There was a great story in the news recently about an eleven-year-old girl named Charlotte McCourt, who was given permission by her father to reach out to his “rich friend” to see if he might be interested in some of her Girl Scout cookies. The email she sent to him was quite ingenious. Like every brilliant salesperson, Charlotte saw her opportunity to do a big sale and immediately sought to create trust with her buyer from the outset of the relationship.  Her email with descriptions such as that for the Toffeetastic cookie as “a bleak, flavorless gluten-free wasteland” will go down as one of the most transparent and honest reviews of Girl Scout cookies ever written.

Luckily for Charlotte her father, who works as a producer on Mike Rowe's podcast, "The Way I Heard It," passed the email along to the TV personality. Rowe read the letter on air and posted it on his Facebook page, with a link to Charlotte's cookie-selling website. Since the reading, Charlotte has sold more than 15,000 boxes of cookies, far exceeding her own personal quota of 300 boxes.

So what can we learn from Charlotte? A lot.

Highlight the Positives but Give S’more Honest Feedback Too

During these times of "fake news" and "marketing hype" we have all become skeptics of authoritative information. As such the truth radar of today's buyer has become particularly sensitive. To overcome that obstacle, sellers should take a tip from Charlotte’s playbook, illustrating their credibility early on. While they might not have childlike innocence working in their favor, there are steps that salespeople can take to win prospects’ trust with their own version of a Thin Mint.

The key is to identify moments throughout the sales process where you can establish trust with various stakeholders. Salespeople should be prepared to admit some disadvantages in order to win prospects’ trust. This might sometimes mean acknowledging a shortcoming in the product (like, for example, admitting that regarding the Tagalong cookie, “if you don’t like peanut butter, then don’t buy it”) or pointing out a benefit of a competitive solution. It shouldn't be overly damaging but should be significant enough to demonstrate the salesperson's honesty. Exposing a weak spot is an easy way to let a buyer know you’re on his or her side.  

The Do-si-dos of Social Connections

Another proven way to create a reputable foundation early on is to work through social networks. A study published in the Harvard Business Review found that reps who worked through social channels were 79 percent more likely to achieve quota. Just like Charlotte’s personally-directed and contextual letter, connection is key. Common elements lay the foundation for trust.

But be cautious about treating this approach as a solution: creating a connection with one buyer doesn't necessarily imply success. Enterprise buying decisions are rarely the responsibility of a single individual, and salespeople shouldn't count on automatic consensus. Instead, they should use the engagements leading up to the decision to evaluate who the key decision makers really are and target efforts at each of them individually. Only by winning consensus does a salesperson truly win a deal. Someone as entrepreneurial as Charlotte most certainly wrote more than one of these letters and likely customized each letter based on who she was sending it to--adult salespeople should do the same.

Every successful sale starts with trust. Honesty, connection, and positive experiences all help drive that trust forward. Charlotte’s letter spawned more than 15,000 sales. Reps should be taking notes.

Photo from: CBS New York


Nick Hedges is the president and CEO of Velocify and a veteran of the Internet and software as a service (SaaS) industry. Nick has spent the last nine years at Velocify helping organizations accelerate sales performance and is a widely-recognized thought leader with respect to technology’s transforming impact on the sales profession. For more on Nick visit the Velocify leadership page or follow him on Twitter.