Buyers want a crystal ball, not a snow globe 4 years ago

I wasn’t looking for marketing services for my startup. But when I got an unsolicited email a few weeks ago from a vendor, I took a look because I knew we might need help soon.

The email wasn’t that compelling. It was all about their features. Except the sender had taken a piece of advice from one of my previous posts, Don’t let your salespeople send emails like this. He showed that he had an inkling of what my company does. He did it by describing our concept in his own words and saying that he loved the idea.

OK, I admit it, the flattery worked. Entrepreneurs like people who like our idea. So what the heck, I responded with some details about my situation and asked him to tell me how he helps companies at my stage. He wrote back and described how it would work for us, and dropped a customer name I hadn’t hear of. Not exactly social proof.

A few weeks passed and we were ready to work with a firm like this. Since we had already been emailing, I got on a call with him, and what I got was more of the same. He was very well versed in the technical aspects of his service. I was already convinced that if they could do what he claimed, it would be a great fit for our situation.

It sounded too good to be true, and I wanted proof. The slider with customer logos on his website didn’t cut it. I asked him to tell me about the experiences other customers have had. He flailed. He kept steering the conversation back to how good his people and service are. Serious doubts in my mind. The deal is stalled.

Think about the last time you bought a car. Did you believe everything the salesman said, or did you talk to people you know who own that car and listen to what they said about it?  How about the last time you booked a vacation? Did you just look at the website and book it or did you ask around?

Sure, you could say “Jeff, this isn’t new, people have always asked for recommendations from friends, since we were cavemen.”  True, but in B2B, we’ve entered a new era where buyers have such easy access to information that they don’t have to trust your sales and marketing messages. So they don’t. Since many purchases have high career risk, buyers want proof.

This isn’t just anecdotal musings either, when I did intensive B2B buyer behavior research at a leading analyst firm, the data proved it. Who influences you when you’re evaluating solutions to a problem? Colleagues and Other Customers score much higher than Vendors. What do you trust when making purchase decisions? Experiences of current customers score much higher than Vendor claims.

What this really means is that buyers want a crystal ball into what it’s like to do business with you. My research shows that they want to know things like:

  • How well do your customers back up the bold claims you make?
  • What successes have people like me had by working with you?
  • What have their experiences been like?
  • How does your company respond when things don’t go well?
  • How have your customers overcome (insert their biggest objection here)?

Traditional case studies don’t answer these questions. Those testimonial quotes you put on your homepage saying “XYZ Corp is wonderful and I highly recommend them to anyone,” don’t answer these questions.

The only way to attract more customers just like your best customers is to give prospects the crystal ball they want. The only way to create the crystal ball is to get inside the heads of your customers and uncover the REAL value stories, the real reasons they buy, the real reasons they stay with you.  And turn these into stories that anyone in your company can rattle off with ease and pride. This is social proof.

Oh, you know what happened with the marketing firm that I SO wanted to do business with, but couldn’t tell me a single customer story? I asked if I could talk to a few references. His answer went something like this “We have several hundred clients, but they won’t let us share any information about them to protect their company.”  Even anonymously?  Let’s do the math. X hundred clients, 0 references.  And their clients are marketing and sales leaders looking to promote their companies and attract more customers.

Instead of a crystal ball, I was given a snow globe. Doubts confirmed.

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