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  • Bob Wiesner, Managing Partner, The Americas

Trust: The Biology of Chemistry



I’ve written frequently about trust in new business pursuits. Briefly,


Trust plays a bigger role in prospect buying decisions than most pursuit teams seem to acknowledge.


Too many pursuits are orchestrated in a way that makes it damn hard to prove your trustworthiness.


We also know that “chemistry” plays a huge role in decision-making. Chemistry is basically the prospect judging how much they actually like the pursuit team. And, of course, a big part of chemistry has to be the prospect asking, “Do I trust these people?”


Now comes fascinating info published in the Harvard Business Review on the physical or biological factors that accompany or even predict whether we’ll trust someone.


Your Brain on Trust


The author says that two things go on in your brain that predicts whether you’ll view someone else as trustworthy, which he calls The Biology of Trust. First, “theory of mind” – how well you think you can forecast the behavior of the other. Second, empathy – how well you share the other’s emotions. So,


To trust someone, especially someone unfamiliar to us, our brains build a model of what the person is likely to do and why. In other words, we use both theory of mind and empathy during every collaborative endeavor.


And in the author’s research, not surprisingly, trust directly impacts sales.


The Trust Contagion Effect


You can’t tell someone else to trust you. But you can improve the odds that they will through your own behaviors. If your face-to-face approach during the pursuit indicates you trust them, they’re more likely to trust you. And the more they trust you, the more likely it is that you’ll win the business.


Here’s what the science seems to say:


  • The more time you can spend with the prospect, the better the chances of making the sale. (That’s one of the key reasons we’re so concerned about tightly controlled RFP and pitch scenarios. They allow very little time to establish mutual trust.)


  • When you approach the prospect in a way that reduces anxiety, they relax as well. Less anxiety means more oxytocin in the brain which means more empathy.


  • Focusing on how well you understand the prospect and how interested you are in helping the prospect also increases empathy and feelings of cooperation and collaboration.


Ever yawn because someone else yawned first? Same with trust behaviors, apparently.


Your Capabilities Don’t Build Trust


Take this a step further. It’s your first time in front of the prospect. Your focus looks to them to be on yourself. Lots on your company, your capabilities, your cases. Even if this is just the first 10 minutes of the meeting, it’s not doing anything to build trust. In fact, based on the science, it might be making it more difficult for that oxytocin surge and, therefore, more difficult for the prospect to feel any empathy with you.


So you have to be really good at those face-to-face interactions. Have lots of them. Know how to engage and interact. Focus on them and their problems/opportunities at the very start. Win at trust and you’re well on your way.




- Bob Wiesner, Managing Partner, The Americas