Customer Trust

What does trust mean in B2B? How to define and articulate it with more precision? How do you know if you have built a reservoir of customer trust or not?

Strategy gurus often say trust in a brand is the sum of all interactions by the firm with its customers across functions.

That sounds cool, but how can we make this more graspable and real —especially in a B2B context? And who is trusting whom for doing what?

At its core, trust means something simple and human. I posit that exploring the following four questions are critical to understanding trust from a customer’s perspective.

Does the customer believe that: 1) you understand what they need, 2) you will do what you say, 3) you have what it takes, and 4) you will be fair and accountable?

“You” here means the firm acting as the supplier — not a single person or capability, but the totality of the customer’s impressions and takeaways dealing with the brand over time.

Each of these questions points to a unique and important aspect of the relationship.

Note that these elements may never be spelt out explicitly by the customer. But this is exactly what the sponsor is thinking while contemplating the risks of doing business with you and while evaluating her choices before signing a new contract or expanding an existing one.

Do You Understand What They Need?

  • Do you intimately know the problem you are solving for me, the customer? Can you credibly discuss your deep familiarity with the problem, and how the problem’s characteristics and available solutions have morphed over time?

  • Why is the problem important and/or urgent now?

  • Can you articulate the business outcomes that would define customer success?

  • Do you know what great, good, average, and bad mean in the context of the customer’s function, industry, or specific segment?

  • Do you have the tools and smarts to assess the current state of the customer? Can you define what “better” looks like over time?

Will You Do What You Say?

  • Can you crisply articulate how you solve the problem? Can you clearly explain how you can improve the customer’s core outcomes relative to: a) status quo, and b) competing alternatives to status quo?

  • Do you explicitly state the known and unknown risks and potential mitigation strategies? What can go wrong in these projects and how can you help us be more proactive?

  • Do you have proof that the solution works as you claim? Can you show it working for customers like us?

  • Do you have well-defined processes for who commits the firm to what?

  • Do you track your promises over the life-cycle of the project?

  • Does your team —across Pre-Sales, Sales, Customer Success, and Implementation Services —act as ONE company, fully aware of what was committed and sold, and working to fulfill the promise?

Do You Have What It Takes?

  • Are you solving the right problems that customers value?

  • Does your product/offer solve the problems it purports to solve?

  • Are you consistently competent —across the organization—in knowing what needs to be done and doing it well?

  • Do you understand all the gaps —big and small —between the promises made and value realized? What are these disconnects in product, process, people, business model, and over-all organizational competencies? Do you have a high-velocity, closed loop to continuously identify, discuss, and fix these disconnects?

Will You be Fair and Accountable?

  • Does the customer believe that your business model and pricing (value captured) is aligned to value realized, both temporally and in absolute terms?

  • Does the customer perceive your pricing as fair relative to other options? If paying a premium, does she believe it is justified?

  • Does the customer think you have skin in the game?

  • Does the customer believe that you will do the right things to ensure their success?

  • Does the customer think of you as a true partner in their journey, someone they can rely on to bring the promise of the project to fruition?

  • What are the customer’s specific risks of doing business with you relative to other options? Have you addressed each of them?

Trust is thrown around as a core value too often; but few companies consciously construct and reinforce these building blocks, and bake it into the default baseline of how they do business.

Trust can be hard to quantify, but you sure do feel it in tangible ways: deals are easier to close, renewals occur on time, users are more vocal in their appreciation, customers expand their relationships —and even willing to take leaps of faith on new products— and word-of-mouth is stronger.

By the same token, lack of trust is also viscerally felt: customers drag their feet on closing deals, ROI cases for follow-on projects are harder to make, references are lukewarm, users are unhappy campers, and market sentiment is visibly negative.

Building trust is not just speaking the right words. It is a deep commitment to truth and customer success woven into the culture at an elemental level.

In my next post, I will discuss a specific example —Salesforce— and how it has managed to build deep customer trust in an industry that previously (and still does) had a reputation of screwing customers over with over-sold, over-priced software that took too much time to implement, and was hard to use.