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Your Least Credible Point of Customer Contact

It's no wonder that no matter how articulate your salespeople are, they still don't get much respect from their customer.

Last week I wrote a post about the panel I was on with Bill Friend.  I referenced my colleague Olin Thompson.  Olin is somewhat of a genius when it comes to sales and marketing strategy.  At the present time he is VP of Strategy at Lawson Software. 

For a number of years Olin ran the “Credibility Forum” for sales and marketing executives of ERP software companies.  Olin tackled the issue of salespeoples’ lack of credibility with customer C-level executives and, with a few slides, accurately depicted the challenge and posed a number of solutions.

Before we get into solutions, let’s take a look at Olin’s slide.  The Y-(vertical) axis represents the messenger—either the seller’s employee (salesperson, non-salesperson and executive), a third-party, like an industry analyst firm, consultant or the press (unknown to the customer, known, and trusted) and another customer (unknown to the target customer, known, and trusted by the target customer).  Notice that credibility increases from bottom to top. That means that, as a source of information, an executive from a company other than yours that your prospect knows of and trusts is considerably more credible than an executive from your company.

The X-axis is the medium, either internal (spoken/verbal, a brochure or a white paper) or an external media source, such as analyst reports, articles or presentations, that are unknown to the target customer, known or trusted.  With respect to sources of information, credibility increases from left to right.  So an article about your company in Fortune magazine is far more credible than the best brochure or white paper you could ever produce.

Olin asks his audience, “Where is your most frequent and least controllable market contact?”  From the customer’s perspective, the lowest credibility is at the lower-left corner of this matrix.  It’s the salesrep speaking with the customer!

Olin’s message to the participants was that they must spend time and money supplementing internally-produced marketing materials with customer testimonials, reference visits, case studies, placements in trusted media, positive mentions by analysts in their reports, advertising in trusted industry and business magazines, etc. 

Here’s the take-away.  Unless you’re one of the top three companies in your industry, training your sales team to deliver messages about your company, products, and unique value will only take you so far.  You’ve got to provide ongoing credibility support from multiple external sources as well.  This doesn’t happen without planning, funding, staffing and effective execution.  It’s another in a long list of reasons that the sales and marketing functions must get aligned.

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3 Responses

  1. Testimonials may get you in the door but it is up to the sales representative to build the credibility once they are in. There is a real need for them to understand their potential clients business, to build the confidence of the customer that they can use this knowledge to guarantee quantifiable results. They must prove to their customer that they are willingly acting on the behalf of the client and not themselves. Their whole approach must be customer-centric whereby they are acting as an advocate for the customer within the company they work for. Doing these things while being innovative, accessible and responsive to customer needs will firmly cement the sales professional’s credibility with the client and from there generate the outside testimonials. So which comes first, the chicken or the egg?

  2. This rings true when Cold Calling comes to mind. There are many things that an experienced Sales person engages in everyday to overcome the negative of being Unknown including Networking, Referrals, seeking repeat Client engagements, Chamber of Commerce involvement, publication of Industry trade articles, Community Involvement etc, etc. In a perfect world every meeting I set is started with a referral

    Have you given thought to recommendations and tactics to improve credibility without relying on external resources?

    My long time trusted customers do not want to be over-used as references. Last time I checked I had a sales quota, my customers work every day to meet their own targets and measurements. If I’m helping them meet and exceed their goals they’ll attest to my credibility but I want to protect that trust and use it only when its critical to my success

  3. Excellent point, Robert.

    So far as recommendations are concerned, you’ve cited some. I agree.

    Also, I wrote a post on using LinkedIn as a credibility builder rather that a job-hunting resume. https://davesteinsblog.wordpress.com/2008/07/23/sales-reps-linkedin-profile-customer/ I think that will help as well.

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