It's a Matter of Trust

In Consumer Customer ScenariosĀ®, Don't Underestimate the Importance of a Trusted and Independent Third Party

April 17, 2003

Consumers are often resistant to buying from manufacturer’s Web sites. What can you do establish trust and increase your sales? It is important to educate and manage relationships with partners as well as customers.


In our Customer Scenario® Mapping exercises with B2C companies, we often find that consumers want to narrow down choices through an independent third-party site, come to the manufacturer’s site for further research, and then buy from a retail channel partner. Manufacturers must ensure that these third parties and partners are well educated and up-to-date on products. And manufacturers must offer value on their own Web sites to incent the customer to come back and establish a continuing relationship.


We All Want It; But Customers Don’t Oblige!

In our most recent Customer Scenario® Mapping Interactive Executive Seminar, a number of the participants were from B2C companies. As we began the process of identifying the top customer scenarios, we simultaneously captured the highest priority goals of the attending organizations. In almost all cases, the presenting objective was, “sell more on our Web site.”

Keeping this in mind, we set about mapping from the customer’s (consumer’s) point of view. And, in the majority of cases, it became clear that the customer usually isn’t going to the manufacturer’s site to make a purchase. Indeed, typically, customers don’t start by going to the manufacturer’s site at all! Time and time again, consumers start by accessing the site of a trusted third party.


Throughout the consumer-centric Customer Scenario® maps that we have done through the years, one key “moment of truth” keeps repeating itself: “I am confident that I have made the right decision.” For all but the most commoditized objects (CDs, videos, books--you know, the Amazon type of stuff), consumers want some guidance. This is true with consumer electronics, home furnishing, cars, appliances, and even financial packages. Car buyers will start at to learn all they can about the vehicles that interest them; they will check in with Consumer Reports for advice on appliances and electronics; and so on. Only after they have done basic (or advanced) research, gotten expert advice and customer testimonials, and viewed side-by-side product comparisons will they move on to the Web sites of the manufacturer(s) of choice.

Implications for Web Content Syndication

Although you cannot control the competitive test results and expert opinions represented on third-party sites, it is imperative that you ensure that your products are correctly represented. You, therefore, need to:

  • Identify the likely independent sites that your target customer segments will access.
  • Provide the current product details in the format that the third-party site requests.
  • Update the product details whenever they change.
  • Make sure that product names and model numbers are consistent on all third-party sites, in any retail outlets, and on your own Web site.
  • Use common industry terminology so that your products can be easily compared to competitive offerings.
  • Ensure that customers can easily navigate from the third-party site to your Web site (if the independent site permits such links).

The navigation in the last bullet must be a two-way street. By this, we mean that, if a customer comes to your site directly, you should provide links to these trusted third-party sites for product validation and comparisons. This can be a hard thing to get buy in for, because it could lead a customer to a competitor. But, more likely, customers already know about the competition, and making them confident that they are making a wise investment is more important than steering them clear of any competitive information.


Even after consumers have visited your site, done their research, and put you on their short list, they often want to buy at a physical location so they can touch the product, kick the tires, try it on, and, once again, compare it to the competition.

Implications for Channel Management

The best way to leverage your retail channels is by:

* Providing an easy-to-use and up-to-date dealer locator, including location, phone number, hours, Web site, and link to mapping tool (e.g., MapQuest).

* Maintaining, as best as can be done, an inventory locator to determine which dealers have which products (likely) in stock.

* Educating the sales associates and service/support personnel at the partner channel on product details and benefits.

* Providing incentives for partners to promote your products above those of competitors.

Managing the relationship also involves tracking these types of sell-throughs (although that can be difficult to do unless the partner is willing--and that probably requires, again, some incentives for doing so) and also potentially lost sales because the item desired wasn’t in store inventory or the sales rep didn’t present your products well (or was more motivated to promote a different brand)(1).


Once a customer has bought your product, regardless of channel, you want him to come back to your site so that you can establish a relationship and create opportunities for up-selling, cross-selling, increasing value, and increasing loyalty.

Many manufacturers of consumer goods count on the warranty registration process to bring customers back. But what percentage of customers really register their products on the manufacturer’s site? According to the manufacturers we’ve spoken to, not enough! Working through the scenario maps from the customer point of view demonstrates over and over that customers simply don’t want to bother with registration. Although they may regret it later (if the product breaks), they don’t see any value in registration--it’s just more work for them, and some customers don’t want you to know who they are for fear of being bombarded with marketing spam.

However, customers are very willing to identify themselves and the products they bought if they get something of perceived value. For example, if you sell a digital camera, you could offer online training or free color prints for customers who register their purchase. But they don’t have to register beforehand! They can give you the information just-in-time as they start the training or order the prints.

Similarly, you can offer free (or cheap) upgrades, accessories, and other perks available online simply by registering (e.g., a shoulder strap for the camera or a free picture album). Better still, you could give customers a choice of perks. You need to figure out what your customers value--best done by asking them--and then offer this value in exchange for just a little information.

Once they are in the habit of coming to your Web site, they are more likely to come back.

Implication for Site Design

Too many B2C Web sites are dedicated to the selling process. This can be as off-putting to the customer as the heavy-handed sales rep in the dealership. The best use of your Web site may be to overcome barriers to purchasing your products by providing customers with information and resources (e.g., third-party opinions and comparisons), helping them understand the value of the types of products that you offer (e.g., general educational materials), and letting them know all the ways they can purchase the product (e.g., dealers, call center, online). The key is to make your customers feel that they are making an informed decision.

If your consumers fall into the researching and buying pattern we discussed above, maybe you should design your site not for initial product sales, but for ancillary sales--such as accessories, in-depth training, enhancements, upgrades, and consumables--from those customers with whom you have already established a relationship.

Of course, you should make it easy to buy product from your site, but, remember, from the customer point of view, the decision about what to buy is far more important than the actual act of placing the order. A well-designed site makes it easy for the customers to get all the information they need, find the channels they want, conduct purchase-related activities (e.g., warranty registration or training), and offer incentives for returning often so that your Web site becomes the path of least resistance for future purchases. By doing so, you become a trusted party.

1) See " Supporting the Partner Channel ," by Patricia B. Seybold and Ronni T. Marshak

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