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We Know About The “Digital Buying Journey,” But What Does This Mean About Digital Trust?

by David Brock on May 19th, 2022

We know trust is important in all our relationships. We know that trust is critical in vendor/customer relationships. Charlie Green has helped us understand that trust is not an absolute, but is contextual. For example, trust in a simple buying transaction is different than the trust in a complex B2B decision. The level of risk of choosing incorrectly is different, consequently the way we view trust in those decisions differs.

Charlie helped us understand some of the dimensions of trust worthiness with the trust equation:

Trustworthiness = (Credibility + Reliability + Intimacy) / Self-Orientation

But how do we establish trust digitally, particularly in complex, consensus driven B2B buying processes? What does digital trust mean? As we move to a world where digital channels increasingly dominate the customer buying process, how do we establish trust? What does trust mean in a world where the majority of customers prefer a rep-free buying experience?

Gartner has started establishing some criteria around a trust framework in digital buying. Most of these seem to address the Credibility and Reliability elements:

  1. Accuracy.
  2. Reliability
  3. Intuitive
  4. Responsive
  5. Cognizant
  6. Humanized
  7. Valued
  8. Empathetic
  9. Personalized
  10. Expert

But what does this mean in a world of overwhelming high quality, but different information. For example, I can look at 3 different suppliers, each of which provides digital interventions that are accurate, reliable, responsive, etc, but the information differs greatly. Which should the customer believe, how do they sort through these conflicting sets of information? How do they gain confidence that they are paying attention to the “right” information? Perhaps, it’s more of an issues of confirmation bias than anything else.

How do we establish trust in a digital world with and abundance of different, but high quality information? How do we establish decision confidence in a digital buying environment?

But what about the other two elements, intimacy and self orientation? How do we address these digitally in building “digital trustworthiness?”

The intimacy element, defined by Charlie, refers to how customers feel in providing information to a vendor. To a very high degree, that well has already been poisoned. Stated differently, we have betrayed so much of the digital intimacy element, that we are digging out of a very deep hole.

For example, I seldom leave my personal or professional email when requesting information. I have special email addresses that I use for those requests. It’s because I have no confidence in how that information will be used, will it unleash torrents of irrelevant information from the organization I sought the original information from? Will it be provided or sold to someone else?

Likewise, when I’m perusing websites, I do everything I can to disguise my identity, whether it’s VPNs and different IP addresses, or opting out of as many “cookies” as I can, or software that detects “tracking information” minimizing what information I reveal.

All is based on previous bad experience in my digital buying or learning processes. And this is only what the owner of the site inflicts on me, the consumer of the information. I’m not even considering the malicious exposure these sites have to hacking and protecting my information, but that sits in the back of my mind in every digital interaction.

It gets even weirder. Whenever I ask for information, at the bottom of the form, there is always (in 6 point light grey font) a privacy policy. The privacy policy is always a minimum of 1000 words (in 6 point light grey font) outlining their right to using my information as well as a number of other disclaimers, then ends up with how disputes in use of that information will be resolved. There is an inherent distrust we have of each other in sharing and consuming information. There is an inherent distrust in the platforms themselves (even ignoring malicious usage). As a result, we embed “protections” into these interactions.

It’s almost, “Here is wonderful insightful information we’d like you to consume and believe…….but consume this at your own risk.”

Imagine how this might be implemented in a F2F interaction. What if in a discovery call, the sales person makes me aware of some information and I replied, “I want to learn more….” The salesperson immediately gives me a Docusign document (in 6 point font) outlining their rights to use my information and how I can use their information. And this is for information they want me to consume.

This is how we are currently building “digital trust”.

Or we look at social platforms, how they are being misused or manipulated. These, and more, have created adverse reactions, impacting my willingness to provide information about myself, my company, the issues I’m most concerned with.

One of our biggest individual and organizational concerns in any digital engagement is our privacy.

Or when we look at digital self-orientation. How do we digitally establish confidence with the customer about how much we understand and care about their success?

Then we have to look across the buying team, we have to establish digital trust across the team, with diverse interests/priorities, who may not trust each other, yet must come to consensus?

So in a world increasingly dominated buy digital interactions; where buyers are choosing more digital engagement, what does trustworthiness mean? How do we build and maintain trust, digitally? How do we minimize the opportunity to betray that digital trust?

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