From fake news to Facebook, there is a crisis of trust in our culture. The 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer study showed it is only getting worse. In the past year, Americans’ trust in institutions has dropped nine points, the steepest decline ever measured. Even more concerning, their trust in businesses dropped 10 points into negative territory.
A recent TrustRadius study confirmed this trend is impacting big-ticket B2B technology as well. While vendors claim to be transparent, most buyers don’t see it. During the sales process, 85 percent of vendors said they are clear about where their product works well and where something else might be a better fit. However, only 37 percent of buyers thought their vendor lived up to that promise.
So who do people trust? Other people like them—their colleagues and peers. Finding a trusted source is especially important in B2B, where every buying decision can make or break your career. But relying on their own personal network is often too limiting for most buyers, which is where vendors need to step in if they want to continue to influence the purchasing process. We spoke to three leading B2B executives about how they use their customers’ voices to bridge the trust gap with their buyers.
Learn to let go
“Nowadays, I don’t think the buyers want to listen that much to marketers—they want to get to the product, and they want to be convinced by other people using it,” said Thomas Been, CMO at TIBCO. “The digital buyer is looking for real-life stories from people like themselves.”
When vendors do relinquish control of the message, they are rewarded. Only 23 percent of surveyed buyers said the vendor was “highly influential” in their purchasing decision, but those vendors were twice as likely to embrace transparency compared to the rest.
“The value of completely transparent reviews and references is priceless,” said Stacy Nawrocki, director of product marketing for IBM Cloud Video. “Of course, there are always things that I, as a marketer, might wish the customer had worded differently. But it is so much more credible when our customer’s personality comes through—we end up with a huge breadth of highly valuable content, while our buyers get the honest and relatable feedback they are searching for.”
Get smart about scale
Leveraging your customers is a key component of building trust with buyers. Traditionally this has been a challenge for B2B vendors, who have to go through lengthy approvals for case studies and need to be wary of burning out reference customers. B2B buyers are explicitly looking for insights from other users, and will find them on their own if vendors don’t proactively provide them. It is no surprise that third-party reviews, which allow buyers to crowdsource recommendations without the spin, moved from the fifth to the second most popular information source for buyers in this year’s survey.
“There is massive demand these days for more customer assets covering more use cases across thousands of products,” said Jeb Dasteel, chief customer officer at Oracle. “On top of that, the kinds of advocacy and assets we develop and consume need to continuously evolve as our customers and prospects evolve.”
B2B buyers want feedback, but, fortunately, they are also willing to share feedback to help their peers—84 percent said they would be willing to do more to share their perspectives with other buyers. But most vendors still aren’t taking advantage of this customer goodwill. Overall, 22 percent of buyers have written a review, 14 percent have served as a reference, 11 percent have provided a testimonial and 9 percent have participated in a case study.
Transform your digital channels
“Authenticity, simplicity and speed are absolutely critical,” said Dasteel. “Oracle is 100 percent B2B, yet our customers have dramatically evolving B2C consumer experiences and outcomes every day. So, our goal is to deliver the same type of experiences and outcomes in their B2B life as they have as consumers in their B2C life.”
Once you have customers on the record, you need to weave that authentic voice throughout the buyer’s journey. Even though prospects are becoming more independent in their product research, vendor-provided assets are still among the most used information sources by buyers. However, they were rated significantly less influential and trustworthy than third-party validation.
Bringing external voices into your collateral is one way to move that needle. Whether it is putting reviews on your landing pages, adding customer quotes to outreach emails or creating digital meet-and-greets with current users, you need to reimagine the buyer’s experience by bringing customers to the forefront.
“I cannot think of a marketing touchpoint at TIBCO that has not been impacted by the voice of the customer,” Been concluded. “We’re building digital user journeys that are paved with those touchpoints in the right channel and, most importantly, made with the right content.”