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Trust, Differentiation, and Messaging

By Hank Barnes | February 23, 2016 | 1 Comment

go-to-marketFuture of Sales

A few weeks ago, I shared some of the results from Gartner’s latest survey about differentiation.  In that post, the focus was on the impact of a failure to differentiate.  Today I want to look at some of the other questions that we asked and the responses as it relates to messaging and trust.  Trust is a key factor in buying decisions and will be the theme of one of my sessions at the Gartner Tech Growth and Innovation Conference this June in LA.  We feel that differentiation and trust are closely related.  If buyers don’t trust what you are saying, then they don’t believe in your differentiation.     Your messaging is like a house of cards.


There were 3 specific areas that looked at trust erosion–asking buyers their level of agreement/disagreement with some statements using a scale of 1 (Strongly Disagree) to 7 (Strongly agree).

The first statement was “We don’t trust providers who make bold claims without backing it up with customer stories.”  We’ve heard over and over that customer case studies and validation are one of the most important content types, so that is why we explored this.   The results were clear.  80% provided a score of 5 or greater (with 62% scoring it 6 or 7)—strong agreement with this statement.

We always look for customer stories when advising clients–and usually they are missing or a small part of the overall story.  That needs to change.

The second two statements related to contradictions.  We wanted to explore how often the communications from marketing (or whomever owns the Web site) is contradicted by others, both inside and outside the company.    Web sites are an important part of the marketing mix.  They are the most likely marketing vehicle to get attention (everybody quickly goes to the Web site once they learn about a company), but they are rated low as a good source of information.   In many cases, they are out of date (the dreaded “ignore our Web site, it needs work” excuse).  In other cases, they are just hard to follow.   We wanted to understand the buyer perspective on this.

First, we asked  about the internal perspective with the statement “What a provider says on their Web site is often contradicted by their sales channels (direct or partners).”  We decided to go with the strong term of “often contradicted”, to get the respondents thinking about frequent changes.  Some deviation should be expected, particularly as sales adapts to different buying situations, but it would be better if buyers thought of that as refinement v. contradictions.  The scores here were pretty equally split with 1/3 giving scores of 5-7, 1/3 giving a score of 4, and 1/3 giving a score of 1-3.   This result was not terribly surprising, but it is cautionary.   The ideal scenario would be a much higher weighting toward the lower score range.  You don’t want your own sales channels contradicting your marketing messages.     When that happens, doubt increases.

The second statement looked outside the organization.  It was “What a provider says on their Web site is often contradicted by independent third parties.”   The results here were a little different.  18% scored this from 1-3.  31% scored this a 4.  And 51% scored this from 5-7.    This is a key factor in trust.   Buyers feel that what you tell them is contradicted by independent third parties—sources of information that they trust highly.

Looked at together, you can see the impact.   Buyers have significant doubts about what providers tell them—doubts fueled by the asset that is easiest for buyers to access–your Web site.  But what can you do about it.   From my perspective the steps are clear:

  1. Prioritize customer stories.  This has always been the case, but needs to continue to be emphasized.  If you can’t use the customer name, turn it into a use case, unbranded.  It is not ideal, but  it is better than just talking about how great your product is without any validation at all.
  2. Sales Enablement – Make sure that your sales teams understand what you are sharing on the Web site and work hard to make sure they don’t purposefully contradict it.   Teach them how to build on the Web material with additional, situational insights.
  3. Influencer Relations –  Increase your focus on working with influencers, not just to try to convince them that you are great, but to understand their perspective of you.   Determine when you may need to adjust your own messaging to be more aligned with them.  In situations where there are contradictions, recognize that it exists and be prepared to help buyers understand why–our use customer stories (see item 1) to refute the contradictions.

As you work on these activities, use the skeptic test to make sure you are striking the right balance and moving toward a trustable story that differentiates you.   Just being trustable (as long as your product/service delivers value) could be an interesting differentiator.




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1 Comment

  • Rich Bentley says:

    Well said. The key is that trust has to be core to everything the company does, not just marketing spin. Customers can see through that easily.

    I wrote a blog post on this exact topic a couple months back that may interest readers as well: