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Building trust between customers and vendors/suppliers

Martin Smith MBE
Chairman and Founder, The Security Awareness Special Interest Group

Nineteen Group’s passion is “uniting people” by building and connecting vibrant communities in the markets we serve. But trust between these two sides – users and vendors – has never been more fragile, and the gulf has only widened and deepened since the Covid-19 crisis. Effective business strategies in all sectors will always depend on the very best of products and services, so what can we do to bridge this gulf and how can we improve trust between customers and suppliers?

What does make customers buy (and conversely, what turns them off)? For many years SASIG has consulted widely with its membership about this conundrum. Some notable quotes have included “We always prefer to buy from those suppliers we already know and trust – even if their solutions are more expensive and/or less effective” and “Personal relationships with vendors (and thus a level of established trust) are vital.” But how do vendors overcome the Catch-22 situation of not being able to build a trusted relationship because they don’t already have a trusted relationship? To this end, SASIG’s chief information security officers (CISO) community also made a host of helpful suggestions about how suppliers old and new might better court them now and into the future:

  • “We will identify our needs and then look for appropriate solutions – not the other way round! Always beware the salesperson with the solution, regardless of the problem.”
  • “Vendors hassling CISOs with endless cold calling/cold emails just won’t work. Indeed, this is counter-productive.”
  • “Suppliers often come with the button and try to persuade us to have a coat made to match.”
  • “Stay real. Don’t promise the world. Vendors who claim they have all the solutions to all the CISO’s problems, from end to end, and that they’ll take care of everything – well, this just doesn’t ring true because it simply isn’t true, and it’s an instant turn-off.”
  • “Vendors should show they’ve researched our needs and resources. They should propose solutions that address these needs and can be provided within our [the client’s] constraints.”
  • “Build on a small initial assignment to prove your worth, show reliability and build trust.”
  • “CISOs speak to their peers and ask for recommendations about who they’ve used to resolve a challenge. We will also keep an eye on the changing threat landscape to try to anticipate problems/solutions.”
  • “It’s not just about a product/solution’s cost and performance, it’s also a matter of the supplier’s resilience and stability. How good a partner will a vendor become over time is an important element in the choices to be made?”
  • “Case studies are gold dust. Reference sites are vital.” [Conversely, there is often a place for vendors to agree “sweetheart” deals in return for references.]
  • “CISOs keep an eye on private investors, we look for where the new money is being invested, this is a great indicator of good products/innovations/start-ups.”

Return on Investment (ROI) is essential, particularly in sales and marketing, but also tough for everyone to measure and prove. This is where strategy comes up against point solutions, and where short and longer-term benefits collide. Inevitably, purchasing judgements become subjective and “soft ROI” (benefits seen in less tangible ways) come into play (e.g. financial vs reputational costs).

Finally, vendors and suppliers would do well to recognise the motivation by their customers to protect their own positions/reputations, and the need to help them show success. The focus should always be enabling business growth and success – this will help the customer to justify spend.

At SASIG, we have seen that this approach described above works to the benefit of both users and suppliers. It takes longer, but the results are worth the wait. It’s about growing oak trees, not pine trees. It’s about less haste and more speed. Try to ignore this quarter’s targets, build trust with your potential customers instead and the work will follow.

Find out more about SASIG here.

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