I was speaking at an event last week in South Carolina, when someone asked a great question. He was struggling. Given the shifts in this economy, more demanding clients, and increased competition, he felt overwhelmed and challenged on where to focus and what to do to build his business.

Terrific question, and I chose to blog about it because I believe this is a challenge many of us are facing. You have heard me say it time and time again, this is a trust and value economy. If you want to succeed, if you want to get ahead, you need to focus on two things: building trust with your clients, and adding value continuously to your relationships.

What about a quality product or superior service? Well honestly, they are your ticket to entry–what you have to offer to even get in the game. But if you want to stay in the game, compete in the game or win the game, you need to understand it is about building trust and adding value.

So let’s begin with building trust. Why does it matter and how do you do it? In this economy, building trust is directly connected to your success. Not only that, it is directly connected to the quality of clients you have, the depth to which you are able to serve those clients, and your ability to retain them. In essence, trust matters because it directly impacts your profitability.

So how do you build trust with your clients? How do you know if what you are doing is building trust?

1. Invest – The challenges and uncertainties of this economy have put people on guard. Since the economy shifted in late 2008, we have become less trusting of  our politicians, corporations and the media, and that lack of trust has spread over into our everyday lives.  Sadly, we now question others’ motives and intentions. We are on guard, believing most people want something from us. So be aware that when you first meet a client or make a sales call, they are just standing there waiting. They are waiting for you to start talking about yourself, ask them for something or start touting the virtues of your product or service.

So recognize that this is your opportunity to build trust.  Your first step is to invest in them. Make this first meeting and this sales call all about your client. Invest in them first, take the time to get to know them and  learn about them. When you take the time to invest in others, it gives them an opportunity to let their guard down, relax and be open to investing in you.

2. Ask Questions – The best way to invest in our clients is to ask them questions. The truth is, people love to talk about themselves; we all do. Asking questions gives your clients that opportunity. The more they share, the more you learn and the more your clients get the signal that you care and are more interested in hearing about their challenges than solving your own.

3. Take Action – Lastly, you want to follow up and follow through on what you learned and what you heard. If you want to build trust, nothing will do that faster than actually taking action to solve a problem your client has or to help them achieve a goal they have been trying to reach.  When you take action around something your client has mentioned, something they feel is important,  it assures the client that they have been heard, and that you are dedicated to putting their needs ahead of your own.

Yes, building trust is the key to this new economy. In addition, it is a far more enjoyable and less stressful way to build your business. The truth is, trust is the foundation you need to truly develop a long-term relationship with your clients; one that will result in more business, increased referrals, long-term relationships and profitability.