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Tuesday, May 04, 2010

CONNECTING IS NOT ENOUGH: It's a Question of Trust - A Conversation with Vanessa Hall, Part 2

Connecting Is Not Enough with Andy Lopata

Last month I introduced you to Vanessa Hall, the award-winning speaker and author of Trust in Business. Vanessa outlined her model for understanding the foundations of trust and what you need to do to maintain trust in business relationships and ensure it doesn't erode and destroy relationships.

In the second part of the interview I asked Vanessa to elaborate on the role of trust in referral relationships and how to approach referrals with trust in mind.

A: In my new book I’ve been talking about how a trusted introduction can help a salesperson reach their prospect far more easily than cold calling and trying to get past the "gatekeeper." Clearly that’s valuable for the salesperson, but how can the person passing the referral protect the trust they have with the prospect?

V: One of the key things about referred trust that I talk about is understanding both the benefits but also the risks involved, so we have to be quite careful when we’re referring someone else to somebody with whom we have a trust relationship. This is where my theory of situational trust comes in as well. One of the important things which a lot of people don’t do when they’re giving referrals is to understand in what situation or what context does their trust relationship with this person exist.

Often what happens, for example, is that I might know somebody through the fact that our kids play soccer together. There’s a trust relationship that’s been built around picking up kids, dropping them off, those sorts of things. There’s still a trust there, but it’s very specific to that particular situation. If I refer somebody to that person, somebody else with whom I have an element of trust, but they’re looking for a business type referral, the person who we’re referring them to trusts me more from a social context. If I’m not clear about who this person is that I’m referring them to and why I’m referring them you can actually open yourself up to some confusion.

In understanding the situational trust that exists between two people we can also begin to develop and understand the expectations that we have, and the expectations that the person referring into them might have as well. The process of referrals works much better when you acknowledge the trust relationship that you have and then communicate the context of that contact.

Often what people do is refer people and then leave the relationship up to them but I’ve been caught out a number of times. Just giving a contact is not enough if we want to build trust. If we don’t frame it properly, not only is the relationship not bridged between this new person and the contact but it can also damage the relationship between that person and you -- the person who’s giving the referral in the first place.

A: Framing is vital. I talk a lot about "qualified" and "unqualified" referrals, based on the relationship you have with someone. You may, for example, pass a "qualified" referral to someone you have only just met, by making that clear to the prospect. Where you know and trust the person you are referring though, the referral is "unqualified." You are clearly recommending their services, by saying for example, "Talk to this person, they’re superb. "

How much time do you spend following up the introductions you make to ensure both parties are working well together?

V: I like to know and I always ask for feedback whenever I’ve given a referral because there are a number of referrals made and if one of them doesn’t work for some reason then I have to sit back and ask what’s happening in this process. Am I not connecting the right people or am I building up an expectation that’s not being delivered? What’s actually going on?

If you never ask for that feedback you simply don’t know. You just keep referring people and sometimes you can really end up wasting a lot of people’s time if you’ve not done it properly, so I certainly look for feedback.

Just going back to your point before about when you say, for instance, "Talk to this person, they’re superb," what can happen in making a statement like that is you can certainly build up an expectation but there’s also an implied promise. I talk about the difference between implicit and explicit promises, there’s an implied promise. The minute you give somebody a referral, there’s a very good chance that this is going to turn into a business referral, which to me is the implied promise that can break down trust more quickly.

So in not being clear about that and making a simple statement like “this person’s fantastic” or “they’re a real go-getter” or “they’re really friendly” or whatever, you’ve made an implied promise and built up an expectation in that person’s mind about how their interaction might play out, and if it doesn’t play out exactly in the way they expect and the way they believe it was promised to them and it doesn’t meet their needs then their trust in you can break down very quickly.

It’s about respecting the trust that you have. I talk about handling it with care. I compare trust to an egg, it can break very easily so you need to handle that trust very carefully and respect it for what it is. It’s a gift when people trust you.

A : Would you introduce someone you’ve only just met to somebody who is a very important client of yours?

V: If I’ve got a very strong sense about the person, but again I’d make it very clear that I’ve only just met them, and I can’t vouch for them other than I’ve got a sense that they were nice, or the right sort of person, so yes, I certainly do qualify it in your terms.

A: Do you find yourself from holding back from introductions that you could make until you feel the trust is at the right level?

V: Yes definitely. I think to some extent it depends on the nature of the contacts. For example, the more work that I do in senior government levels and with people connected with the UN, a lot of people want to know the people who I know. I don’t believe it’s my place to just suddenly open the doors and pour all these people to them, so it’s also being clear about what’s the nature of the relationship between me and these other people and what are their expectations in terms of protecting that relationship, too.

It’s a difficult one, because on the one hand, you certainly want to help people and help their business to grow and networks continue to increase. I love connecting people but there is an element of: "I’d really love to understand more about you as a person and what you are trying to achieve; what’s your goal?"

And what are you expecting out of this connection as well? I’ve seen it go terribly wrong in many situations.

A: You talked about referred trust; you talked about situational trust; can you explain the other types of trust in your model?

V: In the book I talk about blind trust. With blind trust we jump in, we don’t think about what we’re expecting, about what we need, and we don’t articulate that. And so what happens in a blind trust situation is we are often left quite disappointed and we often blame the other person. But we had a role to play in that by obviously not being clear about what we expected out of this relationship, this interaction and what we need. You should also ask, "Can this person actually promise to deliver on those?" Are you trusting the right person for the outcome you are looking for?

I talk about skeptical trust, which is the opposite. We’re very, very clear about our expectations and we want to get right down to the nitty gritty detail before we step into the trust relationship. Very, very clear about our expectations, very clear about our needs, We’ll only trust somebody who will 100% promise to meet those.

I talk about middle ground. There’s a balance between those two. Both of them can work very well in some situations, but both of them can be very detrimental, so there’s a middle ground. We have to articulate and be clear about our expectations and needs and be sure that the person we’re dealing with can make promises to deliver that.

We can’t go down to the nth degree and people can’t always promise every little detail and so there is a point where we have to step into the relationship. By understanding the model of trust, we can also continue to communicate effectively as well.


Are you struggling to put an effective networking or referral strategy into place? Do you want to know more about how to ensure you get the maximum possible return from your networking?

Andy's new Audio program, "Networking in Ninety Minutes," will give you the tools you need to make the most from your networking. Available in CD or mp3 format here.
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