Vickie Remoe Institute of Digital Communications

Why you’re not getting the customers you want in Sierra Leone and what you can do about it


One of the things I often hear from entrepreneurs in Sierra Leone is that locals prefer foreign goods. They also say that we Sierra Leoneans prefer businesses run by non-natives, we don’t want to support our own. Local consumers are no different from those in other countries. If you’re not getting the customers you want, its because they don’t trust you. 

Why people trust foreign vs. the local

Sierra Leoneans trust foreign-made products and foreigners because they believe exports from countries that more industrialized or developed than Sierra Leone are more reliable. In fact, there is a trust hierarchy where British and American goods and people top the totem pole, followed by Europe, and then Turkey, Russia, China, India, and last but not least, Africa (by the rank of development/perceived wealth). The amount of trust we place in each country’s exports of goods and citizens also depends on that country’s perceived level of development. 

Businesses owned by Lebanese and Indians that trade in imported goods are trusted because many of them have been here for generations. They’ve been tried and tested. People believe these businesses because they have established themselves in the market. Furthermore, they often have exclusive distributor licenses for most of the products they retail and wholesale, meaning they have a direct relationship and are therefore more reliable. Indians and Lebanese have established themselves as trusted traders and merchants in Sierra Leone, and this means that even those who have not been here for generations benefit from this positive stereotype. 

What makes us trust

Trust is the most critical reason why people buy a service or a product. Every time someone orders food from a restaurant or puts money in their bank account, they are doing so because of trust. When we buy food, we trust that it has been prepared hygienically, we believe that the ingredients were fresh, and we trust that the food will taste as it should. Trust is about confidence and reliability.

It should come as no surprise to you when I say that off the bat, some businesses will have more trust from day one than others. The brand and sign, the founder, the merchandise, the adverts, the location, the staff, the volume or variety, and more impact the level of trust that customers will have for your business. There are also inherent biases that can affect whether someone will trust you or not. For example, if you’re running a company that provides services and you’re a woman in Sierra Leone, people will doubt your abilities and intellect simply because you’re a woman. No matter who you are or the scale of your business, there are specific things you can do to increase trust even from your biggest skeptics.

Build trust with your customers – 4 Tips for you to try today!

  1. Demonstrate Expertise: Instead of trying to show people what you sell, show your expertise by educating them about how the product works or diagnose a problem that your solution solves. Service providers in accounting, event planning, and yes, even marketing must focus on sharing their expertise and not selling their service. People will only trust you if they feel like you know the subject matter related to the service you provide. So seek opportunities that allow you to share your knowledge with prospective clients.
  2. Find Influencers: Offer your products or services at a discounted/free rate to influential individuals whose patronage of your business will increase trust. Build partnerships with trusted people to build trust for your business. There is a whole world of social media influencer marketing that speaks precisely to this point. If people already trust someone in a particular industry or niche when they use or endorse a product or service that can increase trust as well. Using influencers is just as important offline. Find influential people whose opinions or feedback will be respected, and when they endorse your work, let the public know.
  3. Give a guaranty: When people don’t trust you, then doing business with you is a risk for them. So find a way to give new customers an opportunity to experience your service and or product with a guaranty to reduce risks. Having a guaranty increases patronage across the board. Just the fact that you’re giving a guaranty lets people know that you’re confident in what you do, and they are more likely to buy from you. A perfect example of this is having small food samples available for people to taste at events. This sample offers potential customers an opportunity to try without commitment. For a service provider, you can guaranty to meet the goals-metrics or offer to give money back. The money-back-guarantee is the fastest way to generate leads, but don’t make this offer if you cant back it up. 
  4. Appearance matters: From your shop sign, logo, how you dress to attend meetings, your website, and social media feed-the way your company looks both offline and online can increase or decrease trust. Wherever potential customers will interact with your business, remember to dress your company up to make a trust-building impression.

Originally published by Vickie Remoe // Chief Content Marketing Officer, VR&C Marketing

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