Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Who and What Do We Trust?

As the role of the relationship-based sales person shifts, with buyers collecting more of their information online, both prior to, and during conversations with sales people, we need to pay close attention to the most crucial aspect of a sale. Trust. It is trust that every relationship has as its foundation. However, with the changing dynamic of how the conversation happens, there is also a changing dynamic of how trust is developed.

In classic relationship-based sales, the buyer grew to trust the individual salesperson. Conversations were typically face to face, and the relationship incorporated many “social” elements such as dinner, drinks, golf outings, or sports events. Over time, this built up a level of trust between the buyer and the seller and allowed the deal to move through its challenging parts.

Now, with significantly less face-to-face time being spent, the dynamics of this trust building are changing. Trust now manifests itself in a variety of ways, which together either contribute to, or detract from, a sales opportunity. Replacing, enhancing, or complementing the trust we historically had in the direct sales rep is the trust we place in the following sources:

The most powerful and immediate trusted source, of course, are our peers. People we know, have existing relationships with, and respect are the most powerful influencers of our decision making. Both because of shared experiences, and a perception of them being free of bias, we are far more likely to trust recommendations from our peer group.

Online Communities:
In a similar vein, we tend to trust the recommendations of online communities, where individuals may not be known to us, but we share a common thread such as the use of a particular solution, a professional discipline, or a love of travel.

Online Personas:
Within these communities, active individuals often stand out. Through creating great content, intelligent commentary, and frequent presence, they build familiarity in the same way that repeated light encounters with a neighbour or office co-worker begin to build our familiarity with them. As this familiarity builds, a sense of trust builds with it.

Personal Brands:
Taken further, many individuals have become so well known individually within a given space that their views are given significant credence. As buyers, there may be significant trust placed in the views, opinions, and perspectives of these strong individual brands within a space.

Company Online Brands:
The overall reputation and brand of a company is greatly influenced by the transparency of social media. Numerous examples exist of companies who attempted to maintain a difference between what they wanted their reputation to be, and what the reality of their product or service was. Social media has collapsed this difference, and in doing so may have an overall positive effect on buyer trust. If a company brand becomes, through community discussion and reputation, a realistic impression of what that company truly is, it becomes something that can more easily be trusted.

As trust shifts from being mainly in the purview of face to face sales reps, and towards a variety of other sources, marketing organizations need to ensure that buyers trust what is being offered. However, with trust itself being a virtually unmeasurable concept, and the source of trust being even more difficult, this provides marketers with a significant challenge.

Are you measuring how and why prospective buyers build their trust in you?
Many of the topics on this blog are discussed in more detail in my book Digital Body Language
In my day job, I am with Eloqua, the marketing automation software used by the worlds best marketers
Come talk with me or one of my colleagues at a live event, or join in on a webinar


social media management service said...

Buyers trust is a bit difficult to gain and in many cases is short lived. Great Blog the information and the research is incredible and indispensable for any marketer.

Appointment Setting Services and Company said...

Hi, @ social media management service : I am not able to agree with you. Since in all these years of my business experience, I have met with many buyers and still have them as loyal customers because they trust us to a great extent. And Steven, this post of yours has been very impressive and informative as your blog is.



Pablo Edwards said...

You are spot on. To make an impact, we must be willing to build and work at relationships. If we want people to deal with us they have to be in a trusting relationship with us!

Johnell said...

Your word is your bond... I agree with Pablo, a foundation has to be built in order to start progress in a working relationship. People are afraid of change but with a solid trustworthy relationship... Prospects will be willing to take that first step!