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The Four Quadrants of Credibility

When it comes down to it, credibility is really all that matters in closing a new B2B client.

You want your prospective customer to come to you already believing that you can solve their particular problem, reducing as much of the hard sales window as possible.

That’s what marketing exists to do.

Hubspot does this phenomenally well. As an existing customer of the platform, I was sold on the product long before I had my first ever demo. Its years-long crusade to deliver top-tier education in how to effectively run inbound marketing education proved to me this was a company that knew what it was talking about. If it adopted the same rigour for quality with its platform that it did with its content (which is given away for free) then it would be a wise investment.

But – in a world where including the words “market-leading” is seemingly a pre-requisite to writing a press release – establishing that credibility amongst a sea of competition can be hard for early-stage B2B companies. Where do you start?

Enter the Four Quadrants of Credibility. If you can find a play for each, no matter how big, you are doing better than 95% of your competitors. Let’s break them down.

#1. Self-Appointed Credibility 

This is the easiest type of credibility to obtain – and usually the least effective of the four quadrants. 

Here is where you tell your prospective customers why you are well-positioned to help them overcome their challenges.

It’s the slide in your sales deck that highlights the % more growth/savings/revenue your service delivers versus the competition. It’s telling a Founder story that positions your CEO as the best person to build this product because they spent two decades doing the same thing whilst working for Google. 

All of this can capture attention and shouldn’t be ignored. But like a Tinder profile that simply lists the age, sex and location of your match, your intended recipients will probably be looking for more. 

One of the quickest and easiest ways to achieve some self-appointed credibility is to produce research that demonstrates the gap in the market your company is designed to fill. Take this example from Vendesta, which produced a report based on data collected from users of its platform that ties back to the benefits of the platform itself. 

#2. Press-Appointed Credibility 

Getting a feature in TechCrunch, Businessweek or The Wall Street Journal is the stuff CEO dreams are made of. And for good reason! Having your company name featured in a heavyweight publication can lend some serious credibility that an early-stage company is making waves. 

After all, if a journalist is bothering to take the time to write something positive, there is no smoke without fire. 

It’s important to remember that landing a piece of earned media in any publication is not easy, especially if the title covers a broad beat like business or technology. And defining a process to successfully pitch for coverage is an entire article itself. But my first piece of advice for startups trying to crank the media machine into life is to start small. Hit sector-specific trade journals to stress test your messaging, rehearse your execs and get some momentum under your belt – it will suggest you may have something interesting to say when going after the big fish. 

Also – if you can’t convince at least five people outside of your immediate circle that you have a legitimate story or unique point of view, you probably don’t have one. Go back to the drawing board.

(I’d highly recommend following @PRisUS for daily advice on how to do better comms – she’s an all-star)

#3. Client-Appointed Credibility 

Few things beat a testimonial from an existing client publicly showering praise on you for a job well done – especially if that client fits a similar profile to that of your target accounts. 

It’s classic conformity bias. Prospects see their competitors using a supplier (you) and change their behaviour to become part of the bigger group. Safety in numbers and all that. And the numbers back it up too. According to a study by G2 Crowd and Heinz Marketing, 92% of B2B buyers are more likely to make a purchase after reading a trusted review. 

Targeting existing clients to help you build credibility feels table stakes but it’s surprising how few companies actually do it well. Here are three tips to maximise the opportunity to successfully co-market a commercial relationship.

  • Explicitly outline permissions in the contract. This helps overcome any resistance once the relationship is underway, where marketing rights can be used as leverage when there is a project issue (e.g. “you fix this, we’ll do a case study”) If a customer is hesitant over putting it down in black and white, consider foregoing some of the project cost. You’ll know what the association is worth to you over the long term. 
  • You’ll get the best marketing out of a client where the opportunity is collaborative. Examples could be a joint presentation at a big-time conference, handing out awards to up-and-coming talent from your sector that could serve as potential recruits, or even joining forces on a charitable drive. If the campaign is all about you then the client will only ever be partially invested – especially if it is a contractual obligation. 
  • And if a client refuses to talk? Try thinking outside of the box.

#4. Work-Appointed Credibility

Here we have the hardest – and most rewarding – quadrant of credibility. 

Letting the work itself do the talking. 

It’s no secret that word-of-mouth is one of the most important drivers of winning new business, especially in big-budget enterprise B2B sales. 84% of B2B decision-makers start any buying process with a referral. 

This is the hardest quadrant for marketers to influence because so much of it is largely outside of our control. We can deliver cut-through messaging, bring prospects ready to the door, work with sales to close the business… and then trust that the promises we’ve made up top reflect the day-to-day reality of doing business with our company. 

If there’s a match, customers will happily throw our name into the ring when asked by their industry colleagues for a recommendation. But offer empty promises? You potentially close off a fruitful opportunity for years to come as your company is branded as unable to deliver in the whispers of industry WhatsApp groups. 

It is the responsibility of any marketing lead to hold the rest of the organisation to account by asking (sometimes tough) questions… 

Why are we better than anyone else? 

Is that real or is it vaporware? 

Where do we get things wrong and what are we doing to try and fix it? 

…and appropriately reflecting the answers to these questions in public communications to try and close as much of the gap between fiction and reality.

Takeaway

Building credibility with prospective customers is one of marketing’s most important jobs. Create plays in each of the four quadrants of credibility – self, press, client and work – and you’ll be doing better than 95% of your competitors.