In my 2018 survey, I asked about, among other types of roles, the most important quality you have in a salesperson trying to sell you something. Trustworthiness was the most important quality in salespeople 76.7% of the time, more than in any of the five other relationships and roles (the average was 61.2%). But, I never asked about the trustworthiness of the customer, or the buyer. Should you, as a buyer, be trustworthy or care about being trusted by sellers? What is it that you need to be trusted with? What is the risk to you if you are not trusted? And how does this spill over to other buyers?
Is the customer always right?
The sales mantra that the customer is always right is neither right nor helpful. It puts the buyer and seller in an asymmetrical and distant relationship, putting all the power in the hands of the buyer, but also focuses the seller on closing the deal rather than on an economic exchange of value and money. A better approach is a symmetrical view of the buyer and the seller, in which each must be trusted.
What should the buyer be trusted with?
It’s clear what you expect the seller to be trusted with: telling the truth about the product or service, the price, and all the terms and conditions surrounding it. After the sale, the seller is also expected to deliver whatever service or warranty promised at the purchase time. But what should the seller expect the buyer to be trusted with? The top expectation is that the buyer will meet all contractual obligations (mainly payment) of the sales contract. Payment must be received at the agreed-upon amount and at the right time. But there is more that the buyer is trusted with: providing the right information when asked by the seller to ensure that the right product or service is rendered. If the buyer doesn’t provide such information (intentionally or not), the wrong product will be delivered, leading to dissatisfaction, return, and breach of contract. Finally, the buyer is also expected to provide an accurate, bias-free review of the product or service rendered.
Risk to the buyer for being untrusted
What would happen if the buyer violated the trust the seller has in them? Very few consequences are available for the purchase that already took place, including, for the most part, less support by the company for the product or service rendered.
Most importantly, the impact of violating that trust applies to future purchases. Imagine that a buyer hasn’t paid you on time or as much as promised. You may not have recourse this time (the product has already changed hands, or the service has already been rendered). You can always sue the buyer for breach of contract, but this would cost you, the seller, time and money and might not be worth it.
But what would happen the next time this buyer wishes to buy from you? You will likely already consider possible future breaches of trust by this buyer and factor them into the terms of the next deal (higher prices, different payment terms, etc.) to protect yourself from them. The untrustworthy buyer will pay for breaching the trust.
Sometimes, a market is a “buyers' market” (when supply is greater than demand), giving the buyers a false sense of power over the sellers, which might cause them to act in a less trustworthy way. But market conditions tend to be cyclical, and when the market turns into a “sellers’ market” (when buyer demand is greater than supply), the sellers will remember which buyer acted in an untrustworthy way and deprioritize them for delivery of the scarce products or services.
Finally, in today’s review-based world, sellers are not the only ones being reviewed. Sellers also post reviews about buyers to warn other sellers of untrustworthy buyers. Breaching trust as a buyer could come back to bite you.
Trust is the product of the trustor’s trustability (willingness to trust other people) and the trustee’s trustworthiness. When a buyer violates the trust put in them, they hurt the trust in them and the seller’s trustability. As a result, the seller will trust all buyers less. We are the sum of our experiences, and when a buyer violates the seller’s trust, that seller will act to protect themselves against other buyers doing the same. One untrustworthy buyer could hurt other buyers, as well.
Don’t be that person
There is one more thing to consider. People cannot completely compartmentalize their behaviors in one area of life from all other areas. When a buyer allows themselves to behave in an untrustworthy way in their relationships with sellers, it might spill over to other relationships that the buyer has, and they become less trustworthy in general.