Who and What Do We Trust?


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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?

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Steve Woods
Steve Woods, Eloqua's chief technology officer, cofounded the company in 1999. With years of experience in software architecture, engineering and strategy, Woods is responsible for defining the technology vision at the core of Eloqua's solutions. Earlier, he worked in corporate strategy at Bain & Company and engineering at Celestica.


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