How to Build Credibility When Selling to Customers Who've Never Heard of You If you run a startup or you're selling a new product or service, you must earn credibility. Here's how.

By Andrew Gazdecki

Key Takeaways

  • Building credibility is crucial when turning cold leads into loyal customers, as trust is the foundation of a successful sale.
  • Effective strategies for gaining credibility include providing valuable content, establishing a strong omnichannel presence and garnering positive reviews and testimonials.
  • Collaborating with influencers and getting featured in reputable publications can rapidly boost a company's credibility and narrow the credibility gap.
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Selling often means speaking to people who've never heard of you. You might think of them as "cold leads," which is a bit impersonal. After all, they might very well become your best customers — in time.

The problem is credibility. Without it, customers won't be receptive to your sales pitch. You can't blame their cynicism, either — the perils of overpromising in sales are well-known, even among the public. And once someone commits to a deal, it can be awkward or embarrassing to leave it. For both of you!

Related: 3 Steps to Go from Unknown to Must-Have in Your Client Acquisition Process

If credibility is so important, how do you build it?

For household names, credibility is (mostly) a given. But if you run a startup or you're selling a new product or service, you must earn it. In the past, a persuasive advertising campaign might've been enough, but in the internet age, you've got to do a lot more to be taken seriously.

Today, customers wield all the power. They can research the market, read reviews and share their experiences with other shoppers online. To close the credibility gap, you need to be visible and compelling. Hang out where your customers are and bring something exciting to the table — an offer impossible to ignore or refuse.

I'll explain how shortly, but first...

A word of warning

The mother of credibility is trust.

You can't be credible if people don't trust you, simple as that. Solve your potential customer's problem first. Offer something valuable, even if it's only your time or some useful news or information.

Think less selling, more helping.

If you succeed at being visible and compelling — which I'm sure you will if you follow my advice — be helpful above all else. Because when you're helpful, it's easier to gain someone's trust, and when someone trusts you, they're more willing to buy when it comes by recommendation.

Related: 9 Sales and Marketing Tips for Startups

Now… how to get that recommendation

Referrals are, by far, one of the most successful ways to grow a business.

Being visible means:

  1. Your content appears when customers search for answers to their problems.
  2. You have an active presence on every channel your prospects use.
  3. Your customers have written reviews and testimonials about you.
  4. You've been featured in relevant press publications.
  5. You've been reviewed, featured or discussed by industry influencers.

Being compelling means:

  1. You consistently write meaningful, relevant and helpful content.
  2. You've built a large social media audience that regularly shares your content.
  3. Your product or service has been well-reviewed by customers and influencers.
  4. Your story has been featured in well-respected industry and consumer publications.
  5. You've been endorsed by leading influencers and industry experts.

I don't expect you to achieve all these things before you start selling, but you should at least be working on them. Let's explore how these areas affect the credibility gap.

Related: I Watch Great Teams Make These Business-Destroying Mistakes All The Time. Here's Where They're Going Wrong (And How To Fix It).

Closing the credibility gap

Create content your customers care about.

Selling is about getting inside your customers' heads. What do they want? Need? What problems or questions do they have? Your customers won't respond to generic sales messages but to meaningful, relevant and helpful content that improves their lives:

  1. Meaningful content is well-researched and generally enlightens customers with new information or unique takes on old topics.
  2. Relevant content contains information the reader cares about. It might be personalized, presented in a specific medium, or delivered when they need it most.
  3. Helpful content answers a question, solves a problem, or provides actionable advice. It doesn't sell but educates, informs, or delights in some way.

Your content should meet all of these criteria. You have to do your homework on this – don't create content you think your customers will enjoy, but research and test what works. Track views and other engagement metrics.

Become an omnichannel seller.

Love it or hate it, social media has changed how we communicate. Almost 80 percent of the U.S. population has a social media profile as of 2021, so you must join the crowds and get on that soapbox, too.

It's not enough to sign up, either. Become an active member of the community. Create engaging content, share others' content, comment on posts and respond to people commenting on yours. It's about building a community, a following. And yes, it's a full-time job, so you might want to hire someone to do this for you (though I'd recommend checking in regularly as social media is a treasure trove of customer data).

Building social media communities isn't hard, but it does require persistence. Post regularly, follow and emulate influencers and ensure your channels are staffed and responsive. Think of your social channels as tributaries flowing into your sales funnel. If you're unresponsive, they dry up, and funnel flow slows.

Related: How to Build Credibility as a Young Entrepreneur

Reach out for reviews and testimonials.

Your first customers are your biggest champions. They love expressing their opinions and having a voice in how you run your business. Especially in the early stages, when they can exert more influence. In many ways, they're the ones developing the business, not you.

Don't be afraid of asking for reviews or testimonials. It makes customers feel valued. You might even offer a small reward in return — a simple discount would do. Above all, make it easy for them to give feedback. Link to review sites, ask how they feel about you and encourage honesty without repercussions.

Testimonials are the gold standard of reviews. They tell a story, which humanizes your business and contextualizes your proposition. If you can persuade a journalist to demo your product or service, even better because a neutral third party adds even greater credibility (more on this later).

Make your story newsworthy

You'll see many "As featured/seen in/on..." sections in today's websites with a cluster of press logos and links. It's a common credibility tactic that exploits the bandwagon and authority cognitive biases. Essentially, people are more likely to follow the crowd or an authority. In this case, it might be the Wall Street Journal or TechCrunch.

People assume well-respected publications employ rigorous editorial standards. True or not, their brands speak volumes. A short article or press release could earn you the right to add those names to your website and brochures. For many customers, this is a stamp of approval, and the more stamps you have, the more the credibility gap narrows.

Find the relevant publications in your industry, and pitch them a story. It could be about your mission, technology or people. Read the publication to determine what it considers newsworthy. Consider their readership, and draw upon your own experiences to help them. It might simply be a unique angle on an old issue.

If all else fails, a PR agency with the right contacts can do this for you. You'll have less control over the content, but it's easier to get published this way if you can't drum up interest alone.

Find influencers to vouch for you

The right influencer can also help you build credibility instantly. This might be a leading thinker or social media influencer, someone with enough weight to sway opinion in your favor. If you're lucky, they'll find you, but in most cases, you'll need to work hard to find them yourself.

First, list everyone who might be interested in what you do. Then qualify your list by reviewing the influencer's audience to ensure it aligns with your business and ideal customer profile. Finally, devise a strategy to engage them.

Don't message or email asking them to talk about you. Unless you're paying for an endorsement, the influencer is likely to ignore you. Instead, become part of their community. Follow them. Join the discussion. Get involved and participate, and eventually, you'll earn the right to ask for something in return.

If you have the budget, you could hire an influencer as an advisor. This is especially common in the tech industry, where trendsetters tend to be "techpreneurs" and coders. In SaaS, for example, a nod from a leading technologist might be all you need to validate your business.

If you've read this far, you might be feeling overwhelmed. Don't worry — this isn't meant to be a checklist. You'll be doing some of these things already to varying degrees. Starting today, use these principles as the basis of your own credibility action plan. Commit to it, and you'll find there's no longer a gap but a bridge to better sales.

Related: 10 Ways to Be an Authentic Entrepreneur and Sell Your Best Self

Andrew Gazdecki

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

CEO at Acquire.com

Andrew Gazdecki is a four-time founder with three exits, former CRO and founder of Acquire.com. Gazdecki has been featured in The New York Times, ForbesWall Street Journal, Inc. and Entrepreneur, as well as prominent industry blogs such as TechCrunch and VentureBeat.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

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