In our recent survey of technology buyers one simple idea emerged from all the data points about content, interactions, and information sources. Trust drives the buying process.
Trust, or the lack thereof, causes buyers to:
- Spend much of there time talking to independent influencers, rather than the companies they are considering,
- Value sales interactions much higher than content that providers produce, and
- Stop buying processes when they are not comfortable (i.e. don’t trust) assessing if they can be successful with the product or service
This is challenging for providers. “How do I gain attention with compelling, creative messages without increasing skepticism?” “Where should we invest our energy and effort when buyers look to others first?”
Gartner explored this in a research note that is available to clients, “Tech Go-to-Market: Trust Drives the B2B Technology Buying Cycle.” The first step is understanding what is going on, and we think the graphic below tells the story well.
1. When a buyer starts to consider your organization’s product or services for the first time, they will have an initial level of trust. This is driven by the perception of your brand (and reflects the power of brands, as buyers often prefer to start with someone they feel they know). With limited knowledge, the trust meter will be pretty low. As they engage in a buying effort, the biggest impact on them building trust with you is what they read and hear from influencers they trust. Influencers could be analysts, academic experts, a neighbor, a peer, a columnist, a blogger, and others. But they are the first place buyers go. While this is going on, they’ll start reading your content and talking to your sales teams, but the impact is fairly low –unless they experience something really bad early and decide there is no reason to trust you at all.
2. As things progress in the buying process, your content starts to have a bit more impact, but what really comes to the front are the interactions they have with marketing and sales teams. Do those interactions confirm or clarify insights they learned from providers? Do they demonstrate that you understand the buyer’s business challenges? During this time, they continue to look for validation from external influencers but the balance is leaning more closely toward your organization. Then they buy (from someone). At this point, the trust meter will be at a level, possibly quite high, where they felt comfortable enough to give you their business.
But that is not the end.
3. Once they become customers, you have much more control of trust development. And it is all about the customer experience you deliver. If you help the client get value without a lot of pain, they’ll appreciate it. If you make it easy to get questions answered, address issues, guide them with tips and techniques to get more value, you’re helping to build trust. Even as a customer, they will continue to talk to and listen to influencers–to validate their choices and see if they are missing anything–but that is secondary to the experience.
4. At this point, the next time to think about trust (you should be thinking about it all the time but the key point) is when you are looking at either offering more to the client, renewing their subscription agreement, or looking at other forms of expansion. Their trust level at this point effectively becomes the starting trust level for this new buying/selling effort. If it is low, you may not want to bother until you can fix the trust issues. If it is high, then go for it–as long as you are continuing to build value.
Tech Providers have to be conscious of the impact that trust has on buying. Engaging in too much hyperbole and making bold claims that aren’t backed by customer stories or easily demonstrable technology are red flags for buyers.
Now, more than ever, leaders in tech providers need to put a trust lens on everything they do. Evaluating content, marketing programs, sales tactics, and even internal issues like HR approaches and compensation systems against the specter of trust. The question to ask – “Does this build trust or erode it?”
Where are your customers and prospects in their trust cycle and where are you on their trust meters? What are you going to do to move up the meter v. erode trust and move down (and possibly out)?