In business, authenticity inspires trust and trust drives sales. But what does it mean for a company to truly be authentic? Having an open dialogue with a customer is one thing, but allowing your customers to have an open (and public) dialogue about your business is quite another.
2016 is the year of the customer, and, as business buyers start to purchase more like consumers, it’s time to start giving the customer what they want: transparency as it relates to the goods and/or services you sell. Why? Because freedom of information is not just good for buyers, but can be just as good for your brand’s image and bottom line.
What We Can Learn from the B2C Landscape
Consumers hate to be misled—just think about the backlash from the recent Volkswagen clean diesel scandal. For almost a year, Volkswagen insisted that the discrepancies were technical glitches and only fully confessed to manipulating vehicle emission tests after being confronted with discrediting evidence.
Brands like Volkswagen are fearful of airing their dirty laundry in public, but evidence suggests they shouldn’t be so long as they act authentically. In fact, 91 percent of consumers said one of the most important characteristics they look for in a brand is honest communication about products and services.
Consumers prefer authentic brands that acknowledge their mistakes and engage in good-faith problem solving. These companies are ultimately rewarded with loyal consumers who tend to be more forgiving of mistakes—even fatal oversights. But how can brands go further here? One key opportunity is to give your customers the keys and put them behind the wheel of open conversation.
Why Brands Should Give the Customer More Control
There are two main reasons to re-think how you approach transparency. First, as B2B vendors, it’s sometimes easy to forget your customers are also consumers in their daily lives. Add this to the fact that a growing audience for B2B is millennials who are notorious for wanting authenticity, and do not place their trust in brands as easily as their older counterparts.
Secondly, the traditional B2B purchase path is also changing. Buyers no longer gather the vast majority of their information from vendors early on. 71 percent gather information via basic search and they’re already 57% along the way to a purchasing decision by the time they engage sales. This is due to increased reliance on independent research and peer recommendations ahead of vendors (perceived as biased) sources across the buying journey. This may be surprising, but it shouldn’t be. After all, business professionals are consumers at home.
How Brands Can Give the Customer More Control
Many B2B brands believe that by simply “owning the truth” about their customer experience they can convert new buyers and control their perceptions. Unfortunately, traditional methods – customer case studies or other vendor issued testimonials, which are highly curated and tightly controlled – are not enough for this new age of business buyers.
Companies like Mattersight, Marketo, and Ultimate Software have started to emerge as champions of authenticity in B2B by using new, non-traditional platforms for transparency. Mattersight, for example, relies on TrustRadius, a platform that helps professionals select the right technology based on in-depth user reviews and derivative research (think Yelp for B2B) to amplify the voice of its customers in the most authentic fashion.
Mattersight’s Chief Marketing Officer, Jason Wesbecher, believes such review platforms help the company provide a completely transparent look at its products to valued prospective and current customers, while also using the evaluations as a benchmark of what they can do better. “Transparency sits at the heart of how to be an authentic brand. Reviews are a direct line to customer sentiment, forcing us to jump higher and go further to ensure our solutions are the absolute best they can be,” he says. “Negative reviews are also just as valuable as positive reviews in our eyes. A negative review just means we have to be more agile and hold the next iteration of our product to higher standards.”
Similarly, Ultimate Software, an HR software company, has truly embraced the transparency and authenticity practiced by leading B2C brands, and operates with that ethos in mind. They have invited all their customers to review them, and they listen attentively to customer feedback and use it to guide their product direction and operations, sharing reviews openly with prospective customers. Perhaps most importantly, they re-engage their reviewers, who can update and augment their reviews as their product, service, and experience evolves.
“We see user reviews as an extension of social media and as a great equalizer,” says Jody Kaminsky, Ultimate Software’s SVP Marketing & Communications. “They hold a vendor’s feet to the fire and serve as a way to ‘fact check’ the claims vendors make about their products and services. User reviews ensure that you’re authentic in your messaging and communications. We believe they’re good for the whole industry.”
Choosing Authenticity for Better, More Honest Business
Leading B2B review sites of today are making sure every review made is un-biased, sourcing them from customers who have had both a good and bad experience with the brand. The outcome being a more fair and balanced business environment where opportunities for customer and vendor co-exist to drive better business, universally.
Brands like Mattersight and Ultimate Software are great examples of why companies should use external reviews platforms to build consumer trust. They use these tools to facilitate honest, peer-to-peer conversation about their brand, using positive and negative sentiment to build better business from the outside in.