Building Social Capital
How to create a connection with your customers —
Balancing Product, Customer, and Brand
Whether you follow the frameworks of consulting firms such as McKinsey, read books from storytellers like Donald Miller, to influencers who have mastered the art of connecting with people such as Oprah Winfrey.
My research continues to point to three distinct pillars that help organisations big and small to build up social capital to develop long term customer growth.
Building social capital is becoming increasingly important as the competitive landscape in service and product offerings become noisier, and buyers increasingly do business with companies that are customer-centric in their approach. Sounds like old news but in the past few years, we have started to see a shift from transactional business relationships to long term partnerships and ongoing relationships.
Take for example the research that led to the rise of the challenger sale.
I wrote this article to give small to mid-sized B2B SaaS organisations insights into the pillars that lead to higher levels of social capital for long term growth. I wrote this article to give
I have seen the benefits of this approach with our clients being able to increase their sales conversion rates, lower the costs to acquire new business customers, retain business customers for longer and the ability to compete on value rather than price. It allows our clients to build up interconnected relationships that help them build their companies more sustainably and faster.
There are three elements that help you to build social capital.
Empathy, the ability to understand your customers; trust and the relationship with your customers; and, authority and your standing as an expert in your industry
Traditional sales training teaches to build rapport with customers. One of the best ways to do that is to demonstrate empathy.
Developing empathy for your customers is crucial because if customers don’t feel like the person selling to them understands them and their needs, it sets the relationship up for failure very quickly.
Empathy is about understanding your customer’s problems, needs and frustrations intimately.
What that knowledge allows us to do is see the world from our customer’s point of view. To make them feel heard, understood and position our product solution in a way that resonates with customers.
People don’t care about the features of your product or API integrations. What they care for is whether your product addresses their current frustrations, helps them overcome their daily challenges and enables them to reach their desired outcomes.
Oprah Winfrey famously said: “I’ve talked to nearly 30,000 people on this show, and all 30,000 had one thing in common: They all wanted validation. If I could reach through this television and sit on your sofa or sit on a stool in your kitchen right now, I would tell you that every single person you will ever meet shares that common desire. They want to know: ‘Do you see me? Do you hear me? Does what I say, mean anything to you?”
If you can demonstrate to people that they have been seen, heard and what they said means something to you, that’s huge. Forget talking about your product and features and instead uncover and learn about your customer’s frustrations. Getting this right will help you to learn about your customer’s problems and uncover what they would value most.
It goes without saying that in business and relationships, people do business with others whom they trust. Trust is like the social glue that holds us together, whether in an informal setting or business context. Unlike empathy, which is developed, trust is earned over time.
What used to be face to face meetings and learning about one another to get a feeling of trust, has in recent times moved to digital-only relationships. The almost entire digital interaction is making it increasingly difficult to establish and earn trust with our business customers. In particular, if we rely on digital channels to acquire inbound leads or adopt tactics such as online social selling to win new business.
A study surveying over 12,000 people on trustworthiness (Trusted Advisor Associates, 2010) determined both the perceived and actual importance of four components that make up trust.
The components are:
Credibility — the words we use, the skills and credentials we bring, and how people experience us as the brand and person. The ability to deliver on what we promise and demonstrate proof of what we say we can do.
Reliability — the actions we take, our predictability, and how people find us reliable establish trust. It is also about being true to what we say and fulfilling our commitments that encourage trust.
Business Intimacy — the extent to which people feel they can confide in us, and perceive us as discreet and empathetic make people trust us.
(Low) Self-orientation — the more people feel we are focused on ourselves, rather than them, the less they trust us.
And I’d add two more that I see as trust builders:
Congruency — the synergy between our market message, values and behaviour. The synchronicity of our digital profile of the brand and personal assets such as website and social profiles.
Transparency — eliminating unknowns in the dealings with customers and laying out a clear and transparent process that outlines the relationship.
The findings of the study show that investing in adding credentials is rarely the smartest way to increase trustworthiness; instead, it is business intimacy that ranked most effective in building trust.
Another critical component to consider is that of Low self-orientation. We have seen an enormous shift in social marketing over the past year.
Companies used to reshare articles and content about their products and self-promotion to be seen by potential customers. Self-promotion is superseded by talking more about the customer and their journey. We can see this trend throughout the internet with low self-orientation marketing having significantly more engagement than other forms of marketing.
In his book ‘Building a Storybrand’, Donald Miller beautifully said that “You are not the hero of your brand’s story. Your customer is.”
Miller goes on to compare brand storytelling to movies. It helps to think of it as positioning your brand as the trusted advisor to the hero (your customer). Reposition your brand as Yoda to Luke Skywalker (Star Wars), Haymitch to Katniss (Hunger Games) or as Dumbeldor to Harry Potter (Harry Potter) but do not take over the role of the hero.
It takes refined skill to become a great storyteller for a brand looking to create a deeper connection with its audience.
Gartner studied thousands of customers and sales professionals around the world, spanning every major industry, geography, and go-to-market model, to discover that classic relationship building is a losing approach in today’s complex business-to-business sales. Instead, challenging customer thinking and teaching customers new insights are key.
Today’s customers don’t need sales reps in the same way as in the past — customers now wait until they are 57% through the purchase process before contacting a rep.
I don’t mean a dictator who tells people what to do. Establishing authority is about having good enough credibility to make a justified recommendation to your market. Think of it as a doctor giving a prognosis to a specific health problem. Be a credible source of truth for your audience.
When a doctor prescribes you medication you know that if you take it, you will get better because of their authoritative position. They have studied many years of medicine to be able to give you this prognosis and to help you get better.
Your doctor has established authority and trust with you. They probably have had experience with the type of pain you exhibit before and they have empathy for you. This is the same effect you can have with your customer. After you’ve empathised with them and gained their trust, just as the doctor is an authority on illness, you’re in a position of authority to recommend your product.
Building Authority in Terms of Your Product. It’s one thing to tell a customer or a prospect that your product is the most amazing thing since sliced bread, but it’s another having testimonials of people saying it. It is truly the best way to showcase how great your product or business is. I use it myself on my website. Now, a lot of established companies and a lot of established products have many referrals, many testimonials, and people vouching for their products.
Without testimonials, you can also use the research that you’ve done. Use statistics that demonstrate the power of your product, the value that you offer, the cost savings, and the efficiency of the product. Awards are another way to demonstrate authority. Think of different business awards that will give your brand more exposure and build trust in the market space.
Earning Credibility. All businesses need to build credibility. Credibility builds trust. Show credibility by sharing previous experience, like if you’ve worked at a large corporation and had a successful career. That is a way in which you can boost not just your company brand, but also your personal brand. You can establish trust with customers and build credibility.
Mentioning previous wins and mentioning the roadmap of your product builds trust. Telling people how long you’ve been working on your product, siting studies, and mentioning previous wins are all great ways to establish creativity. You can also give your consumers a money-back guarantee that your product will work. Using words like risk-free, money-back, or guarantee are great ways to help your customer feel trust towards you and your product.
The worst thing you can do is at that first appointment for the first offer, try to close the deal straight away. It can make you appear like a desperate salesperson. It’s really important to test the relationships and start to stack the relationship with trust, empathy, and authority beforehand and then try to close the deal. Think of it as a dating process. You don’t go in on the date on the first night and ask to marry someone.
Transforming Your Connection with Customers.
Over time building empathy, trust, and authority will set you on the path to transforming your connection with your customers. When those three key points are balanced, you have a good relationship with your customer and they’ll remember you and how you made them feel. This lasting connection will make your product irresistible. It is no small thing to build a trusting relationship with a customer and not everyone can do it, but now you have everything you need to make your product stand out and be remembered for years to come.
Trust and empathy go hand and hand. In times of crisis, it can be especially difficult to reach out to your customer and discover what they truly need. According to McKinsey Insights connecting with customers in times of crisis is a way to bring customers back to you for years to come. It is essential to reach out to them now more than ever, discover what they’re struggling with, and provide a solution. That builds trust and shows empathy which will make your customers view you as not only a seller, but a trusted friend they can always purchase from.