The credibility trap.

Jeff Molander

Sales communications coach & Managing Partner, Communications Edge Inc.

Trainer to brands like:

Ever go on a date where your date tried to posture? You detected it instantly. Remember back in time. Your date was attracted to you … but you weren’t sure. Then, suddenly, you were.

This person was not a match.

Because they started caring too much. They were trying too hard.

Meeting a customer for the first time is the same. Signaling “I want you to respect me” is the kiss of death in business.

The moment you start caring too much you risk being seen as desperate by prospects.

It’s the same with your cold emails or LinkedIn InMails. Sales is courtship. Nothing screams “I’m trying to persuade” you louder than trying to establish credibility. Posturing to impress. 

Credibility doesn't matter (yet)

Reach into your email. Do it now. Seriously. Look for that latest spam email. The one from someone who wrote in a way that screams, “I know you won’t believe me… so here is research from a credible source… to convince you to talk about buying my thing.”

It shouldn’t take long to fish one out. Or maybe I’ve just described your email technique.

Truth is, most field and inside sales teams are advised to establish credibility when writing cold emails. “Without being seen as credible, your email will be deleted by prospects.”

Simply. Not. True.

Without being provocative your email will get deleted. You don’t need credibility yet. Save it for when your prospect is evaluating you. For now, provoke a discussion that could lead to a desire to examine your credibility.

Your email message doesn’t need to be credible–as much as it needs to be relevant, authentic (not cut-and-pasted mass spam) and provocative.

Trying to establish credibility–too early–sabotages the chance to get conversations started.

Don’t fall into the trap. Don’t write to be seen as credible from cold.

Anatomy of a failing email

Here is an example from a student I’m working with this week. I’m not using his name or company to protect the innocent.

Hello, [client],

Hi First Name,
Are you currently 100% confident your cyber security needs are being met? I am with XYZ LLC. Hopefully you have heard of us. But in case you haven’t, for over 50 years XYZ LLC has helped several large, multi-national financial institutions including ABC Corp., a banking software company, with their cyber security needs. I thought there might be a good fit for your company too.

Our world class cyber security experts have helped secure some of the worlds largest organizations and I think it’s something that your organisation might see immediate value in.


The email goes on to use phrases like, “I would love to get to know your company and projects better as perhaps there are X and Y products we can provide you.”

There are a lot of other cold email offenses I can flag as problematic. But do you see how using words like “I’d love to” and using words like “world class” and “world’s largest” and “large, multi-national” and “immediate value” sound make the seller sound like he cares too much?

Notice how the message starts off. See how the seller is talking about how established the company is? Such a turn-off. It’s like being on a bad date!

Example: What success looks like

This same student, with a bit of coaching, was able to produce a totally different, effective cold email approach. Here’s the lead-in…

Are you open to an unorthodox way to prevent attacks from compromised login credentials—in real time? 

He went on to BRIEFLY describe how he did exactly what is described for a large bank located within the same city as his prospect. (that’s another trick—geo-relevancy) Then he ended it. Done! Provocative. 

This is the kind of cool stuff we work on in our quarterly workshops and coaching.

What the seller described above is provocative because it’s short, sweet and focused on the potential client’s open-ness to hearing about a different way to achieve a goal he/she probably has. It works for a half-dozen other reasons too.

This is just one of many effective technique options we can show you.

Beware: When you attempt to establish credibility in the first stage of a conversation it often backfires. Because there is no decision being made here — other than replying to an email message.

Need more examples? Have some to offer yourself? Let me know in comments or shoot me an email!

Or join us in our Online Academy (it’s free) to learn from (and practice with) others like you. 

Leverage neutral credibility

Trying to appear credible causes readers to run the other way, hit delete. Because it feels persuasive. These days we are bombarded with messages trying to persuade.

Think about it: Those that do manage to persuade you are neutral. They don’t try to instantly persuade. They allow you to persuade yourself… slowly… if it’s for you. If not, you disqualify yourself, naturally.

Consider the above re-write. Notice how the seller does not try to persuade. He doesn’t try to look credible. Instead, he presents a subject the customer likely cares about… in a way they cannot resist acting on.

That is credible. Especially when all the other emails hitting his clients’ inboxes look like his first message–desperate! The fact that our student’s message is not posturing and trying to persuade is, in effect, credible enough to earn a reply… in comparison to the competition.

The idea is to provoke a conversation, then earn consideration for a serious discussion (and perhaps a future purchase).

Bottom line: Credibility is over-sold as a means to get conversations started. When we try to establish credibility the first thing we reach for is “our story” or third party research.

Because we feel it’s necessary to convince clients we’re worth talking to.


Instead, provoke reactions in ways that do have credible elements (tied to customers’ goals) but do not posture (look desperate).

Or am I crazy… or just flat wrong? Let me know in comments. I am open to your experiences and criticisms! 

Sales communications coach & Managing Partner

Telling prospects, "You should consider X solution because Y research says so" is a non-starter. Pushing information at customers works far less than provoking them.

"People generally opt in to receive marketing newsletters, but no one chooses to get cold emails. This simple fact is one of the most important differences between the two," says cold email expert, Heather Morgan.

Ms. Morgan reminds us also how cold emails arrive without context. This is often the first time prospects have heard from you. Further, "you haven’t yet earned their trust or attention yet," says Ms. Morgan.

Context is key. Why talk at when you can talk with? Why push when you can pull, attract the conversation to you? 

© Communications Edge Inc.. All rights reserved. InMail® is a registered trademark of LinkedIn® Corporation. This site and the products and services offered on this site are not associated, affiliated, endorsed, or sponsored by Linkedin, nor have they been reviewed, tested or certified by LinkedIn.