When It Comes to Earning the Trust of B2B Buyers, Reputation Matters

September 11, 2020

Man sitting in front of a laptop in an office

Every B2B sale has an origin story. Some are low-drama and linear. Most, though, feature a colorful cast of stakeholders and a twisting plot. As buying committees expand and become more meticulous with their processes, an increasing percentage of origin stories are full-scale sagas.

B2B deals can and have come together a million different ways. But if you were to analyze all of those origin stories, you’d actually see the same three plot lines over and over. If a sales contract has a signature, it’s a safe bet that the winning vendor’s sales and marketing teams joined forces to: 

  1. Reach buyers with the power to act
  2. Drive engagement with those audiences
  3. Build trust along the way

These are the pillars of B2B marketing success today. For B2B marketing teams, it’s about preparing the brand to earn the role of problem-solving partner. None of this happens overnight, and the audition has already started. 

Acing the Pre-Audition

Imagine you’re up for a leading role. You have a good relationship with the producer, who introduced you to the casting director a while back. So you’re feeling good. Then you learn Tom Hanks is auditioning for the same role. He may not know the same people you do, but they know him. His reputation represents a massive advantage. Even if you were to out-perform Mr. Hanks in the audition (if he actually auditioned), and even if you charge a fraction of what he does, you know it’s going to be extremely hard for the decision makers to justify choosing you over the guy who all but guarantees a blockbuster. 

While the gap between potential B2B vendors isn’t usually as stark as the one separating Tom Hanks from the also-rans, similar forces are at play. Yes, you need to be aware of the opportunity. Yes, it pays to know the right people. But it’s also critical that the right people know you – who you are, what you’re about, where you’re going – and think highly of you. 

Because Hanks has already engaged this audience countless times and built trust along the way, the casting crew thinks of him first. They’ll do whatever it takes to make sure he’s interested in the role. 

According to Forrester’s 2020 report, “What B2B Buyers Crave,” building trust along the way is where B2B marketing teams must improve: “Too many B2B marketers underestimate the importance of branding to their success, focusing instead on a product-based appeal to buyers.”

Successful B2B marketers know that what happens before the audition is just as important, if not more so, than the actual audition itself. When B2B marketers think long-term, they’re 2X more likely to succeed

Striking a Healthier Balance Between Branding and Lead Generation

Part of the reason why B2B marketing teams forsake branding and over-index on lead generation is because it can feel like the only choice. When short-term targets must be met, and the company’s quarterly revenue goals hinge on how many leads the sales team has to work with, it can feel like there’s never a good time to let up on lead generation and prioritize branding. It’s a pattern that’s difficult to break. 

But break it you must.   

What does a healthy mix between branding and lead gen look like? According to The B2B Institute, B2B brand building should account for 46% of marketing spend, with the remaining 54% allocated to lead generation. That’s a general guideline, of course. Like with most things in marketing, the actual answer comes with experimentation and experience. For most teams, the key challenge is to gradually build up branding’s share of the budget without hearing, “What happened to our leads?”  

That’s the hardest chasm to cross. On the other side, however, is the neighborhood where engaged decision makers and high-quality leads reside. Think of it as the difference between showing up blind at audition time, hoping to drop jaws, or having the casting crew welcome you with open arms because, as they analyzed the role, they couldn’t help but think of you. 

When It Comes to Building Trust, “Where” Matters

Like it or not, we’re always sizing up people and brands. From the first interaction to everything else that’s happened up until now, it all figures into the imaginary ratings and rankings we assign. 

Don’t believe me? Quick, think of your top three competitors. 

Did you already auto-rank them in your head? Your potential customers do that, too. These preliminary perceptions – good or bad – aren’t etched in stone, but they exist, and they’re hard to change. 

Per the Reputation Institute, what you sell only accounts for a third of your corporate reputation. The other two-thirds? That’s driven by perceptions of your enterprise, or who your audience thinks you are. This is why it’s so important to align your brand with trusted sources your audience recognizes.  

In 2019, Business Insider recognized LinkedIn as the most trusted social media platform for the third consecutive year. Specifically, LinkedIn topped the list in the following categories:

  • Confidence in data
  • Feels safe participating
  • Least deceptive content
  • Least annoying ads

When you’re marketing and advertising on LinkedIn, you’re not just associating your brand with the most trusted social media platform in the world, you’re also doing business where business is done. 

People invest their time on LinkedIn. They arrive with intent: to learn, grow, and succeed. So it follows that LinkedIn is the most common social network used to research buying decisions. This dynamic helps explain why, according to Heinz Marketing, brands see a 33% increase in purchase intent when their audience encounters their ads on LinkedIn. It’s also why, compared to other social media channels, 82% of B2B marketers realize their greatest success on LinkedIn (per Content Marketing Institute). 

Does that mean every B2B brand should devote the entirety of their social media resources to LinkedIn? Of course not. If your KPIs and long-term ROI point you in a different direction, by all means, pursue it. 

The bottom line is that today’s B2B buyer expects your brand to be present in all their favorite channels and touchpoints, proactively helping throughout their experience. Check out our B2B Marketing Fundamentals playbook to learn more about how your brand can nail the pivotal pre-audition that’s already underway, and win a starring role in the purchase journey. 

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