According to The Alternative Board’s (TAB) September 2014 Small Business Pulse Survey, only six percent of business owners consider themselves “very trusting” of the information they receive from B2B vendors. Facing such a high degree of skepticism, business owners who aim to sell to other business owners must be doubly strategic in their approach.

So, we’re taking a look at why so many business owners have such a hard time trusting vendors, and what vendors can do to overcome those doubts.

If you run a business where you sell your product or service to another business (or you’re planning on starting one), here’s what you need to know about closing the deal.

1. Provide a free or limited version of your offering to build trust

The September 2014 results also revealed that 64 percent of business owners require some form of personal trial and error before making a purchase.

As a vendor, the best way to build trust between you and the business you are serving is to build trust around your offering. By providing a free or limited version of your product or service, your customer can get a hands-on feel for how and why your offering can improve their business. It also allows them to test run the offering on employees—the people who will most likely be using it on a daily basis—to get their trusted opinion.

At The Alternative Board, we offer free business owner roundtables or guest advisory positions on a board. This allows business owners, who are interested in our service but perhaps not yet confident enough to invest in it, to get a front-row look at what we can provide them. Not only does this help them get an idea of whether or not TAB is a good fit for them, but it helps us gauge whether they’re a good fit for TAB.

Remember, business owner and vendor relationships are a two-sided equation, and both sides must work productively together. A trial run is a great way to ensure both parties get started on the right foot.

2. Create a powerful network of referrals

When surveyed about what makes them trust particular vendors, 46 percent of entrepreneurs agreed that word-of-mouth recommendations have the greatest influence on their purchasing decisions. With that in mind, B2B vendors must take extra steps to maximize relationships with existing customers to foster positive referrals.

One great way to do this is by staying in touch with B2B customers even after you’ve made the sale. Reach out to them every now and again to check up on how your product or service is working for their business and see if they have any suggestions for improvement. Not only does this show the customer you care, but it will also keep you in their mind the next time a colleague asks for a recommendation.

3. Establish third-party reviews online

The same 2014 TAB B2B sales survey found that 93 percent of business owners rely on third-party reviews when making purchasing decisions. In today’s digital climate, this generally refers to online reviews. Setting up a Yelp account and creating incentives for customers to review your product or service favorably is a quick and effective way to build trust with prospective customers.

In addition to building out your presence on online review sites, reach out to influencers in your industry and offer them a free or limited version of your service in exchange for a review. A favorable review from an influencer will reach a larger audience, while also building trust.

According to TAB’s Chief Experience Officer David Scarola, TAB’s content marketing tactics have helped increase membership over the past year. “If your company connects with influencers, and they positively review your product or service, your sales claims become authoritative,” says Scarola.

4. Instead of trying to sell, try to educate

Over half (57 percent) of TAB’s survey respondents agreed the information they receive from vendors is too “sales-oriented.” Your sales material should provide more to prospective customers than just the highlights of your offerings. Your sales material should be equally effective as educational content, including industry stats, market research, case studies, and quotes from respected sources.

Instead of creating a sales brochure, create a white paper. Instead of posting about how great your product or service is on social media, share articles and resources that clients want to engage with. One of TAB’s primary missions is to educate its client-base by providing unlimited resources, such as webinars and white papers, that will help them learn—rather than just selling our services. We believe our educational model has been a huge factor in our twenty-six years of business success.

5. Meet customers where they are

According to this article from Harvard Business Review, nearly 60 percent of B2B customers conduct research, outline preliminary rankings, and set both requirement and price point benchmarks before even having a conversation with a supplier.

Business owners know what they want, and the quickest way to make a sale is to help them get it. It’s a lot easier to close a deal when you meet the buyer where they are instead of trying to sell them on something that exceeds their needs and budget.

Before you start selling, get to know what they want. Go over the research, rankings, and price points they compiled before meeting with you. Throughout the sales cycle, it’s important for you to spend just as much time listening as you do talking—if not more.

If possible, find a way to match your product and service to their desired outcome without giving up too much on your end. Showing flexibility and taking a partnership approach will make you more desirable as a long-term vendor.

Business owners can be some of the toughest customers to sell to, so being strategic in your approach is paramount to your success. Providing some kind of tangible assurance (such as a free trial or third-party review) or demonstrating authenticity (by avoiding overt sales tactics and being sympathetic to their needs) will go a long way in winning over their trust. Give these tactics a try and hone them over time for best results.

AvatarJodie Shaw

Jodie Shaw is The Alternative Board (TAB)’s Chief Marketing Officer. She brings over 20 years of B2B marketing and 10 years in franchising to the role. Prior to to her work with TAB, Jodie served as the CEO and Global Chief Marketing Officer of an international business coaching franchise, serving more than 50 countries.