Building Brand Trust In Gigged Markets

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?

How Salespeople Can Start Selling On Day One

Helping a new distributor during the “golden two weeks,” when those enrollees who close their first sales or distributor enrollments are most likely to become a high-earning, long-term member of a direct selling network, is the best onboarding investment. Bar none. It moves the potential sales rep toward confidently repeating the company’s sales process. Getting new enrollees to “work the system” from Day One with an organization creates the bond that drives network growth and improved revenue.

Distributors who start sales activities and close sales within 10 business days of enrollment will earn 71 percent more than a peer who takes just two weeks longer to make their first commission, an analysis of nine years of sales data by LifeVantage found. Direct selling trainer ServiceQuest reports that a 10 percent increase in distributor retention will produce 49 percent more revenue over 10 years compared to unengaged distributors.

The Gig Economy Group (GEG) platform and app eliminate all tool-centric training, providing easily understood functions to do one action at a time.

Machine learning tools can coach a newbie from their first moments with a direct selling company, but the most important action automation can facilitate is the adding of new prospects, initial messaging to those prospects, an established pattern for follow-ups and content sharing to build the prospect’s confidence in the salesperson, the company, and the trust relationship that will result in ongoing sales and auto-ship registrations.

McKinsey concluded that sales and marketing uses of Artificial Intelligence — the catch-all description that includes machine learning — will produce $1.4 Trillion to $2.6 Trillion in improved sales and marketing performance, with more than two-thirds of the value coming from enhancement of existing analytics. Your sales process, if mapped as part of machine learning adoption, is the raw material needed to increase revenue and retention.

The problem, or rather the reality is that 80 percent of new distributors never take any action. They either fail to take any action or get bogged down in trying to understand the company and the products or services they’ve signed up to sell. Without sales actions, there is no data to use when optimizing sales procedures.

First and foremost, direct selling companies must get new enrollees to start adding and working prospect relationships.

What’s Next is Step One

Focus new distributors on two necessary goals on their first day: 1.) Understanding their new company’s values, and; 2.) Adding and reaching out to their first prospects.

We’ve discussed how to map your onboarding process here. Let’s concentrate on the problem of getting people to act. Throughout any guided experience, whether it is delivering sales coaching or interpreting marketing data to suggest better selling steps, the “What’s Next” approach to app user experience is the most effective means of getting people to move through a sequence of activities to achieve a goal. During the first two weeks with a company, new distributors remain unsure about the company and its mission or processes.

A LifeVantage App action card suggests a video to share with a new prospect based on their interest, and over the next two days will remind the distributor to follow-up, along with the appropriate content so share next.

Onboarding content that provides a clear, concise narrative about the values and mission of the company sets the stage for action. Then, the barrier becomes the complexity of the tools themselves.

Too often, apps require users to learn many tool skills and go about it by walking through many steps before allowing people to start using the tool for its primary purpose, such as adding and communicating with a new prospect. As apps grow more sophisticated, these learning processes become more complex, raising barriers to success for the distributor who needs to do simple steps in the simplest way possible. Consider the vast breadth of capabilities of Microsoft Word or Adobe Photoshop, which most users never need and will not explore without a specific context, getting their job done.

Artificial Intelligence apps have to stay focused on the human actions they support, hiding all complexity that will prevent an aspiring distributor from taking the actions necessary to close their first sale. The Gig Economy Group (GEG) platform and app eliminate all tool-centric training, providing easily understood functions to do one action at a time. For example, on their first day, a distributor is asked to enter one or more new contacts. There are no elaborate instructions, just an “action card” that suggests what to do and, with a tap of a button, the tool to do it in the simplest form possible.

But data entry is not the salesperson’s main interest or a reason to be enthusiastic about their first day on the job. The GEG platform ingests the new contact data, reviews the information, and immediately suggests recommended messaging and content to share in order to start the prospect conversation. After the distributor sends their first outreach message to a prospect, the platform monitors whether the content has been viewed, as well as any responses sent by the prospect, so that it can coach the new enrollee toward the sale.

For example, in the GEG-based LifeVantage App, the action card (see image to the right) is generated in response to a new contact entered in the app. Assessing the prospect interests entered (or not entered) by the distributor, the platform suggests a specific video program to share with the contact to begin the conversation. If the distributor accepts the recommended action, the app delivers suggested text to use when sharing the video in the next screen, which is part of the messaging toolset. But the distributor’s experience remains focused on their next step in the relationship rather than navigating between different tools.

In this case, AI smooths the technological overhead of a complex set of application capabilities, leaving sellers to emphasize their strengths, which are developing relationships, choosing the right words, and delivering the information a customer needs at exactly the right time. At the end of Day One, the distributor has seen three short onboarding videos and has at least one, if not the recommended five, prospects in motion. Those actions translate into commissions, which keep distributors engaged and eager to grow their business.

Selling is hard work. Make it easier for new enrollees to concentrate on their strengths instead of the tools they must use to grow their personal funnel and move prospects toward the close. What’s next should always be related to the state of the distributor-prospect relationship, not the distributor’s competence with a set of digital tools.