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Five Ways to Build Trust with B2B Customers

By: Guest | August 9, 2011 | 
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Marianne WorleyToday’s guest post is written by Marianne Worley.

Not long ago, B2B companies thought customers wanted to buy from great companies. Marketers promoted products and services with self-important platitudes, such as:

1. We are the leader in the industry.
2. We were founded by the smartest engineer in the world.
3. Our products are unsurpassed.

Today, a few companies still cling to this old strategy, but the reality is it doesn’t work. Your customers don’t care how great your company and products are. They just want to be able to trust your company can solve their problems.

Business customers aren’t so different from consumers after all. The purchase process may be more complex and the sales cycle may be longer, but what it comes down to is this: People buy from people. You need to engage with your customers and build trusting relationships to win their business.

Give your customers what they want

B2B companies have a great opportunity to openly share content that was once tightly held and carefully rationed only to top business prospects. That information—and more—is now accessible with a few clicks. If your customers want information, they will find it. Let them skip the search entirely by providing it yourself. Otherwise, they might get it from your competitors.

At the beginning of the purchase process, customers assess their problems and look for possible solutions. Then, they match those solutions to potential vendors. B2B companies should take that opportunity, and provide information at every step in the research process. Here are a few types of content your customers will be looking for:

  • Testimonials and case studies, available in a variety of media.
  • Industry trends and analysis from third-party organizations.
  • Company AND competitor news.

To be able to deliver the content your customers need, you must understand their problems and be ready to solve them over the short- and long-term. In addition to the actual expenditure, your customers are often making a long-term commitment to your company. They need to trust that you will have their back once the contract is signed and the money is in the bank.

A business case in building trust

Although I spent most of my career in high-tech and B2B marketing, I did work in B2C for three years. In that position, I was responsible for Internet marketing, including lead generation and Web site management. I oversaw a number of large IT purchases—the biggest was a web analytics solution. Like most B2B buyers, I scoured the Internet for information, narrowed my choices to four vendors, and finally made a selection.

What did the company I chose do differently than the others?

  1. Their first question wasn’t “What is your budget?” It was “Tell me about your problem.”
  2. When I requested a vendor comparison analysis, they provided it even though they weren’t top-rated in every category.
  3. When I asked about their competitors, they didn’t slam them. Instead, they sent me industry analyst reports about competitor products.
  4. When we discussed testing and implementation, they didn’t sugar-coat their responses and tell me it could be completed in two weeks. They provided a variety of timelines based on the experiences of their other customers.
  5. When I asked about training programs, they gave me access to videos in the password-protected area of their website.

In the end, the company I chose didn’t offer the most features or the lowest price. What they offered was entirely different: Trust. They built that trust by providing relevant, valuable, and informative content.

Marianne Worley is a freelance marketer and writer who specializes in online and offline marketing communications projects for B2B and B2C organizations. She writes about marketing, social media, and business on her blog, Marketing Matters.

77 comments
MarianneWorley
MarianneWorley

@dick_foster Thank you so much for re-tweeting my guest post on Spin Sucks. I appreciate it. Hope you have a great week.

adamsok
adamsok

Marrianne, terrific read! Coming from a B2B business, I can certainly see where you are coming from. It's funny how many times the difference maker in getting the job is not price, but understanding the clients problem and setting out a plan to solve that problem.

I also find it interesting how many B2B's stay away from business blogging because, like @Kaleb_Francis stated they don't understand engaging and relationships. Do you think they feel that they would come across as "uncorporate-like"?

"Their first question wasn’t “What is your budget?” It was “Tell me about your problem.” -Love it! Nobody will typically tell you their budget anyhow. Can't wait to give this a whirl and see where it goes!

-Adam

MarianneWorley
MarianneWorley

@capterrajess Hi Jessica, Thank you so much for re-tweeting my guest post on Spin Sucks. I really appreciate it! :-)

MarianneWorley
MarianneWorley

@tfvineworks Hi Traye, Thank you so much for re-tweeting my guest post on Spin Sucks. I really appreciate it!

MarianneWorley
MarianneWorley

@gurnage Hi Jenni, Thanks for re-tweeting my guest post on Spin Sucks. I appreciate it. :-)

MarianneWorley
MarianneWorley

@cynthiaschames Hi Cynthia, Thanks so much for re-tweeting my guest post on Spin Sucks, and for the very kind words. I appreciate it. :-)

MarianneWorley
MarianneWorley

@mazter81 Hello Morten, Thank you for re-tweeting my guest post on Spin Sucks. I appreciate it. 

Kaleb_Francis
Kaleb_Francis

A pretty sensible post there Marianne. I work in branding, predominantly B2B but also have experience in B2C.

The perception from B2B is that it's more about the spreadsheet than the relationships.

The expansion of the digital world is turning heads amongst this crowd - they are realising that conversations and connections play a vital part in the spreadsheet. While that may be slightly cynical, on the plus side at least they are now willing to engage in meaningful conversation. Who knows, maybe they'll learn to enjoy it and one day it'll become second nature...

Cheers

Kaleb

janetcallaway
janetcallaway

Marianne, aloha. Well said, my friend. It all boils down to the oft repeated sentence, "people do business with people they know, like and trust."

Life--business & personal--is all about relationships. The better we are at listening, the better we will be at building relationships that matter. Absolutely loved your example.

Wishing you a terrific week. Until tomorrow when I learn about your conversation with the facebook hacker, aloha. Janet

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

Marianne, we only work with B2B companies (mostly manufacturing) and the first thing I typically hear is, "My customer isn't online." Followed quickly by, "Sure, using the web to sell works for consumer businesses, but my company is different."

Uh huh. The thing is (to your point) we're selling to people, not companies. And people are consumers. Developing content that makes people look smart will develop the trust they need in order to buy from you. We're all doing the job of three people and, if you can make me look good to my bosses, I'm going to buy from you.

So why not look at it that way?

MarianneWorley
MarianneWorley

@Steveology Hi Steve, Thank you so much for re-tweeting my guest post on Spin Sucks. I really appreciate it.

MarianneWorley
MarianneWorley

@rachellai83 Hi Rachel, Thank you so much for re-tweeting my guest post on Spin Sucks. I really appreciate it.

MarianneWorley
MarianneWorley

@rrhhee Thank you so much for re-tweeting my guest post on Spin Sucks. I really appreciate it.

glenn_ferrell
glenn_ferrell

Nice job Marianne ! Two great "mantras" I like : 1) "People buy from People" and 2) Ask first about a customer's problem -- not their budget.

Not only do "People buy from People" but they only buy from people who they think are trustworthy and honest. And trying to understand a potential customer's problem can reveal some really great information about the market in general -- whether or not their budget is large enough to justify a business engagement.

girlygrizzly
girlygrizzly

Marianne... I almost didn't comment, I thought, well shoot, they've said it!

You know what, though? I didn't tell you. I love when I read something of yours. I always understand. I "get it". So, thank you.

What I have noticed here online is a powerful force, strengthened by each voice, in its own way.. the force is Right. Other than the details, and I am SO not discounting them (!), the basic rules of the game, the business, Social Media, all of it- is do it right.

The more right (and I am talking moral, honest, trust-worthy humans doing the right things as humans) we do, there wont be any room for anything but good business, good foundations, good relationships. Thanks. ~Amber-Lee

KimDavies
KimDavies

Hi, Marianne.

I don't deal with customers personally, but I have been one myself many times and you are right, it takes trust for people to buy from people. And, this takes building relationships, showing authenticity as Hajra said and making sure that reliable, consistent service is delivered.

Thanks for offering an understandable look into marketing, Marianne. You make it so easy for us newbies to learn what would otherwise have sent our eyes swimming back in our heads. :D

Hope you are doing well. :)

AdrienneSmith
AdrienneSmith

Great article Marianne,

When I was in the corporate world, I was responsible for all vendor accounts and hiring which companies did what. I also looked at the same things you mentioned. It was all about trust because I learned early on that just because they have a great product doesn't mean they're going to have great service.

It's opening the doors to me and letting me know that I can trust them that got me every time. Glad to hear that now companies are understanding that the consumers will no longer stand for how great your product is or company. We need so much more from you.

This is my first visit to Gini's blog and you are the reason. Great job young lady!

Adrienne

michaelwhite1
michaelwhite1

Now this is one of those blog posts which I will save. B2B has certainly evolved into a human business, yet the fact remains it is still business - money is to be made both sides of the deal. In my experience I have noticed it is including details about competitors which can cause companies to worry but personally I have found being open about your company's service/product usually wins as an approach.

marianne.worley
marianne.worley

@adamsok Thank you Adam. I agree that many B2Bs are avoiding blogging because they don't understand how to engage. Customers don't want to be our best pals; they want to find solutions. The conversational nature of online communications seems less "corporate," but it's actually more effective than jargon-filled brochures. B2B customers can have extremely complex problems, so being a trusted provider of information that helps solve those problems is critical.

So glad you stopped by. Hope you have a great week.

DanielSharkov
DanielSharkov

@marianneworley Not a problem Marianne! Good overview and liked your conclusion - trust is the number one thing in online business.

marianne.worley
marianne.worley

@Kaleb_Francis Thank you so much Kaleb. It's so true that B2B companies manage by spreadsheet. To keep the spreadsheet users happy, we need to encourage relationship building, but also ROI analysis of marketing programs. So glad you stopped by.

marianne.worley
marianne.worley

@janetcallaway Thanks so much Janet. I think we hear the "know, like, and trust" sentence so often because it's so true. Like you say, it's "all about relationships." The businesses that excel at building relationships are going to have more success over the long term. So glad you stopped by! Hope you're having a great week too.

marianne.worley
marianne.worley

@ginidietrich I've had more than a few people ask me how I was able to transition from B2B to B2C marketing (and then back again). They were surprised that I even got hired in B2C. My response is always that you're always dealing with people. You always need to analyze the market and understand your customers. So it wasn't so different after all.

Funny, in my first draft of this post, I had a paragraph about the B2B customer wanting to look good to their bosses! I guess we think alike. :-)

marianne.worley
marianne.worley

@glenn_ferrell Thank you so much Glenn. You've given us another benefit of focusing on the customer's problem instead of the budget: information about the market. The more we understand about the constantly changing business environment, the more successful we'll be. So glad you stopped by.

marianne.worley
marianne.worley

@girlygrizzly You are 100% right Amber-Lee. When we focus on being moral, honest, trust-worthy human beings, we create strong relationships and truly help people with their needs. When it comes down to the foundation, every business is about creating customer value. And we create value by fulfilling needs and providing great service. We might need to learn some special marketing techniques or tools, but the foundation is always the same.

So glad you stopped by and commented Amber-Lee!

marianne.worley
marianne.worley

@KimDavies Thank you so much Kim. As customers, we're all familiar with that sinking feeling that we cannot trust the person we're dealing with. Think of that salesperson who presses you to select the most expensive item instead of helping you find the right product for your needs. As marketers, we know we don't want our customers to feel that way. So we listen, we give honest advice, and we build trust that lasts. If you've been a customer, you already know how to turn around and be a good marketer!

So glad you stopped by Kim. :-)

marianne.worley
marianne.worley

@AdrienneSmith Your first visit to Spin Sucks? Awesome! Not only will you always find interesting content here, but also great conversation.

Sounds like we had very similar experiences with vendors--we learned firsthand that we want to do business with people we trust. And that same lesson applies to the relationships we create with our clients. Today, the communication lines are wide open, so it's critical to build good relationships that last long past that first sale.

Thanks so much for stopping by Adrienne! I really appreciate it.

marianne.worley
marianne.worley

@michaelwhite1 Thank you so much Michael! You're right about the evolution of B2B. When I started in marketing, it was verboten to mention a competitor--even in neutral, news-style content. Today, customers have access to all the information they want, so it doesn't make sense to pretend that competitors don't exist. Companies that focus on helping their customers instead of beating the competition will earn more trust.

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