Trust Is Invaluable in B2B Sales

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Many businesses discount the value of trust in sales to other businesses, even though it is an essential element that often determines purchase intent, according to a new report from Forrester Research.

“Business leaders often struggle to understand how to create trust, how it influences the buyer decision process, and what are its components,” the research firm concludes. “Nothing could be further from the truth. Trust is a prime determinant of business success.”

A Forrester survey showed that business buyers who trust a company are more than twice as likely to recommend that company to others or pay a premium to work with that company.

But what defines trust? According to Forrester, B2B trust involves the following seven elements:

1. Accountability: The confidence that a company provides satisfactory reasons for its words, decisions, and actions and is ready to bear the consequences for them.

2. Competence: The recognition of a company and belief that its expertise enables it to do something successfully or efficiently.

3. Consistency: The expectation that a company will always behave or perform in a similar way. This enables individuals (those with business buying capabilities or influence) to confidently rely on that expected behavior or performance in their own plans, actions, and assumptions.

4. Dependability: The expectation that a company will be available and reliable, while also being able to meet the business’ current needs and expectations.

5. Empathy: The perception that a company is emotionally connected to its customers, employees, and partners, while also understanding and sharing their feelings and experiences.

6. Integrity: The belief that a company acts honestly and according to values that individuals can easily recognize and that those values permeate the entire company.

7. Transparency: The perception that a company conducts business in an open way while also making every effort to share information about the business based on accurate, verifiable facts.

“In the real world, buyers must balance the relative importance of each trust lever in a particular situation,” Forrester says in the report. When trust level scores are plotted on a 100-point scale, buyers place the most value on competence, consistency, and dependability.

Other findings from the report include the following:

• Business buyers sort the trust levers into two groups. Competency, consistency, and dependability are in the primary group. The levers in the secondary group almost always have the lowest share of importance and negative utility scores. Accountability is the one trust lever that straddles the two groups. Forrester recommends that businesses consider these trust groups in driving their brand activation programs.

• Primary levers carry the most weight. But the secondary levers shouldn’t be ignored. In Forrester’s Business Trust Survey, nearly half (45 percent) of business buyers reported that they aren’t likely to forgive a business that didn’t act in accordance with their company’s values.

• Business buyers view trust differently than consumers. Business buyers have a clear sense of which factors drive the vendors from whom they are considering purchases. While the trust levers for business buyers are consistent across business types and geographies, consumer trust rankings vary widely.

• In North America, 30 percent, 17 percent, and 19 percent of B2B business buyers rank competence, consistency, and dependability as the most important levers of trust across industries, purchase contexts, and buyer ranks, respectively.

• Regulated industries often value all trust levers evenly. Trust lever utility score differences for industries like financial services, insurance, and healthcare are consistently smaller than other industries, indicating a more evenly distributed spread with less extreme favorites.

• Risk-tolerant buyers globally deem competence (53 percent), consistency (33 percent), and dependability (28 percent) highly important while giving the lowest ranking to empathy. As business group size and complexity grows, so does the importance of competence. The more complex a buying scenario, the less empathy matters.

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