21 September 2022 Inge de Jong

The crisis of trust- how to restore relationships with B2B buyers

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We're facing a full-blown crisis of trust, and it's not confined to just B2B marketing. The latest Edelman trust barometer reveals that trust in politicians and companies has hit an all-time low. It's crystal clear that people have reached their limit with entities that twist the truth and fail to walk their talk. Mainstream media has lost its credibility, leading people to seek their own version of reality on social media and online forums. The established institutions that were meant to have their backs have left them feeling utterly disappointed and, more crucially, furious. How did we find ourselves in this colossal mess, and how can we, as B2B marketers contribute to rebuilding the trust of our buyers?



What’s real and how can we tell?

Before we start, let me make it clear that this article is in no way an answer to world problems of any sort. It’s just that, if we only look at B2B buyers' trust, we don’t see the full picture. Companies didn’t lose the loyalty of their customers all because of themselves (although they do play a big part). There are shifts in society that made people in general question the sincerity of people and companies with power. Fake news, greenwashing, data leakage and empty promises have made it hard for all of us to determine what’s real and if we matter to the people and companies in power. The only truth I’m sure of is that there’s no way to tell. 


The crisis of trust directly impacts the success of B2B marketing and sales. After all, if people don't trust mainstream news sources anymore, why would our buyers trust our content, let alone leave their email addresses? And let's be honest here, companies themselves added fuel to the fire by forcing content on their buyers that was low quality and sometimes downright horrible. And, because all this content was hidden behind a form, buyers only found out when they had already left their email addresses. To make things worse, buyers would also be smothered in lead nurturing emails they didn't want. Not to mention all the advertising we did. In Powerful B2B Content, Gay Flashman writes that consumer 'belief' in advertising is now at a record low (25 percent). "It is, research says, due to the huge volume of ads, their repetition, obtrusiveness and irrelevance."    


No wonder B2B buyers don't trust us anymore. 

No wonder they no longer want to fill in our forms.

No wonder the 'unsubscribe' button is so damn popular. 


I believe that if every marketing email had a button that said "Stop sending me this sh#t", many people would press it - and never look back.


Rebuilding trust

So here we are, in the middle of a crisis, trying to rebuild the trust of the people that we need so desperately. Not the easiest of tasks. Lord Puttnam, British film producer, educator, and environmentalist, seems to agree, as he stated: "We have the colossal job in our hands of recreating trust." 


But how does one recreate trust? The answer, to me, lies in giving away stuff and not asking for anything in return. We have to, as for too long, we've exchanged our buyer's valuable information for not-so-valuable content. We can rebuild a relationship if we start helping our buyers by providing them with the knowledge and inspiration they need to solve a problem. In practice, B2B companies should ungate most of their content so buyers can educate themselves at their own pace without eager salespeople breathing down their necks. 


Ungating your content means it has to be super high quality. You can trick people into downloading a low-quality piece of content by making promises on your landing page; that's easy. But you can't fool people into reading a low-quality web page - they would leave! Apart from high quality, you need consistency too. It's why I'm a big fan of content platforms. By content platform, I don't mean a blog filled with "articles" that end in a sales pitch; I mean newsroom-worthy journalism with helpful, useful and interesting content. Organisations like the World Economic Forum get it: they run a content department that shares daily news articles that have little to do with sales but everything with the interests and needs of their audience.


The perks of the content platform

Now, you may wonder what a high-quality, newsroom-worthy content platform can really do for your business. Giving away stuff for free to restore trust probably sounds good, but then what? The truth is that a content platform free from marketing and sales talk increases your chances of getting picked out by your target audience. In the world of B2B, there are so many businesses providing similar products and services, and it's getting harder for buyers to select a vendor or partner. They all advertise the same things and are very quick at sending a salesperson to close the deal. 


In reality, Forrester Research found, two-thirds of all B2B buyers want to do online research on their own. This is especially true for decision-makers that read a lot of online content but stay away from filling out forms. Also, 62% develop selection criteria and finalise vendor shortlists based solely on digital content. Last but not least, 60% don't want to talk to sales in the process- at all. 


Considering the numbers above and the crisis of trust, who do you think people in your target audience go for? The company that keeps showing the same product ad on their LinkedIn feed, or the company that produced the articles they read and love? That's what I thought.


Another perk of a content platform is that you can communicate your values. This may sound corny, but values are becoming increasingly important in company-buyer relationships, so Gay Flashman writes. With all the options today's buyers have, they tend to go with the provider, vendor or partner that shares the same values. So many companies don't pay attention to the influence that values have on a buyer's decision, which creates a great opportunity for companies that do. They can become a trustful source of information in a world filled with product ads and misinformation. They can become the thought leaders buyers feel connected to, not just as customers but as long-time ambassadors. 


Create content with integrity

When you're using content to restore the relationship with your audience, know there's no shortcut to success. Your audience has been trained to detect a blog sales pitch, greenwashing in a statement about sustainability and marketing in a white paper. Whatever you're trying to pull, they’ll find out. We're probably all familiar with the Einstein quote: "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results." So don't do the same thing. Don't trick people into consuming your content and buying your product. It won't work, not in this crisis of trust. Therefore, create content with integrity and honesty, restore the relationship and see how your audience will find you. 

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