Impediments to winning the trust of enterprise buyers

Profile picture for user jreed By Jon Reed July 7, 2015
Enterprise buyers are changing. For solution providers, the ramifications change the sales process - and how trust is established. Here's some surprising research about purchasing risk, sales interactions, and the flaws of peer references

Businessman tearing up a sign saying - Distrust - conceptual image importance of trust and cooperation in successful business.

In Why enterprise buyers trust influencers – new research, Gartner's Hank Barnes shared the factors that today's informed buyers are weighing, and how they generate the information that leads to purchasing decisions.

But we left out some keys to winning buyer trust - several of which are either overlooked or underestimated by solutions providers. For this concluding installment, I'll hit on several keys I left out of the first article.

Before we dig in, a bit more on how Barnes' group conducts these studies. Their most recent research from 700 respondents gathered views on questions pertaining to four main topics in purchase evaluations:

  • What type of activities and information that occur independent from the company you're evaluating do you use?
  • What type of content do you use that a provider develops themselves?
  • What type of marketing activities get your attention?
  • What are you expecting from sales interactions?

Barnes is currently sifting through the latest round of research and delving further into the issues with in-depth buyer interviews (see more about the research demographics in part one).

Deals go awry due to mishandling security questions

One of the first areas where providers get into trouble with buyers is security. How? By sticking with the "we've got you covered" mantra and offering insufficient details on how data and privacy are protected. Barnes:

Risk has always been a factor in enterprise buying, but from the data we're gathering, the details of security are a factor in every single decision. It's not security just within the application, and it's not buying security technology. It's "What are the broader security implications for your solution?" I don't think providers think about it from that perspective well enough. This is a place where buying cycles start to stall.

So what kind of info would turn the conversation towards greater credibility, rather than stalling out? Barnes boils it down to three points buyers want to hear about in detail:

  • Is the information that we create and use in these applications going to be safe? How is that accomplished?
  • Is this application, or the deployment of it, whether it's cloud or on-prem, going to expose me to entry points for attackers?
  • Is there anything else in here that puts our enterprise at risk?

I asked Barnes if handling security pro-actively could be a legit selling point:

It's a selling point, and it's a buying point. If you don't recognize it, you're leaving it to customer to figure out. They'll certainly go places to try and figure it out, but this is how deals get stalled. You and I have talked about the importance of - whether it's in case studies or other documentation - giving people the details of what's it going to be like to implement these things.

Some peer references carry more weight than others

One of the factors that jumped out from Barnes' research is that the idealized "peer reference" doesn't carry as much weight as some providers think:

Frankly the most interesting thing we've learned is that one of the lowest rank sales activities - and this feels contradictory at first - was sales-arranged reference calls. Yes, this is a classic staple of enterprise selling, but it was the lowest ranked sales interaction. Yet we know that buyers want to hear from third parties. And they do want to hear from peers.

So how does Barnes resolve that? He believes that today's buyers are cautions about provider-orchestrated references:

They think it's staged. They're thinking, "I don't need you to set me up to talk to the customer, because I know you're going to tell them what you want them to say. But I can just reach out. I can go to your customer list. I can do some work on social networking. I can make that connection, and I know that it's not a staged conversation.

Given that savvy buyers can source their own references, Barnes believes a better approach is what you might call the casual-reference-handoff:

A good provider might say, "Here's a few of our customers. Why don't you go connect with them? I don't even want to be part of the discussion."

The underestimated impact of sales interactions

It might sound bloody obvious to say that buyers factor their interactions with the providers' sales teams heavily into their decision-making. But the not-so-obvious part is that buyers often do want to interact with sales teams early in the evaluation process. Even if they are skilled researchers, there is some content only the vendor can provide. But buyers want information and advice, NOT a shove through the sales funnel:

Buyers are certainly going to do some level of preparation, but they'll also interact with sales early in the process. Part of it is to do some of that initial validation and trust assessment. It's to get the information they can't get from the web site. It's to see what the provider says in comparison to what they heard from influencers.

Equally, there are things buyers don't appreciate. Forget about "always-be-closing":

They were very loud and clear about the things that they don't want in the sales interaction. They don't want the general company overview meeting. They don't want you to harass them when they sign up for stuff, and just have calls asking them about nothing. They want you to tailor it to their business.

Final thoughts

Even though the data on the informed buyer is piling up, it's wrong to assume that all enterprise buyers are equally savvy. Some are still struggling to manage the deluge of information and figure out what to trust. Barnes factors that into his own research as well.

But the trend is towards buyers empowering themselves with their own information, and drawing on their own "trust networks" to get that data. High on the list of trust factors? Content that's perceived to be independent. As Barnes said to me, "If it was an analyst report that customers perceived as being independent, the influence would be really high. If they saw it as one that they perceived to be dependent, it's going to drop to the bottom."

This poses a predicament for providers. Some may respond by finding new ways to "buy" influence, attempt to remove the obvious financial trail marks, and cross fingers. A better approach is to support an independent community of influencers, and provide a platform for customers to openly share experiences.

The high marks for independence, however, doesn't mean, as some mistakenly preach, that vendor-produced content is irrelevant. Far from it. Vendors can create useful, informative content that can help to win trust with buyers throughout the sales cycle. Even better: they can get out in front of the sales cycle with "thought leader" perspectives that spark dialogue about shared industry problems.

Barnes might have a slightly different take than what I've written these last few paragraphs, but based on our dialogue to date, I know there is quite a bit of common ground in our views - and plenty of lessons we can all put to work. I look forward to checking in on Barnes' findings as they evolve.

Image credit: Distrust - trust © Gajus

Disclosure: diginomica has no financial ties to Gartner. I found Barnes’ views and research interesting and reached out to him for this feature.