And we're back... to our series dealing with the six problems we've identified in our work with B2B SMBs. Often heard from startups, and new entrants into a market, it's "Our potential customers don’t know they need us." Variations include: "We’re way ahead of the curve", and "our potential customers are stuck in a time warp". We get it. Your potential customers aren't buying your product or service, even though what you're offering is better than the competition, and you've worked hard on your value proposition to clearly show what problem you solve and how this differs from what's out there. What if your problem is just that you're an unknown quantity?
This usually means one of two things:
- No-one's ever heard of you -- They don't know your name, they don't know what you stand for, they don't know anyone that's ever used your product or service. You're the new kid on the block and you've got a lot to prove.
- You're offering something that is at the leading edge of technology -- But you're also not Apple. People don't just buy your products, and the problem you're solving isn't yet a real pain for your potential customers. They aren't willing to take a risk with your product or service, even if they might think they need it.
In other words, in both these cases, they just don't trust you.
How to make your customers trust you
When no-one's heard of you, you need to make some noise. A tried and tested way of creating awareness of your brand and your offering is to hire a PR specialist. PR can stand for public relations or press relations. The latter is usually a subset of the former. A good agency or specialist will give you a plan outlining what they intend to do. Rome wasn't built in a day, so be prepared for this plan to cover a minimum of three months and, more often than not, six.
In the B2B world, there are often key events in your industry. Expect to see the plan reference those events and propose that you:
- apply to be a speaker
- apply for awards
- apply to be a panellist
- put out one or several press releases
Speaking opportunities set your company up (and the representatives in question) as thought leaders. The influencers in your industry, that the PR company should identify and target specifically, will take note of your presence as much as of what you actually say. These influencers include the trade press, product influencers such as bloggers, and financial analysts.
The campaign should also include other ways to reach these influential targets who will get the word out about your company. Ideally, a journalist or blogger will write an article about your company, product or service, based on a press release, but to start with you may have to contribute an article. Again, this is an opportunity to show what you know, to be a thought leader in your emerging market, providing insight, i.e. telling them something they don't already know.
Financial analysts, while harder to reach and convince, can prove to be excellent allies once won over, especially if you're looking for funding. There's an element of luck involved here too, because they only write about you if you happen to fit a report they're working on or planning. If your offer is in a trending area, the chances of that are greater, but you'll still have to trust to luck that you contact them at exactly the right time.
First have something to say
If you want people to write about you or entertain your application for an award, you need to have something to say. Another way of looking at it is that PR is about channels, or ways to distribute your message. Of course the PR people can help you craft a story for the press, analysts and other influencers, based on their own knowledge of what's currently trending, and they will. But it pays for you to be consistent in all your messaging. Either you'll fix your website and other communications to reflect the same story, or you'll guide them to build something that is coherent with the other things you're saying.
At Usher & Spur, we prefer the latter. After all, it's your story. If it doesn't come naturally to you or your company representatives, if you don't collectively believe it, you're not going to be very convincing. The best stories show you stand for something. You should start with why, as the man in the video says.
But then what? And what other things should you be saying? Once the press is interested, they'll want to see what else they can find out about you, and the first place they'll go is your website. Got a blog? That's great! You should be showcasing your industry knowledge, highlighting the trends that show an inexorable march towards your product killing the market. Maybe you've even got a disruptive product or service, but remember! It's not enough to say so yourself.
Customer testimonials provide you with social proof of your credibility. If it's too early for you to have actual paying customers, follow up your free trials with a request for feedback. Follow up positive, constructive feedback with a request for a testimonial. Get your copywriter to craft it to reflect your messaging, and ask the user to approve it. Make it easy for them.
You can even set up an ongoing campaign for gathering this feedback, offering an extended free trial to leads you'd like to have on board (reputed companies, companies that fit your target market and have a steady track record even if not well known). These users become "preferred customers" giving you feedback you can use for further product development, as well as testimonials. If you're in the app business and not so far advanced, think beta users.
Social media followers - providing there are enough of them and not just your family members - can also provide proof of the kind of interest that's being shown in your product or service. Ideally, they'll interact with your content, leaving comments and asking questions, which of course you'll reply to.
Don't forget to also proudly display the awards you've won, or sign up to programs that verify you can be trusted and give you a seal of approval you can add to your website. Got actual customers? Get permission to display a few logos.
Finally, show that you're human. People buy from people like them. First and foremost, that's from people they can see and, even better, hear. Display some photos. Add a video. Put up your webcast. Remember, "like them" also means what you look like. If you're selling to the banking industry, get your team to wear dress shirts and pants before taking photos. Targeting software? You can probably be more casual.
There are lots of ways to up your credibility, but working with a good PR agency will set you on the right road.
Want to know more about what PR can do for you and how to recruit an agency? Let us know in the comments below and subscribe so you don't miss an update.