I live in a small town that borders a larger city. I have two choices in hardware stores – a small, local hardware store five minutes from home, or a large mega-store ten minutes away. I know the mega-store has a better selection and lower prices, but I’ve started appreciating the little things that make my local hardware store unique.
For example, they have endless bins of loose screws, nuts and bolts. I can pick out any quantity I’d like, whether it’s one screw or a hundred, put them in a small paper bag, take it to the checkout and say, “I have six screws at twelve cents each.” The cashier doesn’t check my bag, nor does he care which exact screws I have, so there’s no looking up or scanning of barcodes. I’m in and out quickly and I get exactly what I want, no more and no less.
I had a similar experience at my local pharmacy, again small-town, locally owned. I needed to make some copies one evening so I stopped in. I found the copier in the corner of the pharmacy, away from any employee who might monitor my usage. As I looked around for somewhere to swipe my credit card or a key that would count my copies, I realized I was completely on the honor system. I made my copies, took them to the checkout counter, told them I made thirty copies and paid accordingly. Again, no hassles, no delays and I felt good about my experience.
These experiences got me thinking about trust as a differentiator. These local businesses can’t compete on price or selection, but they can compete on service. And trust is a significant factor that affects the overall service experience.
How could that translate to strategies that work for a B-to-B technology company? Of course we can’t allow customers to take what they need and pay on the honor system. Or could we? While giant software vendors concern themselves with license enforcement, why not make it as easy as possible for your customers to obtain and install your software and then make it easy for them to pay for what they’re using? Make it easy for the honest people to stay honest.
Take content like white papers as another example. We protect our content behind registration barriers and require prospects to give up their information in exchange for these valuable assets. We have to get the lead if we’re going to give up our stuff. What type of message would it send if we took away the registration barriers? Go ahead, take our content and read it. We trust that when you’re ready to talk with us you’ll contact us. (Of course, we’d better make contacting us simple and obvious.) Trust the buyer to control the buying process and stop trying to control the selling process.
Many of us in marketing have recognized the value of community web sites and blogs. However, some may balk at giving customers an open forum. Who knows what they might say? What if they trash us? What if they recommend a competitor? Again, trust comes into play. By opening up the lines of communication we’re showing confidence in our offering and trust in our community. It’s a subtle message, but one that the market will recognize.
Just like in relationships, trust can sometimes burn us. There will be individuals that steal our software or smear us in our own online communities. We can’t let that deter us because the intangible value to our brand outweighs the cost of a few isolated incidents. Build a solid reputation and you might see one negative community post result in twenty customers jumping to your defense, thus turning a negative into a positive.
Differentiation is a key aspect of positioning, and positioning is all about market perception. Nurturing a particular perception in the market takes time, repetition, and consistency. Someone in your market needs to experience the trust factor multiple times in different situations before it becomes a perception. Maybe one experience is through word-of-mouth, and the next time it comes from visiting your Web site or speaking with a sales rep, and another time it comes from the purchase or support experience.
To differentiate on trust, you need to ensure that each of these touch points reflects an open, honest, and confident attitude. A trust-based business relationship breeds customer loyalty, referenceability, and positive word-of-mouth. Trust me, the rewards are great.