Do you trust me? Chances are, you already know the answer to this question even if we’ve never met.

Studies show that people decide within seconds of meeting someone whether they’re trustworthy or not. Amy Cuddy, a social psychology professor at Harvard Business School, spent fifteen years studying first impressions and found that people immediately ask themselves two questions when meeting someone new, in this order:

  1. Can I trust this person?
  2. Can I respect this person?

We answer the first question, about trust, by sensing a person’s warmth; the second question evaluates their competence and achievements. That means our decisions about trust are primarily based off an emotional connection, not skills or smarts. “If someone you’re trying to influence doesn’t trust you, you’re not going to get very far,” Cuddy writes in her book Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to your Biggest Challenges. “In fact, you might even elicit suspicion because you come across as manipulative. You might have great ideas, but without trust, those ideas are impotent.”

It’s so easy to get this order wrong when selling senior housing. We tend to start with what we’re selling: our product. We list features and floor plans and monthly prices before we build trust with the prospect. Does this exchange sound familiar?

Karen: “Hello. I’m calling about my mom. We’re getting worried because she’s been falling and having trouble taking meds. I’m looking for more information.”

Sales counselor: “Great! Let me tell you what we have.

Without emotional connection, this response can come across as scheming, arrogant or, worst of all, “feature dumping.” As we’re boasting our community’s credentials, the prospect is thinking, “This person cares more about themselves than they do about me. Why would I ever buy from them?”

Trust does not guarantee an outcome. Rather, it’s the belief we nurture to help us navigate uncertainty. We all know that in senior housing sales, there are no guaranteed outcomes and plenty of uncertainty.

Here are five strategies for establishing trust quickly and effectively learned from my time as a leasing counselor:

  1. Start with you. Why should your prospects trust you if you don’t have trust in yourself? Know that you have the skills and abilities to guide prospects in making their own decisions. Whether they buy from you or not, trusting in yourself helps you maintain confidence through the tumultuous sales process.
  2. Trust the prospect. Prospects have the answers, and it’s our job to help draw them out. Don’t feel put off or frustrated when they resist. Every prospect is just trying to navigate a difficult path to an important decision, and resistance is a natural expression of fear and uncertainty. Acknowledge how they feel and celebrate that they trust you enough to tell you.
  3. Be upfront. During your first interaction with a prospect, state your intentions right away and *mean it.* Here’s what that sounds like: “Mrs. Jones, my intention is to get to know you and to help guide you in your search, regardless where you choose to move. Or perhaps you’ll decide to stay at home. That is very much your decision.” Or, “Karen, thank you for calling. My intention is to help guide you and your family through this decision, regardless of where your mom ultimately chooses where to live.”
  4. Listen. This is the most effective way to establish trust, but it’s hardly the easiest. When you ask a question, shut off the voice inside your head that is dying to fill space with answers. Listen, actually listen. Stay curious. When it’s your turn to speak, ask a follow-up question based on what you heard.
  5. Ditch the script. Search inside yourself for the authentic desire to get to know the person on the other end of the conversation. Don’t worry at first if they’re AL or IL, if they’re a prospect or a family member, if they’re “ready” to move or not. Connect with them as a person. You’ll be amazed at how this foundation of trust will help you understand the most effective way to guide the prospect toward a buying decision.

Have more questions about trust? Or do you have a story about how trust helped you connect with a prospect? Send me an email or follow me on LinkedIn.

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