I recently presented the Eloqua / JESS3 study, “A Case for Content,” at Cornell University’s Johnson School. During the session, one insightful MBA candidate asked: You have aligned Eloqua so publicly with JESS3, aren’t you concerned if they screw up it’ll appear to be your screw up? I quipped, “Not until now.” (For the record, I am not concerned at all.)
Nevertheless, that question got me thinking about the combustible relationship between trust and risk. Ultimately, I came to this conclusion: The Web loves a scandal more than the weatherman loves a blizzard. Some risks are simply never worth taking, lest you find yourself pelted with snowballs by a mob of angry bloggers.
Your company’s reputation is intertwined with every partner that reaches your audience. This is especially true in the marketing automation industry, where vendors touch their clients’ customers and prospects alike. Yet unless a company has been exposed for something egregious, it can be hard to tell who will be a safe bet … and who is high risk. Following are five questions that will help you select a partner that will safeguard your reputation:
- Is the company transparent? Does the company make their financials public? Do they announce their revenue goals, effectively holding themselves publicly accountable for accomplishing stated objectives? Transparency shows confidence. After all, if a business is strong, why wouldn’t the CEO throw open the curtains?
- Where has the leadership team been published? Trade journals are the lifeblood of any industry; you should expect your vendors to be present there. But you also want your vendors to be considered broader “thought leaders.” Visit Amazon to find out if their executives have authored topical books. While you’re at it, see if they’ve been published on highly selective sites like the Harvard Business Review.
- How does the social community feel about them? Identify the most prominent spokespeople for various vendors and compare their Klout scores. This will help you determine if their peers consider them “influencers.” Follow the same process at Focus – a B2B sales and marketing community – and see how many staffers at each organization have been awarded “Expert” badges. Want to dig a little deeper? Here’s one: Search for multiple companies’ profiles on a hard-to-please online community like The Web of Trust and observe what watchdogs say about them. (You can also search the Forum for even livelier debate.)
- How do they treat their followers? We all know that some people use Twitter to short-circuit the support queue by demanding service in public. Right or wrong, that’s the new reality in customer service. Try following your several vendors’ Twitter handles and monitor how they deal with criticism. How swiftly do they respond? What’s their tone? Are they transparent (there’s that word again!)? Are they nice?
- Are their values consistent with yours? If you think “trust” is a fuzzy concept, try “values.” The gray just got grayer. This is an exceptionally important tip – after all, what could be more important in a partnership than shared values – but it’s also a tricky one to package into a specific tip. Consider this: Follow the executives at companies you are considering hiring and observe how they act toward their competitors. Are they pejorative? Do they retweet or even “favorite” negative comments about other companies in their space? Maybe this is ticky-tack stuff; maybe it’s good ol’ fashioned competition. Or perhaps it speaks to a value system that may or may not be aligned with your organization’s beliefs. That’s for you to decide.
In the film Blaze, Paul Newman’s character famously cautions, “Never trust a man who says, ‘trust me.’” This post isn’t a plea for you to trust Eloqua. Frankly, we wouldn’t “ace” all of the above tests (though, yes, we are nice and, no, we don’t “favorite” bad things said about others … we think that’s tacky). Instead, think of this post as a series of signposts pointing in the direction of a vendor worthy of your trust. In the end, it’s your decision. Whoever you choose, we trust it will be the right decision.