This article proposes what, for many Web designers and IT professionals, will be a new way to think about marketing. It is based on developing trust and establishing your credibility in the marketplace. Trust-based marketing requires an initial investment of time and energy up front, but can see you land all the clients and projects you want within six months to a year. Best of all, trust-based marketing doesn’t cost a lot to implement.
The Fundamental Problem with Traditional Marketing
Traditional approaches to marketing suffer from a fundamental flaw: they push your services and capabilities at the prospect. As a result, prospects can be turned off easily, because they’re sick and tired of receiving hundreds of marketing pitches every day. This flaw applies to competitive bidding sites as well, if not more, because on these sites, prospects are deluged with dozens (or hundreds) of applicants that they don’t know.
Whether you create a slick Website that describes your services, use the sales gimmicks that most sales training courses teach, or depend on online bidding sites to get work, you will face the following problems if you pursue traditional marketing strategies:
- Prospects avoid you, because they don’t want to deal with yet another vendor or salesperson.
- Prospects don’t always give you straight answers about moving forward.
- You end up competing on price, and bidding in competitive situations, instead of getting sole source deals.
- You spend money on high cost advertising and direct mail campaigns that don’t produce the results you want.
- You feel frustrated, because you have to go through the indignity of pitching your services and skills when you are sure that you offer a terrific solution.
You probably know plenty of talented IT professionals who have taken lower-paying jobs in order to avoid the trials and tribulations of marketing and selling their services in this manner.
Inside the Prospect’s Head
There is another way. Before we discuss it, consider what your prospects are probably thinking when they realize they need to invest in a new Web presence (or any other IT services):
- I don’t want to hire an IT professional, but I have to. This makes me feel ignorant and vulnerable, because I need help and can’t solve my own problem.
- I have no way of knowing if the person I hire is really the right person for the job.
- I hear many stories about people being burned when they hire IT professionals.
- Why can’t IT consultants speak a language I can understand?
- I don’t care about technology. I want to get business results. Technology is the means, not the end, and I wish these people would understand this fact.
- The last time I hired an IT professional, I felt like I was in that Saturday Night Live skit, “Ned Burns: Your Company’s Computer Guy.” Why can’t these people be more human and approachable?
- This is going to be expensive, and I worry about not getting value for my investment.
The Root Cause: Trust
Underlying each of these thoughts is a common message. When it all boils down, your prospects are really saying, “I want to hire somebody I can trust.” Therefore, developing trust becomes the theme for a new type of marketing.
You have established trust when you meet four criteria:
- Your prospect is familiar with you and with what you do.
- Your prospect perceives you to be an expert in your field.
- Your prospect believes that you understand his or her specific issues, and can solve them.
- Your prospect likes you enough to want to work with you.
Trust-Based Marketing and Its Benefits
Trust-based marketing builds trust with a somewhat unusual strategy. A key part of this strategy involves providing valuable education and information to your prospects up front, so that they perceive you as an expert. You don’t sell to them, or make pitches. Instead, you provide insights about their problems, what those problems cost, and how they can solve them — all within the area of your expertise. The more those prospects realize that you can help them, the more likely they are to call you as soon as they have a need.
Marketing based on the development of trust creates entirely new opportunities for getting your prospects’ attention and interest. Once you learn how to build trust, you can stop using traditional business development techniques, and everything will change for you:
- Prospects call you first when they have a problem. You can stop chasing them.
- You win more business sole source, before the prospect sends it out for bid. That’s because prospects perceive you to be an expert, and call you when they have a need.
- Your entire marketing program has a single point of focus: develop trust. Therefore, you can measure your marketing investment based on how well you achieve this goal, and continuously improve.
- Many of the tactics you use to build trust happen automatically, allowing you to spend time on other things.
- You can charge higher fees, and stop competing on price.
- You can stop selling, and start having open and honest conversations with your prospects.
- People refer business to you even if they have never hired you, because they perceive you to be an expert and appreciate your valuable information and knowledge.
- You feel good about marketing your services.
The Principles of Trust-Based Marketing
If you want to market your Web services on the basis of trust, it’s important to incorporate a few fundamental principles into everything you do. The following seven principles underpin the development of trust:
- The more value you provide, the more trust you build. Most marketing and sales efforts focus on pushing your services and capabilities. This doesn’t build trust; in fact, it turns the prospect off. Who wants to waste time reading or listening to “just another pitch”? Instead, you can build trust by providing value. In trust-based marketing, value takes the form of free, or low-cost, educational products and services — articles, speeches, newsletters, audio CDs, etc. Each of these products helps your prospects to understand their critical problems (within your range of expertise), and start to develop solutions.
- Trust increases gradually. It takes five or more interactions with a prospect before they trust an IT professional enough to even consider hiring that person. Building trust is like taking a series of baby steps. It happens over time, as you provide a series of high-value interactions that benefit the prospect.
- Trust is based on “pull,” not “push.” You build trust when you give prospects the opportunity to choose whether or not to take advantage of the information and insights you can offer. Instead of pushing your services onto them, let your prospects choose to take advantage of your free education and information. That way, you will have plenty of prospects who have given you permission to stay in touch with them (in ways that are valuable for them). When they have a problem, they’ll contact you first, because they know you and perceive you to be an expert. Often, they will hire you without sending their project out for bid, and you can charge higher fees.
- Trust is fragile. Prospects are naturally and understandably wary. If you move too quickly, or push too hard to close a deal, you will turn your prospects off.
- Some interactions build more trust than others — and most cost almost nothing. Your newsletter, public speaking, articles, and testimonials can all build an enormous amount of trust. None of these cost much to implement. Newsletters and articles establish your expertise, and provide value to your prospects. Public speaking lets prospects see you in person, and makes them feel as if they know you. Testimonials provide “social proof” that others perceive you to be an expert. Here are some interesting statistics: When I speak in public to my target audience, 10% of the participants approach me to talk about a project. Also, the people who have seen me speak are 100% more responsive to my offers for information products than people who have heard about me from other sources (except referrals). Likewise, one well-placed article drives as much traffic to my Website as does $1,000 invested in a Google or Overture campaign.
- Authenticity and empathy build trust. By being open and honest with your prospects, and empathizing with their problems, you build trust. Prospects want to work with professionals who can step in their shoes and who understand the results they are trying to achieve. They also appreciate people who can serve as their trusted advisor, giving open and honest advice about how to move forward.
- The economics of trust are incredibly powerful. It doesn’t take long to develop a group of prospects that know you and perceive you to be an expert in your field. Once you do, they will refer you to other people — even if they don’t hire you. Within six months to a year, you can establish yourself as a recognized expert and thought leader in your market. You will have all the clients you want.
Six Steps To Generate Trust and Credibility in Your Target Market
Okay, enough theory. Let’s get down to the nuts and bolts of building trust. There are six steps to follow if you want to develop a trust-based marketing strategy:
- Select a target market. It is much easier to build trust in a specific, target market. (See my article “World Domination for Small Web Businesses” for more detail about choosing a target market). By focusing on a target market, you can demonstrate your understanding of your prospects’ needs, and tailor your solution in ways that resonate with your prospects. People are more likely to trust IT professionals who speak their language, understand their issues, and have developed comprehensive solutions for their industry.
- Develop educational products that prospects in your target market will appreciate. Most Web designers and other IT professionals want to show prospects how talented they are. That is necessary when you get into a competitive bidding situation, because you have come late to the game. However, with trust-based marketing you establish your credibility and reputation before your prospects even have a need. The way to do this is by providing free information. Articles, speeches, newsletters, press releases, seminars, audio CDs, and simple surveys of your target market are examples of valuable information that prospects appreciate.
Your informational products should address specific problems that your target market faces. Sample titles might include: “The 10 Dirty Secrets About Web Design that Other Web Designers Don’t Want You To Know;” “Five Mistakes That Most Realtors [or your specific target market] Make with Their Web Presence;” and “How to Double Traffic To Your Web Site for Under $100.” You should be able to come up with dozens of interesting, attention-grabbing topics to present to people in your target market– and many formats in which to present your content.
- Build a list of prospects. Your list of prospects could become the most valuable asset you have in your Web design business. Once you have a list of prospects in your target market, you can continuously follow up with them in ways that establish trust and credibility. Capture prospect information by offering a free newsletter on your Website, any time you speak, and every time you offer informational products. Ask your network to let people know about the free information you offer (which is much easier than asking for referrals).
If you have a budget, you might also invest in advertising and direct mail to build your list. Use these techniques not to promote your services, but to offer a free report or subscription to your newsletter. Opt-in list building services, Google, and Overture can help build your list, too. All of these paid services are less effective than free strategies, but will allow you to build your list more quickly.
Note that staying focused on a target market makes it easier to build your list. For instance, if you focus on developing a Web presence for lawyers, you can easily obtain lists of lawyers, write articles for publications targeted at lawyers, and speak at conventions that lawyers attend. You can also develop information that lawyers specifically need, for instance, by comparing legal Websites to one another.
- Follow up with prospects. Once you’ve chosen a target market, built a list, and created a few educational products, you can follow up with prospects on your list in ways that build trust.
Your newsletter is the best way to follow up with prospects. Every time you send it out, you remind your prospects that you are an expert in your field, not by telling them, but by showing them with expert insights and information. And, with each issue, you can promote additional opportunities through which your prospects can gain education and information from you, such as speeches, seminars, roundtables, white papers, and articles on your Website.
Similarly, each time you follow up with prospects through other vehicles, you should offer other ways for them to get yet more information from you. For instance, if you speak in public, offer your prospects a free white paper that will interest them, and fits your expertise.
The more you follow up in valuable ways, without coming across as a salesperson, the more trust you’ll build.
- Develop proactive referral systems that bring more prospects to you. Referrals are fantastic, because they bring you prospects that already trust you, based on the recommendation of somebody they respect. Unfortunately, many Web designers assume that referrals come automatically from satisfied clients. They don’t. You have to ask for referrals from clients, and ask specific questions about people they know who might have a need for your services (e.g. “You told me that you’re on the board of the Chamber of Commerce. Do any of the other board members need help with their Web presences?”). You should also build referral networks with complementary professionals, for instance, by creating your own “mastermind groups” of professionals that meet on a weekly basis to help each other grow their business.
- Be patient. Remember that it takes at least five favorable impressions with a prospect before he or she trusts you enough to contact you. Don’t destroy the trust you are developing by suddenly pitching your services, offering a free consultation (which prospects automatically translate to mean “sales pitch”), or asking for an appointment. If you offer enough valuable information to a focused market, soon people will begin calling you.
If you do want to contact prospects on your list, there are two effective ways to do it. The first is to follow up with a call after they take advantage of one of your information products or programs. Ask them for their advice and feedback, and offer to answer any questions they have. Don’t sell them anything; if they have a need, they will let you know. Then, send them a handwritten note thanking them for their time.
Second, create a research study or survey, and contact prospects to participate. Offer them a free copy of the study after you are done. Topics might include: “Top ten concerns [your target market] has about their Web presence;” “Benchmarking: How much your competitors are spending on their Web presence;” and “Web results: Top traffic drivers for [your target market].” Research studies show your prospects that you are an expert, and give them a great opportunity to share their issues and concerns with you.
If you follow these steps consistently, within six months to a year, you’ll have a huge database of prospects. They will call you first when they have a problem that you can solve. Best of all, you can achieve these results without a large investment of money. I know many extremely successful Web designers and other IT professionals who have built successful businesses based on establishing trust and credibility — for well under a $500 investment.
Why Most Web Designers Will Avoid This Advice — And Why That Is Great For You
Most Web designers will not act on this approach to business development. There are a few reasons why. First, many Web designers come from the “If I build it, they will come” school of marketing. They know they are talented, and believe that eventually people will learn about their capabilities. Unfortunately, this strategy only works in baseball movies directed by Kevin Costner. Average Web designers with superior marketing skills will almost always do better financially than brilliant Web designers who don’t make marketing a top priority.
Second, trust-based marketing strategies are somewhat unusual. It requires a leap of faith to make the up front investment of time and energy (but not much money) to establish trust and credibility within a focused market. Most Web designers rely on traditional marketing approaches that push their services, and old habits are hard to break. Others try these approaches for a while and then give up, or don’t commit fully to implementing these strategies as a top priority.
Finally, many Web designers lack the patience and discipline it takes to focus on a target market and become a recognized expert in that market. They want business, and they want it fast. So they go to bidding sites, and battle dozens of other competitors from around the world to get jobs. If they would only invest a few months of effort to build trust and credibility, they would have all the clients they can handle for the long haul.
But all these reasons are good news for Web designers who do choose to base their marketing strategies on building trust. You can get the most desirable clients in your target market, while your competitors continue to slog it out. They will have to compete on price, submit competitive bids, and deal with prospects that don’t trust them enough to give them straight answers. You won’t.
I hope you make the right choice!