One Simple Way to Earn a Customer's Trust

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Syngenta, the global agrochemical company, created four different product information and guidance modules for South African potato farmers, tailored generally to the four different potato-growing regions in that country, with their different pests, diseases and climates. Each of these “Potato Packs” has a specific set of recommendations to potato farmers with respect to the kinds of chemicals and treatments to use on their crops.

 When I first learned about this program, I found it interesting that some of Syngenta’s recommendations involve its competitors’ products rather than its own! And, of course, the potato farmers in South Africa, who are mostly large, industrialized farm operators, have immediately come to trust Syngenta for its objective advice and recommendations. 

If you really want a customer to trust you, there’s one very simple way to demonstrate conclusively that you are placing the customer’s interest above your own:

Recommend a direct competitor’s product when it is the most appropriate solution for the customer.

This is not the only tactic for demonstrating trust, but when it is used appropriately it can be extremely effective.

Referring favorably to your own competitor’s products can have a very powerful effect on customer trust as long as it’s not interpreted as some kind of gratuitous or insincere gimmick. It needs to reflect your actual judgment, based on what’s genuinely in the best interest of the customer.

Just the other day, a marketing executive from a pharmaceutical company asked me how his company could do a better job of earning the trust of the medical professionals who prescribe the company’s drugs. I suggested that one thing the firm could do would be to ensure that its own marketing materials actually refer favorably to competitive products, in whatever situations they would be more therapeutically appropriate for a doctor’s patients.

In conversations with Syngenta executives after we had published the story I referenced above, I learned something more about the competitive advantage of trust. Apparently, about a year after Syngenta’s Potato Packs were first unveiled for farmers in South Africa, one of the company’s archrivals brought out its own version of these information-and-guidance packages. This company, however, was very careful not to mention any of its competitors’ products, even when it was obvious to experienced potato growers that it would have been appropriate. The manager told me that this only increased the level of trust that their customers continued to maintain in Syngenta.

So yes, I know it sounds wild, but in the right circumstances having the backbone and integrity to mention how a competitor's product might do a better job of solving a particular customer's problem is a very powerful competitive strategy indeed.

But then, being on the customer's side always is.

This article was originally published on LinkedIn.com. Don Peppers is part of LinkedIn’s influencers program. Follow Don Peppers on LinkedIn to stay up to date on customer loyalty strategies.