Trust is like an elevator cable, in that only its absence should be remarkable. Trust between provider and consumer isn't something you must only "build," it's something you first earn, then maintain and preserve. Saying you can "build" trust implies that you can move from a position in which a client doesn't have faith in your ability to deliver, to a position where the client does.

SEE: Become Your Clients' One-Stop Shop

Your clients trust you implicitly, or they wouldn't have chosen to do business with you in the first place. There aren't degrees of trust, at least not between business entities. Either clients trust you, or they do not, or they don't have enough information available by which to make a decision. If they do trust you, the only thing that will keep them trusting - and keep them as your customers - is repeated on-time and on-budget delivery of a satisfactory product or service. The easiest way to compromise that trust is by, of course, providing something less than what your clients have become accustomed to. On the other hand, you can compromise this trust by attempting to mutate your professional relationship into something more personal.

Some people like to argue that it's best to treat clients "in the way you'd like to be treated - like family," as if the phrases on either side of that dash were somehow synonymous. From at least one reasoned perspective, there isn't a more dangerous way in which to conduct business. For the most part, your clients could not be less interested in the details of your life. Nor do you need to share with them your dreams and aspirations. Doing so is an act of brazen selfishness, and the very inverse of the axiom that the customer ought to be your focus.

SEE: 5 Big Companies' Blunders

However, saying that the customer comes first doesn't mean that you should switch chairs and take an interest in your client's personal life, either. In many respects, that's even worse. Whether you're sincere, or just faking it, trying to get intimate with your clients is a gross violation of privacy. Not only that, but if your primary objective is to maintain trust, getting personal is an awkward and circuitous way of going about it.

Socializing with clients is unavoidable. Taking an established client to dinner or drinks transforms your contract, whether written or unwritten, into something beyond business.

Maybe your intentions are explicit, or at least clear, and having a personal relationship with the client is more important to you than making money could be. There's nothing wrong with that, in and of itself, as long as you understand that any fruitful personal relationship could hamper the business one. However, if that's not the case, save yourself the trouble and keep things nice and clean.

The Brits have the right idea here. As befits a boisterous American, I once referred to a new English client by her first name. It's a mistake I came to regret, and it's not as if she was significantly older than me, as she was some gray-haired grande dame in pearls and a sensible hat. To New World sensibilities, she certainly wasn't old enough to have warranted the honorific "Mrs." By using her first name I'd implied a degree of familiarity that I hadn't earned and never would. If that wasn't clear at the time, it became unmistakable one second later when she called me "Mr. McFarlane."

SEE: Advisors: Tips For Providing For Older Clients.

The following advice might contradict every book on sales ever written, but no, your customers are not buying you. They aren't even necessarily buying your product. They're buying what your product can do for them. Ultimately, they're spending money in exchange for a marginally easier or more efficient life. There's an advertising axiom that illustrates the point succinctly: "People don't want a bar of soap. They want clean hands." Nor do they want a soap salesman, no matter how friendly and engaging he or she might be.

The Bottom Line
Professionalism means keeping a professional distance. As someone who deals largely in digital products and services that don't require anyone to kick the tires before buying, it's easy to keep my business relationships purely commercial. You may take ownership of what I'm selling, along with this invoice, and in return you can drop money in my bank account. Everybody wins. Most of my clients live far enough that I don't see them, and even my local clients have little use or need for face-to-face contact. They have families and friends of their own and don't need to devote more of their precious time to me.

SEE: Taking Advantage Of Corporate Decline

Related Articles
  1. Stock Analysis

    Salesforce and SAP: Don’t Expect the Same From Both

    Take a look at the similarities and differences between SAP and Salesforce in the customer relationship management (CRM) software marketplace.
  2. Financial Advisors

    How Educating a Prospect Can Win You a New Client

    Financial advisors have many tools at their disposal to turn propects into clients. Educating them, rather than selling to them, is the first step.
  3. Professionals

    Top Spots in L.A. to Woo Clients

    L.A.'s dining scene is full of celebrities, but these impress-your-client spots offer better a mix of exquisite fare and power-lunchers.
  4. Economics

    3 Notorious American White Collar Criminals

    Learn about the crimes and punishments of some of the most infamous convicted white-collar crooks.
  5. Professionals

    4 Strategies to Handle Clients Who Ignore Advice

    Working with clients that ignore your advice can be frustrating. Here are four ways to approach the situation.
  6. Stock Analysis

    How to Pick the Best Stocks? Listen to Customers

    Rated top in customer service, these companies have delivered impressive stock performance over the past year.
  7. Term

    What's an Investment Advisor?

    An investment or financial advisor makes investment recommendations and analyzes securities.
  8. Stock Analysis

    What is the Future for

    Learn about Salesforce and how it has become an industry leader in the cloud-based CRM space. Understand what it has in store for the future.
  9. Investing

    Is it Time to “Buy” Inflation?

    Based on recent data from the Treasury-Inflation Protected Securities (TIPS) market, it would seem that most investors aren’t worried about inflation.
  10. Professionals

    Prevent Employees From Hacking You Computer System

    Cyber security attacks from a current or ex-employee can cause a lot of pain. Here is how to avoid such attacks.
  1. What are key factors that are generally considered in demographic studies conducted ...

    Key demographic factors that a company might examine to assess a potential market and more effectively target potential customers ... Read Full Answer >>
  2. Is good customer service something to look for in a company in which I am considering ...

    Investors should consider good customer service before buying a stock especially in consumer-oriented sectors. Customer service ... Read Full Answer >>
  3. What does it mean when they refer to the churn rate of a telecommunications company?

    Mobile network carriers, part of the telecommunications sector, refer to a churn rate as the percentage of customers during ... Read Full Answer >>
  4. Why did Target's (TGT) expansion into Canada fail so quickly?

    Target (TGT) decided to expand north into Canadian markets in 2011. By 2013, it had built 133 stores across several Canadian ... Read Full Answer >>
  5. How do companies calculate the estimated duration of a new project?

    Different kinds of companies use different techniques to estimate project duration. For internal projects, estimation requires ... Read Full Answer >>
  6. What are the biggest stadium naming rights deals of all time?

    The top three stadium naming rights deals of all time were all for stadiums hosting New York City teams. The largest was ... Read Full Answer >>

You May Also Like

Hot Definitions
  1. Black Friday

    1. A day of stock market catastrophe. Originally, September 24, 1869, was deemed Black Friday. The crash was sparked by gold ...
  2. Turkey

    Slang for an investment that yields disappointing results or turns out worse than expected. Failed business deals, securities ...
  3. Barefoot Pilgrim

    A slang term for an unsophisticated investor who loses all of his or her wealth by trading equities in the stock market. ...
  4. Quick Ratio

    The quick ratio is an indicator of a company’s short-term liquidity. The quick ratio measures a company’s ability to meet ...
  5. Black Tuesday

    October 29, 1929, when the DJIA fell 12% - one of the largest one-day drops in stock market history. More than 16 million ...
  6. Black Monday

    October 19, 1987, when the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) lost almost 22% in a single day. That event marked the beginning ...
Trading Center