How to Implement a Trust Based Marketing Strategy in Your Small Business

Trust is the most important factor in selling to a new customer, especially when you’re running a small online business. One of the most unappreciated elements of marketing strategy is the building of trust and credibility; most of the time small business owners simply focus on making their products desirable. However, if you do a great job on desirability but drop the ball on trust, then you simply fall into “too good to be true” territory.


High Desirability Low Desirability

High Trust



Low Trust

Too good to be true



In order to guarantee trust, you need to find effective ways of providing your customers with results in advance, without asking for anything up front. This is a popular retail strategy; we’ve all seen people giving out free samples. However, many small business owners simply can’t afford this kind of strategy, especially if you sell a high-ticket item.

I’ll give you an example from an industry that finds it very difficult to show results up front – consulting.

A marketing consultant was trying to break into a large account with a proposal worth $45,000. The target client repeatedly refused his offer to sign because they were already working with another consulting firm that was supposed to be helping them with lead generation. The other company had done a few basic things but the system they’d setup was only providing a trickle of low quality leads, even though they’d been engaged for over 8 months.

Instead of simply being persistent, the consultant got creative. He setup a lead generation system of his own that began generating quality leads. Just to ensure that what he’d built had value, the consultant got in touch with a few of the target clients competitors and sold them the leads he was producing. After a few weeks, he requested testimonial letters from them attesting to the quality of the leads he had generated. He then contacted the target client and showed them the results he was getting, as well as the testimonials he received from the competition. By the end of the week he had a $45,000 retainer contract, plus a fee for every converted lead.

It’s important for you to find ways to reduce the risk of purchase for new customers, especially when your company is new or you’re launching a fresh product. There are a few rules to creating risk-lowering offers:


  • Ensure you understand what your customer truly wants;
  • If you sell services, it pays to play hard to get;
  • Be honest, but not too honest. It’s okay to say, “I want you to try this for free because I want you to have peace of mind”. It’s not okay to say “I want you to try this for free and then give me $20 and be my customer for life”;
  • The offer should remove the vast majority of the risk involved in doing business with you;
  • Ensure that you weave in other benefits into your offer, beyond the lowered risk;
  • When they finally buy, over deliver;
  • At the point of sale, ensure you make relevant offers to increase your initial transaction size – this consideration will help offset the added costs of acquiring new business this way;
  • After the initial sale, make sure you follow up consistently to increase order frequency. You have their trust now; the next frontier is loyalty.

Managing Customer Beliefs

This is specifically important for every service provider, as well as any business selling a product that promises to “do” something for customers. When a marketing claim is made, unless it is particularly incredible, the average customers is thinking:


  1. I believe this is possible
  2. I believe other people can get this result
  3. I don’t believe I can get this result


Based on these beliefs, it’s important to ask yourself at the beginning of each marketing campaign:

“Exactly how much are you asking your customers to take on faith?”

I’d like to leave you with an offering sequence that will help you to present your product or service in a way that inspires trust, belief and desire:


  1. Attention – Get people to take notice.
  2. Explanation – Give them the justification they need to believe.
  3. Empathy – Demonstrate that you understand where the customer is coming from.
  4. Solution – Show your customer how what you offer solves a problem for them.
  5. Why Us? – Explain why your company decided to help with this problem.
  6. Evidence – Anything you can show to back up your claims (testimonials, reviews, research etc.)
  7. Benefits – Why should customers care about the features of what you offer?
  8. Offer – What exactly will your customers be getting?
  9. Trust – Your risk reversal components (guarantees, trial, samples etc.)
  10.  Shortage – If there is a legitimate limit on your supply, make this very clear to potential customers.
  11.  1st Call to Action – What should they do next?
  12.  Reiteration – Summarize everything that you’ve described thus far.
  13.  2nd Call to Action – This will be an appeal to logic.
  14.  Red Flag – Warn your customers of the cost of inaction. If you provide something of legitimate value to customers then you have a moral duty to outline exactly what they lose out on through inaction.
  15.  3rd Call to Action – This is an appeal to fear. I understand that many people may find this distasteful, but really it’s only distasteful if it’s done cynically without regard for customer welfare. If you’re selling smoke alarms, stop smoking aids or safety goggles then it’s not only appropriate but also moral and, often necessary to use fear.


The above sequence will allow you to sell anything up to a complex, high-ticket product or service. Depending on your business, your marketing materials or website landing pages may not need to be this detailed. My recommendation is to test, test, test and see what works best for you.


Got any questions about how this could apply to your business? Then feel free to post in the comments and I’ll answer any questions you have.

Obi Orgnot: Founder and CEO, OrgNot Ltd. Author of the Exponential Growth Manual. As a social entrepreneur he helps small businesses to grow through his company’s advisory service

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CEO at 3Bug Media
Gary Shouldis is the founder of 3Bug Media, a web marketing company that helps businesses create 360 Marketing Strategies to dominate their market. His blog is read by over 20 thousand small business owners a month and has been featured in the N.Y. Times Small Business, Business Insider and Yahoo Small Business.
2 replies
  1. Jason Hull
    Jason Hull says:

    One trust-building item that I didn’t see here was a comprehensive refund policy. I realize this can’t work in a large consulting agreement like the sales lead retainer example, but it would certainly have application in other areas. I also realize it’s not sufficient. How large of a role does the refund policy play in building trust, in your opinion?

  2. Gary Shouldis
    Gary Shouldis says:

    Thanks for the comments Jason. I think the refund policy totally depends on the business and vertical you’re operating in. For retail, a refund policy is vital as people want to know they have recourse if the product/service doesn’t live up to it’s name. When dealing with BtoB or contract work, I think there should be stages where the client can get an “out”, without incurring additional fees or charges……but not a flat out refund policy.

    If you’re a retailer, in the end, refunds only occur in a 1-3% range if you’re a quality business…..I think it’s worth having to make the other 96-99% feel secure.

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