Guest Column | August 28, 2019

How To Build And Sustain Trust With Customers

By Andrew Z. Brown, Bridgemaker Referral Programs

Resellers Don’t Buy From Vendors They Don’t Trust

Software executives across industries have vastly divergent viewpoints, challenges and visions for their companies. However, they do share a common priority that can be summed up in this way: If you really want to grow your business, existing and prospective customers must trust you, trust your product and/or trust your company.

In fact, according to Edelman’s most recent global Trust Barometer, CEOs across the world recognize that building trust should be their primary focus. At the same time, establishing and sustaining trust is key when you rely on channel partners, re-sellers, alliances, or systems integrators to help you innovate and distinguish yourself from competitors.

Finally, when you tap into a high-impact referral strategy to rapidly increase your revenue, your referral sources need to trust you and would-be customers need to trust your referral sources.

The bottom line: Trust is a foundation to your company’s short- and long-term business success.

However, unlike Centers of Influence (COI) programs, most business-growth plans and solutions gloss over, rather than focus on, the actions you need to take to successfully build trusted, and therefore profitable, relationships. But, given how important it is for your business’ growth and longevity to establish trust, we need to answer two core questions:

  • Why is it so hard to build and sustain trust with prospective (and existing) customers? and
  • How can you establish, protect and expand trust with prospective (and existing) customers?

To address these issues, we tap into global research along with insights from Jeremy Chan, Founder of Jonah Group, a vibrant software development agency serving tier-one companies and Elizabeth Williams, President of Candler Chase who is a recognized thought-leader in helping HR departments leverage marketing strategies for growth.

3 Reasons It’s Hard To Build And Sustain Trust With Prospective (And Existing) Customers

Several reasons contribute to why it is difficult to build and nurture the kind of trust that results in profitable business relationships. Let’s explore three of the most predominant reasons and their consequences for you/your company:

The first reason is revealed in Edelman’s Trust Barometer report which quantifies how people across the globe feel about their key institutions. The findings are startling: the trust people have in their governments, businesses and media has been on a steady decline over the last few years. And, according to the report, nowhere has that been more noticeable than in North America.

The result: your prospective and existing customers are increasingly sceptical about your company, its motivations and its ability to fulfill its commitments.

The second reason that would-be customers are inherently weary of granting trust in your business emerges because of the explosion of ‘third-party’ product ratings sites in the software sector. These sites give the impression of offering unbiased reviews. However, the reality is that companies who list their products/solutions with many of these sites entice their customers – in exchange for discounts and special offers – to give glowing endorsements.

The result: existing and prospective customers come to realize that testimonials are ‘bought’ and that causes them to distrust the recommendations, distrust the providers of the recommendations and of course, distrust the companies who have chosen to list themselves on these sites.

The third reason it is hard to have would-be customers trust you is linked to how easy it is for absolutely anyone to provide an online (and searchable) opinion of you, your product or your company. Blogs, videos, podcasts and most all social media platform grant the ability to ‘Like/Dislike’ your company and/or provide a score.

The result: existing and prospective customers find it difficult to determine the motivations or types of expertise relevant when it comes to evaluating your offering. This is particularly difficult if your software solution is innovative, complex or expensive.

11 Actions For Establishing, Protecting, And Expanding Trust With Prospective (And Existing) Customers

Despite the importance of trust being at the heart of virtually all business trade since the beginning of commerce, there are surprisingly few tested models that effectively dissect its components. Existing models tend to break trust down into two core elements: ‘credibility’ and ‘reliability’. The good news is you can establish ‘credibility’ relatively quickly – particularly, by tapping into the centers of influence (e.g. the right referral sources).

To effectively build trust, Jeremy Chan, Founder of Toronto-based Jonah Group has implemented specific processes that effectively establish its credibility. Under the leadership of his management team, the software development agency takes specific actions whether they are working with midsized or large international prospective clients/clients, including:

  1. Provide different perspectives on issues facing clients/prospects;
  2. Share the kind of detail that clients/prospects prefer to demonstrate thoughtfulness and transparency; and
  3. Provide ‘the straight goods’ rather than ‘candy coating’ difficult issues so as to give clients/prospects the opportunity to collaboratively work through them.

To increase customers’/prospects trust in your product/company, you should also find opportunities to raise your ‘credibility’ by doing the following:

  1. Use the terminology of clients/prospects when interacting with them not your jargon;
  2. Propose short-term deliverables allowing you to demonstrate skills in your area of expertise as well as deepen your understanding of the way a customer prefers to work (before engaging in larger projects);
  3. Acknowledge when you don’t know something rather than try to appear ‘perfect’;
  4. Always speak the truth (rather than hyperbole) – even if doing so means risking an engagement; and
  5. Provide real insights (i.e. actionable ideas/solutions) rather than trying to withhold them for leverage or financial gain.

When focusing on building trust, only the ‘reliability’ component requires you to deliver positively and consistently over an extended time period. According to Elizabeth Williams of Candler Chase, ‘Think of trust as a bank account into which you are always making deposits of ‘good will’. Find frequent opportunities to deliver on low effort promises and/or provide real value. Taking this approach ensures that you are regarded favourably. It also safeguards you if/when something goes awry. Finally, it demonstrates you are determined to maintain long-term business relationships that are mutually beneficial.’

To increase customers’/prospects trust in your product/company, you should also find opportunities to raise your ‘reliability’ by doing the following:

  1. Demonstrate a genuine enthusiasm to regularly hear, and remedy, any issues that arise;
  2. Show humility rather than be defensive when issues arise; and
  3. Introduce processes into your company for actively looking for errors so that they can be addressed before they have a negative impact on customers. Share these efforts (and their outcomes) with customers/prospects to demonstrate your commitment to anticipating and future-proofing your customers’ success. At the same time, reward members of your team who find and correct such errors.

Andrew Brown, Brdigemaker Referral ProgramsAbout The Author

Andrew Z. Brown is Founder and Chief Innovation officer of Bridgemaker Referral Programs. He is the lead author of the How to Grow Your Business Through Better Relationships series – which includes books on optimizing growth by leveraging referral sources, channel partners and strategic alliances.