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How to Get Customers to Trust You
Prof. Srikumar S. Rao
Friday, January 31, 2003
COPYEDITING IS A CHORE. EVERY MAGAZINE, every newsletter, every ezine, every book has—at some point—had someone go through it to make sure that the spelling is accurate, the grammar passable and the punctuation up to snuff. Major magazines like Forbes—I know, I write for Forbes—have multiple copy editors glance over each article. Many is the time when I have had a late night call from a copy editor who suggested a different turn of phrase or the excision of some redundancy. In most cases I felt that the prose was dramatically improved. There is a reason for this painstaking attention. Typos and bad sentence structure reflect poorly on the magazine's image. Advertisers have a habit of deserting publications that put an extra 'e' in judgment and leave out an 's' in Mississippi.

What does this have to do with Marketing? Patience. I'm about to tell you.

I received an email from a gentleman in Mumbai who introduced himself as a leading copyeditor. It was a breezy well-written missive and presented what seems like an unbeatable business proposition. Copyediting is expensive. Copyeditors think they are slightly lower on the ladder than galley slaves but when you add up the benefits and the overtime and the free coffee and other perks, they do show up in the cost structure. Why not, asked my unknown correspondent, use his services instead? He pointed out that he was based in India and therefore would be happy to work for an incredible pittance by U.S. standards. Also, because of the time difference, it is feasible to send off a packet of work in the evening and have it done and waiting for you when you come in the next morning.

All kinds of services are being outsourced to India— medical transcription, customer service, technical assistance, inbound and outbound telemarketing. Why not copyediting? The same cost advantages apply. There is a pool of skilled employees who are able and willing to do the work. I will lay you a substantial wager that, by this time next year, there will be many companies that are flourishing by providing copyediting services to companies in the U.S. and other English speaking countries. By the way, if any light bulbs are going off in your head and you want to start such a business drop me an email and I will put you in touch with the enterprising guy who wrote to me.

Despite this incredibly sound business assessment my correspondent had no luck marketing his services. As he humorously put it: “My long list of current American clients:”

And now we get to the point of this column and many future ones. Why will clients not do business with you?

The most important single reason why someone will not do business with you is that he has no need of the product/service you are offering. More accurately, he has no perceived need. You may be convinced that what you are offering is so invaluable that he can benefit from it and should avail of it. If so, you have to convince him of this. Perhaps you will succeed, perhaps you will not. But, either way, you will expend vast resources and undergo much frustration.

My advice is: Don't even bother with this group even if it is huge. The payback is small relative to the investment and it takes too long to come. Walk away. To be truly successful in business, knowing when to walk away is every bit as important as knowing when to persist.

The number two reason someone will not do business with you is that he does not trust you. This is the brick wall my writer ran into. The negative consequences of trying something new are painfully obvious. There is the sheer hassle of starting. Until procedures are established each task will take three to four times as long as it normally would. There is total uncertainty about whether the results will be acceptable. Then there is the lack of face-to-face interaction—still the lifeblood of successful long-term relationships. There is the fear of a business dispute with a partner ten time zones away. There are a bunch of other fears also, but you get the picture.

What can you do when you are on the receiving end of such reluctance?

There are a whole bunch of things you can do. The good news is that so few companies systematically use these methods that you will gain a huge competitive advantage if you do. The catch is that you will have to plan out your strategy and implement it consistently. It does take effort, and diligence. But, believe me, the results will have you laughing all the way to the bank.

Here are some things you can do to get your prospect to trust you and become your client:
Testimonials: I am amazed at how many companies unabashedly claim to be the “leading” company in their field, the “best” at what they do or how “unique” and “advanced” their product/service is. They come across as hucksters. Nobody believes such claims and making them detracts strongly from their credibility. Do not ever, ever use such adjectives when you create copy.

What if you do have an unbeatable proposition for your customers? Don't you lose out on a powerful marketing advantage by not letting the customer know this? Of course you do. Of course you will let the customer know. It would be dumb of you not to. What matters is HOW you let the customers know. Don't come out and say it yourself. Especially don't say it using superlatives and fulsome adjectives. Ever been to a party and listened to proud parents holding forth on how brilliant their offspring is? Did you believe them? No more will you be believed, so don't even try.

The correct way to make your point is by using testimonials. This is such an important technique that I will devote an entire column to it some time. In the meantime here are some points for you to remember:
• Have your customers tell prospects how wonderful you are. Their words will carry immense weight. The better known your customer, the more useful is his testimonial. A celebrity CEO endorsement—say someone like Steve Jobs or Michael Dell is priceless. If you don't have one, get a well-known company—a marketing VP at IBM is pretty good. Don't forget that many small companies are subsidiaries of much larger, well-known companies. Failing that, get any customer satisfied with your services who is not your uncle or other relative.
• The testimonial should be specific. Customers will give you jargon like “… helped us leverage our yyyy system and …” This is death. You need something concrete like “Helped us increase sales by 35% within 45 days and the average order size went up by 28%.” There are ways by which you can solicit such testimonials and I will address these in a future column.
• The customer should be clearly identified. A testimonial from B.S. is worthless. One from Bryan Shelton is better. Still better is one from Bryan Shelton, New York City. Best is one from Bryan Shelton, Vice President, General Electric. If you can add a phone # and an email address for the individual, that makes it even better.

There are many more ways to carry instant credibility with your prospects and I will cover some of them in my next column. Good luck till then!

Srikumar S. Rao is Louis and Johanna Vorzimer Professor of Marketing at New York's Long Island University.

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