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Lately there’s a lot of talk about empathy in business. But empathy alone isn’t enough to build trust, the critical step to grow an organization, land a big deal or cement a relationship.

Empathy defined is the ability to put yourself in other person’s shoes. It is understanding and experiencing what another person is feeling. I might argue that Facebook is empathetic. Facebook understands what its users are feeling and plays to those emotions to drive our behavior. But lately, they’re under siege, and have eroded the trust of many of their 2 billion users.

So what is trust?

Trust is born of empathy, reliability, competency and integrity. You need all four traits. While many salespeople are empathetic, few can build real trust over time because they lack reliability.
If you want to join the ranks of the best of the best, make sure you understand what it means to be reliable in business. Practice it daily. It isn’t easy, but the rewards can be truly phenomenal.

Reliability Defined

I define reliability as the ability to make and keep promises on a consistent basis. Reliability, repeated over time, cements trust. Not only that—it will improve your outlook on life. When you keep your commitments, no matter how you may feel that day, you will see a huge shift in your mood.
Reliability is about:

  • Being prepared and on time
  • Keeping your word
  • Wrapping up the end of your sales process with the same fervor you brought to the beginning of the process
  • Working through problems and ideas even after the sale is made
  • Doing more than you’re asked to do
  • Being accountable
  • Sustained excellence in performance

Most successful companies today made names for themselves not by making grand impossible promises, but by making simple promises and sticking to them.

You, too, can build a reputation for reliability by committing to the following practices:
Number 1: Do what you say you’re going to do.

  • If you offer to send a brochure, do it.
  • If you offer a snack, serve it.
  • When you meet someone and say you’ll follow up, do so—the next day.
  • If you say you’re going to solve a customer issue, as Larry the Cable Guy says, “Get ’er done.”

Number 2: Be Responsive
These days, responsiveness is an unspoken expectation:

  • Answer emails, phone calls and texts within 24 hours.
  • If you can’t fix it now, assure your client you are working on it. Keep them informed.
  • Respond to customers in their preferred mode of communication. Some prefer text, others email, and some actually still like to meet for coffee or a cupcake!

Number 3: Make the right kind of promises

  • Keep those promises that you make but, just as important, be judicious not to make too many.
  • If you find yourself unable to fulfill a promise, create a new agreement with the person you made it with. Be proactive about this—follow-though is key.

The idea isn’t to make as few promises as possible, but to make the right kind of promises.

When you make a promise to a customer, it might seem difficult to keep, but I can assure you without any promises, you will have no customers.

Don’t expect your customers to trust you simply because you work for a reputable company or because you represent a sought-after product. Be transparent about your offering and the buying process itself. Not only does this openness help establish a connection; it makes things a lot easier for the customer. Strive to be a “helping brand”—a source of helpful information and insights—not simply another salesperson trying to make a quick buck.

Why is reliability so difficult today?

Do you remember the scene in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory? The one where the spoiled child Veruca Salt says to her daddy, “I want an Oompa Loompa now!”

We want our problems to be fixed now. We want broken relationships mended and the pain of failure to be relieved. But when it comes to trust, there is no quick fix. The more you focus on empty promises and manipulative techniques, the more chronic your problems become. Trust begins with empathy—but to maintain it, you must demonstrate reliability. This requires hard work, constant discipline and genuine concern for the person in front of you.


  • Barry Hall says:

    Many thanks Shari,
    great post 100% agree and much appreciated.
    Best regards

  • Marcia Fine says:

    Hi Shari,
    I liked this very much because it’s the skills that many seem to have forgotten. Not only am I sharing with some sales people I know who always need a boost, I’m sending it to my almost adult grandson who will be entering the work force. Thanks!
    Marcia Fine

  • Shari Levitin says:

    Thank you Barry!

  • Shari Levitin says:

    What a nice compliment! Thank you Marcia.

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