How B2B Sellers Can Gain Buyer Trust with Thought Leadership

September 18, 2018

There’s plenty of talk about the importance of trust between buyers and sellers — with good reason. Any sales professional can intuitively understand why it’s vital to gain the confidence of prospective customers.

But have you ever paused to consider what it truly means when buyers place trust in you? It means they have faith in you to help them make their way through an often stressful, confusing process and arrive at the best decision for their company. It’s no wonder The State of Sales 2017 report found that buyers ranked trust as the single most influential factor in the buyer/seller relationship.

At a time when we have fewer opportunities to interact face-to-face with prospects, it’s even more critical to build trust in the digital environment. Thought leadership can bridge this gap.

As Joe Chernov said in The Sophisticated Marketer’s Guide to Thought Leadership, “The reason why thought leadership is a prerequisite [for gaining a competitive advantage] is because trust is a prerequisite, and thought leadership is a way to build trust.”  

Thought leadership may sound like a vague concept, but it drives real business impact. In an Edelman and LinkedIn survey of more than 1,300 US business decision makers and C-suite executives, 82% reported that thought leadership has increased their trust in an organization. Forty-five percent said thought leadership has directly led them to do business with a company.

In general, marketing spearheads thought leadership initiatives for a company, but salespeople can adopt these practices individually to gain distinction.

Establish Your Reputation as a Trusted Authority

It’s a given that buyers want to make a smart purchase decision. And unfortunately, we know that they generally distrust sales reps to help them arrive at that choice. Too many would-be customers have been burned by inflated, aggressive, and sometimes downright deceptive claims. The honest seller starts from a deficit when it comes to building trust.  

Starting from behind like this can make things challenging, especially when so many relationships are isolated to the virtual realm. But the good news is that, like many other sales pros, you can demonstrate your credibility and gain trust by establishing yourself as a thought leader on social media.

Prospective buyers seek ideas, inspiration, and validation during their purchase process. They not only research the companies and solutions they are considering, but also the reps with whom they do business. Thought leadership is a proven way to cultivate a reputation as a trusted authority.

The Edelman/LinkedIn survey found that the majority of decision makers find thought leadership important, even critical, and spend hours engaging with it each week. They increasingly tend to value informed and respected individuals as credible sources of information.

Your LinkedIn profile will often be the first place a prospect looks to learn about you. If you make a habit of posting or sharing content and participating in conversations relating to your niche, it will quickly make an impression and frame your credibility off the bat.

Tell a Timely Story With Content

Buyers are trying to solve a puzzle as they gather information and review content. Their goal is to find the answers to their questions in a way that leads to a convincing conclusion.

Sharing relevant content is a good first step toward positioning yourself as a valuable resource. However, simply churning out article links doesn't make you a thought leader, nor does it make you more trustworthy. In fact, indiscriminate shares can reflect poorly for buyers who want to streamline their purchase process.

Consider these findings from CEB’s research: Managing all the information at their fingertips is one of the biggest B2B buyer challenges during the early stages of the purchase process. Moreover, in the Edelman/LinkedIn survey, decision makers said that most of the time (56%) they do not gain valuable insights from the thought leadership they consume. This jibes with findings from a Raconteur survey where one in five executives said they think content produced by brands offers little or no professional insight or value. A little over half said they believe content and thought leadership lacks credibility.

To overcome this distrust, connect the dots between all the content you share by weaving together information to fit into the buyer’s context. This lightens the buyer’s burden and demonstrates your expertise and insights in addressing the buyer’s main issues and concerns. It also addresses their desire for relevant, timely thought leadership – important triggers for getting buyers to engage with your content, per our survey with Edelman.

Get this right and it will pay off. Eighty-six percent of B2B decision makers say they would engage with a sales professional who provided insights or knowledge about their industry.

Address the Emotional Aspect of Buying

A majority of respondents to the Edelman/LinkedIn survey said they value facts and data in thought leadership content. It makes sense that buyers look for objective information to justify their purchase choices. However, it’s a mistake to overlook the emotional element of their buying journey.

Think about what hangs in the balance for business buyers. They are entrusted to spend thousands – sometimes millions – of dollars on behalf of their company.

It’s no surprise the CEB research shows that second-guessing (i.e., buyer’s remorse) occurs in more than 40% of completed B2B purchases. It’s also understandable that other research found considerations about whether a purchase can enhance the buyer’s reputation or reduce anxiety play a large role in the B2B buying decision.

You can offer buyers peace of mind by delivering quality information and content aimed at educating them and alleviating their concerns. In this way, you strike a balance between serving the greater good of the buyer’s company (i.e., the rational side of the decision) and the individual (i.e., the emotional side).

Put another way, you instill confidence that buyers are in good hands with a trusted advisor who has their company’s and their personal interests at heart.

Take a Bold Stance

Delivering a steady stream of compelling, relevant content is one sign of a thought leader. But the true leadership comes across in the unique viewpoint you bring to a conversation or topic. It may feel risky to put forth a provocative or contrarian view, but the alternative may be even riskier. Fail to deliver novel insights and guidance, and you fail to stand out from the crowd.

In response to the Edelman/LinkedIn survey, 64% of executives agreed that reading thought leadership content is among the best ways to get a sense of the type and caliber of thinking an organization is likely to deliver. Forty-nine percent agreed that thought leadership is also an important way to vet organizations.

If you sound like every other sales professional and vendor out there, what conclusion do you think prospects will draw? They’re looking for the sales reps who can challenge their mindset, help shape their understanding, and guide their decision. Be a leader in this arena and you’ve got a much better chance to gain the trust of potential buyers.

To learn more about thought leadership and other ways to develop trust with buyers, download our guide: Read Me If You Want to Build Valuable Relationships on LinkedIn.