Can Technology Undermine Trust?14

By Tibor

broken trust

Had an interesting discussion with a rep Jim, last week around the area of trust. He works for smaller company, they use various technologies to help them with lead gen and nurturing. Two specific apps enable him to track who has opened his e-mails, and the other lets him know who has visited his company’s web site, right down to specific pages. As you can imagine, with the right content, laced with specific links, a seller can gain some great insights.

Having worked with the team, I know that they are diligent about avoiding and or removing objections. Jim was on the phone with a potential buyer who asked that Jim send him some info before committing to an appointment, Jim tried everything we put in our Objection Handling Handbook, but in the end had to send some info.  As per the teams SOP, he only sends e-mail, chock full of links, and scheduled a follow up call to review.  Over the next few days Jim saw the prospect read the e-mail, both in the office and on his mobile device.  He saw the footprints on the website, hitting critical target pages, Jim was ready for the call back.

The Objection Handling Handbook, instructs sellers to continue taking away objections on call back, encouraging sellers to start the call by saying: “Hi Mr./Ms. Prospect, this is Jim calling back, following up on the information I promised to forward, you probably haven’t had a chance to read it, have you?”  Thus taking wary the obvious and common dodge.

Feeling confident as a result of technology, Jim skipped the take away, and left himself open, and disappointment by asking the buyer if he had reviewed the e-mail, and letting the facts get in the way of process, he assumed the buyer would lead with the fact that he did read the note and visited the website.

Well guess what, yup, the buyer took a left turn and you know it, “Jim, I am up to my eyeballs in alligators, and just have not had a chance to get to it, leave it with me and I’ll get back with you as soon as I have”.  Jim, got back and program and managed to secure a face to face appointment with the buyer, and the cycle is progressing.

Jim was upset for two reasons, one he could fix, specifically the approach and methodology.  By executing the follow up call according to plan, regardless of whether he knew if the prospect had read his e-mail, or visited the desired pages on the company web site.

The second was a bit more problematic for Jim, while not being naïve, he was looking to establish trust with the buyer and felt that the buyer had undermined that opportunity.  While he will continue to engage with the prospect, and will continue to be honest, straight forward and ethical with the buyer, he says he will always have a hint of doubt as to the integrity of what this buyer will tell him, and by extension other buyers.

In the end technology does not replace human interaction, and with any interaction there is some give and take.  I pointed out to Jim that the buyer may have had some reasons for not being straight with Jim, including bad experiences with other sellers, perhaps looking to see what kind of rep Jim is, or any number of reasons.  Trust is not instantaneous, it takes time and familiarity, which why I am surprised when some pundits talk about being able to establish trust right out of the gate, or even on a voice mail.

More importantly, technology is there to support the effort, not replace it, had Jim stuck to the program, he would have been able to respond to the situation more effectively, but he had painted himself into a corner, not the technology.

Having said that, it does raise the issue of how fragile trust is, and how easily it is undermined by technology.  While the buyer may argue that they were being spied on, they should also be aware that there are no secrets on the internet, and any time you click a link, you have company.

What do you think of Jim’s dilemma, and whether technology can in fact undermine trust?

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto


  1. Chris Dalluge

    There is another possibility that was not commented on where it could have been an admin assistant who was/is the gate keeper who vets information and passes on a viable company. Depending on how busy the individual is, he might have not connected the dots: caller to the company information. In the end, we are in the people business who deserve individual treatment.

    • Tibor Shanto


      No doubt that is a possibility, but it would seem strange to take the call, and then delegate the evaluation to an admin without asking for feedback knowing the follow up call is coming. Or why not just say you delegated?

      Thanks for the feedback,

  2. David Bird

    So customers lie to sales people! Thanks to Marketing automation we have the evidence they lie ….. (unless of course one of Jim’s colleagues used the email links). Can you imagine how defensive the cusotmer would have become if Jim called him on the lie?

    But as you say Tibor just stick to the program anyway. Very good advice in this day and age of tracking.

    • Tibor Shanto


      Yes, technology is good support, but not the stuff of interactions.

      Thanks for the feedback.

  3. Jack Malcolm

    Hi Tibor,

    I assume your technology lets you know that I read your article, so I just thought I’d say hi!

    • Tibor Shanto


      I don’t know the individuals, I do have some indications, but not individuals. I make the assumption that if they retweet, they either read it, skimmed, or like the headline.


  4. Charles H. Green


    I think this is a fascinating example, just not for the reasons you mention. I see it as not about technology, but about human relations.

    Jim made a conscious decision to be secretive with the buyer; that is, he had knowledge that the buyer didn’t know he had, and chose to act on it.

    What Jim did was wrong, not in the sense of morally wrong – but in the sense of stupid. Here’s why.

    If you know someone didn’t do something, but they don’t know you know, and you cleverly and apparently innocently ask them if they did it, you are suborning perjury. You are asking for trouble, inviting the person to lie to you. You are removing a common social excuse, namely to say “I haven’t gotten around to it.”

    I’m not saying that’s right – in fact, we shouldn’t do it. But the FACT is, other people do it, and quite often. (And if we’re honest, we do it too). We rationalize it as a “white lie,” or even justify it as “not wanting to hurt anyone’s feelings.” It’s very much like telling a seller that the reason they lost was price; it wasn’t price, it’s never price, but no one will argue if you say it was price. (It’s like the pretty girl you asked out in high school for Friday night, and she said, “Oh, I’m so sorry, I’m busy Friday night.” No she’s not, she’s just being polite.

    So back to the seller: if you ask someone a question, and they give you an answer you know to be false, then you’ve got only two choices. One is to confront them, saying, “That’s a lie, and I can prove it.” That’s what a lawyer would do in court, and it’s perfectly appropriate.

    But it’s not appropriate here. Here, the other choice is the only choice – it’s to stuff it, forget about it, walk away. It was your own damn fault for asking a trick question, and if you don’t want to confront them, then you have absolutey no right to be upset. Jim’s really problem here is he’s simply upset because someone didn’t do what HE wanted them to do. It’s totally Jim’s fault. Either confront him, or walk away, but in any case don’t waste any more energy over resenting someone for doing something that you led them into doing. Saying that the buyer is “wrong” is worse than useless – not only does it have no bearing on the matter, it just makes you keep obsessing.

    It’s not a technology issue that Jim is struggling with, it’s a deep human relations issue; simple, but very common and powerful.

    • Tibor Shanto


      Some great insights, and other ways to explore the issue. In the end I think sellers should follow the process, not the technology.

      One question, are most of us not aware that everything we do on the web is tracked?

      Thank you for the feedback,

  5. Charles H. Green

    Tibor, interesting question. My sense is that nearly all of us grossly under-estimate how much we are tracked. I remember being amazed when I first saw software that could identify the people who were clicking on my blogposts – location, time of day, ISP, sometimes even company name and email.

    It really is a brave new world out there. All the more reason to learn to get comfortable with truth-telling, all the time. Because if you don’t tell the truth, increasingly someone else will tell it about you!

    • Tibor Shanto

      Thanks for the feedback Charles.


  6. Paige Musto

    I think you bring up a very good point. There is a thin line around privacy and trust when it comes to technology. The insight and data that you can track on a prospect through marketing automation is very helpful and can better position sales to close the deal, but there is a right way to pitch and a right time (after nurturing) to make a phone outreach. If the power of the technology is abused, sales depts will appear as spammy, too forward and overly aggressive. And we all know as consumers that is a turn off.

    And as far as Jim goes, people lie—sales and prospects. That isn’t anything new. Just now Jim has a backend technology that can confirm or deny what his prospects say.

    • Tibor Shanto


      I agree about data vs. pitch. I will be inviting Jim, and others to take on your advice.

      Thank you for the input.


  7. David Elliott

    As a follower of Charles Green I totally agree that what Jim did in his interaction with this prospect was always going to damage the development of a trusted relationship, as he was to an extent, leading the witness! To ask a question in such a way as to suggest that the prospect probably had not read the material when he knew he had was a trap…… don’t set traps when you are trying to create trust! Knowing the prospect had viewed the e-mail and web pages I think a far better approach would be to ask a far more open question , thus minimising the chance of a NO answer, by saying something like…..”how useful was the information I sent over, which particular areas would you like to talk through in more detail”…….. Jim created a lose/lose scenario by being deceitful and loading a question to such an extent that the natural answer to …”you probably haven’t had a chance to read it have you?” is no, I haven’t……it’s easier to say that than effectively disagreeing with Jim, so as I said, I agree totally with Charles, this is not about technology, or trust, this is about poor and deceitful questioning skills.

    • Tibor Shanto

      Hi David,

      I like the alternatives you suggest for Jim to take.

      Thanks for the input.

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