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Is Trust Sufficient?

by David Brock on September 20th, 2021

Colleen Francis is running a fascinating survey on LinkedIn. She’s posed the question, “If buyers know you, like you, and trust you, will they buy from you?

It caused me to reflect, “is trust sufficient?”

Without a doubt, trust is can be a critical element in the customer’s buying decision—we look at the opposite condition, “Would people buy from people they don’t trust?”

We are hesitant to buy from people/organizations we don’t trust. We may do this when the risk is very low, when we are very familiar and confident in the offering, when there is no other reasonable opportunity.

Sometimes, we buy a product because we know and trust the product. We may not have knowledge/trust in the person we buy the product from. We just want to make sure the risk of delivery is low.

As we get into more complex decisions, where the risk, our uncertainty/lack of knowledge, complexity of the issues we face is high, trust is becomes more important. We may not trust ourselves to make informed decisions, so we need to trust others we are involved with—the buying group, the alternatives we are considering, the people/organizations representing those alternatives.

It turns out trust has many dimensions. It’s not just, “I trust you/You trust me…..” So just because we may be trusted is insufficient.

One might also read other things into the concept. If trust is important to the buying decision, there has to be a certain amount of trust in the alternatives being considered. It simply doesn’t make sense to say, “We are considering you, because we trust you, but we are considering other alternatives and don’t trust them.” So the concept, “they bought because they trusted us,” misinterprets the situation. The other alternatives were “trustworthy,” perhaps in different senses, so trust is necessary, but not sufficient.

As we drill deeper, it turns out trust is variable, not an absolute. We may trust others for certain things and not for other things. Not because someone has become untrustworthy, but they may not have the expertise we need for the situation we face. For example, while I hope that I am generally trustworthy, you shouldn’t listen to me for engineering design insight, legal insight, and many other things. While I may be trustworthy, but I should not be trusted for certain things. This isn’t maliciousness, it’s just lack of knowledge expertise. So trust can’t be blind.

It turns out trust isn’t a “fixed” concept. My friend, Charlie Green, is probably one of the best in the world on this. The “trust equation,” provides us insight into the variability of trust across situations and time: Trustworthiness= (Credibility + Reliability + Intimacy)/ (Self Orientation)

So where do we end up? Trust is a critical element of earning a buying decision–but it is not the only basis for which customers make buying decisions. And just as we want the customer to trust us, we have to recognize the customer trusts the others who are seeking to win.

So there has to be more than just trust—trust me.

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