I recently bought a new car, trading in my much-loved 10-year-old BMW for a vehicle with less impact on the environment.

The buying experience reinforced for me the importance of trust in any business relationship and, in particular, the parallels between my car buying experience and the purchase of professional services.  Let me illustrate…

I did some research first – asking a few friends for recommendations and reading online reviews.  I narrowed my choices down to two options.

On a Sunday afternoon I went to the car showroom to look at option 1 (with my whole family in tow).  The salesman shook my husband’s hand warmly and asked ‘what can I do for you today?’. ‘My wife is buying a new car’ he said.  ‘What model are you looking at?’ the salesman responded *Still looking at my husband*.  The steam is still coming out of my ears six weeks later.

The salesman could not answer my questions about the different spec options (No CREDIBILITY).  In fact, my 11 year old son knew more about the spec of the car than he did.  The salesman suggested I could look up the answers to my questions online.

When I e-mailed to book a test drive, the salesman confirmed a date and time, but when I turned up for the drive, the car was not ready, even though I had specifically flagged (i) which car I wanted to test and (ii) that I would be short on time (No RELIABILITY).

The salesman did not recognise me when I went back to the showroom for the test drive just one week after my first visit, despite the fact I had made an appointment.  Needless to say he did not ask a single question about me, my family or our needs (No INTIMACY).  He was just focused on selling the car.

When I said I was going to look at another car as my next step, I was effectively dismissed… he made no attempt to keep in touch or leave the metaphorical door open (SELF ORIENTATION).

Rant over.

You are probably familiar with Charles H Green’s trust equation.  Trust is built by a combination of CREDIBILITY (evidenced by our words), RELIABILITY (our actions) and INTIMACY (our emotions).  It is undermined by SELF-ORIENTATION (our motives).

Contrast my experience with the car manufacturer of option 2.  We called in at the Mini showroom just 30 minutes before it closed.  We were met by Philly who I guessed was in her 20s, smartly dressed and immediately impressive with her open smile, professional welcome and engaging attitude.  ‘I am interested in a Mini Countryman’, I said.


Philly could answer my questions, she knew every detail of the car and gave me a clear overview of the different options, pricing and extras.  She shared her perspective on a couple of the optional extras and I immediately felt like she had my interests at heart.  She offered me a 48 hour test drive starting there and then.


Philly offered to send me a copy of the quote as well as financing options the next day.  She did so.  After the test drive she followed up with me.  She answered my questions and was welcoming when I popped back in to the showroom to go through the car spec again.  Simple.


This is about being personal, not private.  Philly established rapport on day 1 and built a relationship with me without being intrusive.  She also managed to strike the right balance between keeping in touch and not hassling me in the period after my visit (when I was busy at work and distracted from the car buying process).  Her communications were friendly but not pushy.  I wanted to buy a car from her.  So I did.


I don’t know how Philly is remunerated, but I do know that she managed to keep the buying process about me and my needs and my timeline.

The Mini Countryman option was more expensive than my alternative and as a product did not tick all my boxes.  But as an emotional buying decision the services offered by Philly coupled with the power of the brand sealed the deal.


As I said, the anecdote above shares parallels with the purchase of professional services:

  • Credibility – we need to be well versed in the services our firm offers and be ready to use our expertise to offer clients new perspectives
  • Reliability – we simply need to do what we say we will do. End of.
  • Intimacy – we ignore the emotional aspects of the buying decision at our peril. Professional services is about relationships.
  • Self-Orientation – we need to walk in our client’s shoes and understand their needs. Then deliver.

My challenge to you is to identify a key client or prospect and think about how you are building trust with them.  Assess yourself against the trust equation and be honest about the strength or your credibility, reliability and intimacy as viewed from their perspective.

What trust have you already established and what actions do you need to take to build more?

Louise Fleming, Partner, Aretai LLP

June 2019

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