Credibility counts. It’s what makes clients, the public, even friends and family get on board with your ideas and offerings. It’s what makes people trust in not just what you say – but whether you deliver. And, for business and organizations, it’s increasingly important to managing stakeholders, whether they’re clients, partners or investors.

Credibility management emerges as key strategy

Credibility management has taken a while to become noteworthy in business, but it isn’t new to other arenas. Empires and dynasties have depended on keeping things in the family, because trust played such a key role in both power and peace. In the world of science, researcher and inventors have taken steps to shake out the findings of mere tinkerers, developing the scientific method, peer review and publication. In academia, knowledge has been pulled into carefully packaged degrees with official seals from institutions. Then, in the “question authority” 60s, J. William Fulbright, the law professor who founded the Fulbright Program, coined the term “credibility gap”, when he struggled to get a straight answer about the Johnson Administration’s stance on Vietnam. Credibility gap flew a lot better than suggesting the president office was lying. But Fulbright nailed down key concepts that can help even businesses. When there’s a gap between what people expect and what you deliver, you’ve got a credibility problem.

Managing credibility now happens before you talk to customers

Managing credibility has become part of the sales and marketing cycle. Once upon a time, people turned to sales people and brand-name newspapers for their information. When they first contacted a company, they were at the beginning of the sales and marketing cycle and still open to learning directly from the company. Just consider how perhaps your own parents or grandparents purchased their first cars, dishwashers and banking products. Today, the customer starts the sales cycle on their own, turning to websites, reviews, friends and family and even social media before they even get talk to a sales person. This independent research phase means companies and organizations have to manage credibility before their sales person even opens their mouth.

(In my next post, I’ll explain how credibility comes down to more than just usability or knowledge.)