Trust is the currency of economic activity. Trust is the magic that humans bring to relationships. Trust is essential to the success of direct sellers and brands alike in the era of e-commerce and on-demand work. Are you building your company around the human interactions that complete the digital connection with customers who discover your business online? Is your sales team equipped with the information that will make each pitch unique to the individual customer?
Rapid changes in work and marketing have placed trust back at the center of the brand success equation after three decades of declining trust among customers. It shows that increasingly virtual businesses must support one-to-one human interaction when it is critical to the sale, retaining an existing customer, or supporting referral and social marketing activities. Human representatives are the most important interface for trusted relationships, but they must be prepared with the right information at the right time to make a compelling case for consumers’ confidence.
A history of trust in English publications
For decades, from the 1840s until the dawn of mass communication in the 1960s, “trust” was a dull topic, mentioned with declining frequency in English-language publications for decades. Using Google’s Ngram Viewer, which analyzes the incidence of words in published books, it’s simple to conclude that as the world grew closer together through physical networks, trust was of little concern as a topic of discussion. In the chart to the right, the lowest level of discussion of trust represents the highest degree of trust achieved in society since 1800.
Authors talked about “trust” less because, we surmise, it was easier than any time in history to reach out and touch someone personally. For the first time, almost every customer in the developed world was within an easy drive or a plane trip of the salesperson who closed the deal. In the 1960s, relationships were physical and deals still involved a handshake. How the times have changed in 50 years.
Trust began to collapse in the early 1970s as we became more connected to the world through virtual information, starting when microwave transmission, which enabled news networks to “go live” with breaking news, and cable television appeared.
The introduction of industrial production, cinema, and radio, along with growing networks of physical retail and company presence in communities did not shake personal trust. But when television enabled by intercontinental microwave and cable connections that allowed real-time knowledge of far-off events, people tended to find more cause to question information and to distrust reflexively.
Why trust now?
In the 1990s, when the commercial internet was rolled out, followed quickly by wireless mobile data connectivity and, ultimately, the iPhone, “trust” became an important issue that rose to the highest levels of discussion volume since the 1840s. Not since the onset of modern production has trust been more discussed in literature and non-fiction. Understanding how to build trust through digital channels using personalization and, at critical moments in the customer journey, through one-to-one human interaction, is the content marketer’s primary challenge. Each trust relationship is flavored by the brand’s message and the dynamics of the salesperson-customer interaction.
During the 1990s, a lack of broadband network capacity prevented rich media from flowing to most internet users. It was described as the “last-mile” problem. It was widely assumed that broadband would introduce an extraordinary era of one-to-one communication, that when data was flowing at broadband speeds over the last mile of cable between publisher and audience, the world would be transformed. In fact, the world was transformed, but we know now that solving the last-mile data challenge broke interpersonal trust.
Today, trust in almost all institutions is faltering. Banks, business leaders, elected officeholders, and the media all fall well below 50 percent levels, according to the Pew Research Center. Pew argued in 2017 that over the next decade, the “fate of online trust” will be decided. Brands must put themselves at the forefront of rebuilding trust because “the internet was not designed with security protections or trust problems in mind.”
Vint Cerf, a co-creator of the internet, told Pew: “We didn’t focus on how you could wreck this system intentionally.”
The keystone of renewed trust will come from the combination of people and information presented skillfully when technology cannot be humane enough to convince a customer or a citizen that the facts and promises they receive are valid. As powerful as the combination of networks and data are, the person-to-person connection, including the confidence expressed through eye-to-eye conversation and the reassurance of a handshake, must be recreated for the gig era.
As workers transition from permanent employment in lifelong careers to rapid, often daily, switching between work on behalf of multiple brands, artificial intelligence and What’s Next coaching will enable sales and service to bring deep background information to every customer conversation. They will know everything necessary to capture the objections and unstated requirements that customers share with them, and their soft skills will determine whether the facts translate into a completed transaction.
Trusted processes can be engineered into systems that act without human intervention, but actually being trusted is the ultimate human ingredient in successful sales and marketing organizations.
The tools of trust
As we’ve explored in other postings, confidence in the information provided to salespeople during their onboarding process is essential to retaining new recruits. The same principle applies to consumers, whose expectations have changed dramatically in the wake of broadband connectivity.
Today, a would-be customer may conduct hours of research before contacting a brand or filling out a form on a website. People demand information early in their product/service consideration process, and the most successful online marketers now concentrate on effective pre-sales communication to lift conversion rates.
Direct selling companies are uniquely placed to combine the reach of digital networks with the intimacy of local personal interaction. By planning a content marketing and sales process that anticipates when enhanced interaction — a meeting or a phone call, as well as video conferencing — will turn the abstract information offered in content assets into concrete promises made by one person to another. Companies’ existing content libraries are the raw material of the responsive intimate sales process described here, but it must be combined with mobile tools that help sales representatives collect additional qualitative and quantitative information through conversation with the customer.
Based on the sales process and the unique characteristics of the customer-salesperson relationship, content can be reshaped on the fly to address customer concerns, as well as coach the sales rep to ask for the business at the right time. Using this roadmap, even negative results can be integrated into the sales process to refine the message and improve conversion rates. Artificial intelligence, such as Gig Economy Group’s machine learning techniques, can spot effective or ineffective messages long before human managers would discover trends in quarterly or annual sales reports.
Trust-building interactions are the engine of improved efficiency for business. Bringing the entire company’s resources in the form of data and contextually relevant content to each customer interaction provides feedback to improve products, reposition resources, and evolve messaging. It all begins with trust, but every transaction ultimately leads to a human connection or trust begins to falter. Have you prepared your sales and customer service teams to be magically aware of customer concerns, ready to send the right message at the right moment with a personal touch?