Consider this: you’re a B2B buyer in need of a complex technology solution. Your inbox has several emailed offers from various vendors, only some of which you’ve scanned over with a healthy dose of scepticism regarding their product or service claims. But then your inbox pings with a forward from a colleague you recently chatted with at an industry function – she knows you’re busy researching vendor options since you inquired with her regarding her company’s similar solution. Her email indicates briefly that you should consider the vendor she’s recommending as her company is quite pleased with them. You read the forwarded vendor information with an enthusiasm and sense of credibility you didn’t afford them previously. Why?
Simply put, word-of-mouth is still our most trusted source of information, including for B2B buyers. In fact, a frequently referenced Forrester statistic cites that 84% of B2B buyers trust word-of-mouth recommendations – more than any other source – and additional research finds that 54% say it influences purchases, making it the top driver of B2B sales*.
Inherent in all of this is the notion of trust as a prerequisite to a successful sales process. As B2B marketers, the content we develop is designed to engender that trust – we want prospects and existing customers to view us as experts, thought leaders, and trusted advisors. In a time when buyer confidence has been shaken by the actions of large, immorally-led institutions, your messaging needs to convey credibility and authenticity. Social networking has created a previously unseen transparency of information, requiring that your brand’s voice ring with sincerity to avoid being relegated to the limbo of shameless self-promoters. How better to do that than with customers advocating on your behalf?
Brand advocates immediately raise your credibility, enabling an early measure of trust you cannot initially earn on your own. Happy customers are the most powerful of brand evangelists, as they share their success stories without motivating influence from you, the vendor. Their recommendations are thus untarnished and allotted more consideration.
Advocacy is achieved by delivering exceptional customer experience and then giving satisfied customers the opportunity and the tools to be advocates. As the marketer, your job is to make it easy for your brand advocates to share their thoughts and perspectives. The various social networking channels and tools are prime means of facilitating this propagation, be it through “likes,” ”shares,” “retweets,” forwards, reviews, and such.
But you shouldn’t be passive about enabling brand advocacy – rather, you need to find your advocates so you can leverage the considerable advantages they offer. The simplest way to accomplish this according to Rob Fuggetta, author of Brand Advocates**, is to ask, listen and observe:
Ask – Poll your customers with the “Ultimate Question:” “On a scale from 0-10, how likely are you to recommend us?” Those who respond “9” or “10” are your brand advocates.
Listen – By monitoring social channels you can identify those evangelizing on your behalf.
Observe – Take note of which customers are referring business your way, be it through a referral program, online reviews, or other behaviours which indicate their support.
Fuggetta also suggests you parse your responses for further investigation. Obviously, you’ll want to reach out to those you identify as advocates to inquire if they’d be willing to share their experiences. This is a content-creation goldmine as you can develop valuable testimonials, customer stories, and case studies. But you’ll also want to reach out to those who didn’t respond as favorably to determine why – this is a prime opportunity to be proactive in customer service and glean valuable insights as to how you can improve your product or service, while engaging your customer with the sincerity of your outreach.
Caterpillar, the manufacturer of industrial equipment, is an example of a company which is leveraging social technologies to create more meaningful connections and collaborations both internally and externally, with their vendors and end-customers. These social networks and tools, are being used to more quickly engage stakeholders in an effort to improve their business and provide customers with the best possible experience at every touch point. In so doing, Caterpillar is creating and enabling brand advocates, while building trust, credibility, and loyalty as they work to achieve their goal of being a customer-experience leader***.
Lincoln famously said, “With trust everything is possible. Without trust nothing is possible.” For all of our advances in technology and our changing ways of doing business, at the end of the day, the fundamentals are still the same – trust is still the foundation of all prosperous relationships and word-of-mouth, while it may present in bits and bytes, remains the most trusted source of recommendations.
Get more ideas about how to manage the customer experience from the first engagement. Read Reshaping Field Marketing in the Digital World. Click on the image below to download this thought provoking white paper.
What are you doing to engender trust in your online contacts and advocacy from your customers?
* The Power of Brand Advocates for B2B – (Slide #5), Zuberance, October 2011
** Brand Advocates: Turning Enthusiastic Customers into a Powerful Marketing Force, Rob Fuggetta, July 2012
*** Caterpillar Goes Social and Delivers Exceptional Customer Experiences, IBM, April 2013