Why trust is the ultimate tool for top growth managers

By Mary Nielsen on Feb 21, 2017 in Stories

Trust has always been paramount to success. Take the Greeks. They won the Trojan War by leveraging the Trojans’ firm belief in the gods. They trusted the Trojans would accept the gift, and in doing so, infiltrated the impenetrable walled-city. Had the Trojans lacked faith in the gods, had the Greeks lacked trust in clever Odysseus’ plan, there wouldn’t be an Odyssey or an Iliad or worse, a Brad Pitt portrayal of swift-footed Achilles.

Indeed, one might argue the absence of trust is even more paramount than its presence. It is certainly more detrimental to the health and consistent growth of a business.

For example, take churn.

Only 1 out of 26 unhappy customers complain. The rest leave without ever saying a word. The most important metric for an VC firm evaluating a tech startup is net revenue churn. Investors want to know how much revenue from paying customers keeps coming in the door month after month from existing customers. A SaaS company with 5% annual revenue churn will be valued 200% higher than a similar company with 15% annual churn.

Brad Hanks currently runs growth at Zipbooks and is an example of someone who looks at growth and churn on a daily basis. When he started, Zipbooks was little-known in the accounting software marketplace. Less than a month ago Zipbooks was voted the best finance software company by G2 Crowd in a swarming market. Zipbooks was also highlighted as a “New and Notable” app in the Google Apps marketplace.

In this interview Hanks shares what he’s learned on leveraging trust to drive users towards a product. And, why it’s the best investment for your company.

How’s he doing it? How can it help you? Read on.

While teaching and studying for his own PhD. in Economics, Hanks took up a summer job in internet marketing. Here, he got hooked on balancing the science and art of marketing. Instead of trying to boil the ocean, Hanks balances a simple and scope-focused outlook on building trust: keep it simple.

He formulates three key growth tactics to help leverage and nurture trust in users.

  1. Provide immediate value
  2. (Constantly) improve usability
  3. Develop a virtuous customer/product feedback cycle

Provide immediate value

Sharing immediate value to your users can start well before they pay you. For Hanks, it begins with figuring out what people are looking for.

When someone is searching for accounting software, they’re not just curious. They’re looking for a solution to a problem for their business.

Understand what this ask is. This is where you can look into strategies that focus on addressing keywords and answering users’ questions.

Rand Fishkin from Moz shares two core strategies to long-tail keyword searches. The first, niche specific SEO, operates in low volume but is of very high value to a business as it attracts conversion-likely, highly qualified readers. The second, a bigger content strategy, covers a wider range of keyword targets and hits a vast number of people, but lacks specificity.

Both strategies employ two key tactics.

  1. Smart internal linking: external linking is not essential, but well thought-out internal linking is
  2. Quality content investment: content that is valuable and (obviously) not automated

Hanks and his team practice both of these tactics.

Users know what works for them. If you’re consistently answering their questions in a succinct and value-filled manner, they’ll come back for more. This is the foundation of trust that leads to a purchase, advocacy, retention and ultimately, growth.

(Constantly) improve usability

Hanks and his team knew there was major room to improve the experience in the accounting software space.

Accounting software has never been known for great customer support. And let’s face it, one reason there aren’t that many options out there is because most people avoid accounting all together if they can help it.

There’s also the basis of cells and shelves, black and white; banality at its finest. The Zipbooks team had to look at their product holistically.

An holistic approach included assessing their competitors’ products. While doing so, Hanks and his team experienced slow performance that blocked their own usability and basic tasks. This caused major frustration.

Originally, Hanks thought a natural and intuitive UI would be worth their team’s investment. But before creating products that feel natural, there is a baseline of expectations a user should experience with every product.

It turned out to be as simple as performance.

With accounting there’s a lot to do—we wanted to make it quick and easy. Users have to have full trust in the system, in us. And so we had to make sure we could win them over with the basics. For us, this meant performance.

When things move slowly it breaks trust. “We all have just way less patience than we used to,” says Hanks. Since investing in performance, Zipbooks pages load faster than any other accounting software.

Develop a virtuous customer/product feedback cycle

Hanks and his team are aware of the dangers of complacency. That’s why he stresses the vitality of a consistent customer/product feedback loop. This cannot mean adding feature on top of feature.

Oftentimes, you might have preconceived notions of why certain users like your product: more efficient; the better alternative; a delightful experience. The list goes on. Remember, these are all assumptions.

Paralogizing leads to chaos.

The best feedback loops highlight the right type of feedback, and categorize it justly. For example, David Cancel developed a simple framework to handle customer feedback. In this framework he categorizes what customers say into three categories:

UX—this includes questions customers have on using the product, or trying to complete certain actions

Product marketing—this includes questions comparing your product to competitors and specific tasks in which to use your product

Positioning—this includes a customer framing their feedback in an apologetic manner, apologizing for giving the feedback, or assuming they are not your target user

Categorizing this feedback opens the doors for you and your customer. You can now focus on the root-cause of the issue. This might mean addressing the issue immediately, or communicating with your customers why you cannot invest in a request at this time.

Hanks himself has had times when he’s had to tell users they aren’t getting the feature they asked for. But this, he says, is often a test to the bond users have with your brand.

If your users trust you, and if they know you’ve heard what they’ve got to say, that’s a big thing. And they will be willing to wait until you get there.

Trust is a learned behaviour. There are no shortcuts. Follow these three key growth tactics to help leverage and nurture trust with honesty and purpose, and you will be hard-pressed to not gain loyal followers, if nothing else.