This year and last, one of our clients has generously invited me to speak to their annual sales meeting on the topic of customer reference programs. My mission is to evangelize the power of customer references as a core element of highly successful B2B influencer relations campaigns. One of the misconceptions I’m there to dispell – that I hear from sales pros and marketers alike – is some version of the following:
“Our audiences only care about big, brand-name customers, and those customers won’t let us use them as media references. Therefore, there’s no point to pursuing customers for references.”
I like to call this the customer reference dilemma. And like most dilemmas, it’s based on some false assumptions. We’ve had the opportunity to devise and collaborate with customer reference programs (CRPs) for clients across many industries, and whether we’re owning the CRP from end-to-end or just leveraging those customer references in outbound communications programs, what we’ve learned is that the size or name recognition of a customer isn’t the most important measure of its value as a customer reference. In fact, for most businesses, I wouldn’t even place it in the top five. Customer references get their value from how they align with your go-to-market strategies and core messages, and how they clearly demonstrate the business impact of your products or services. With that in mind, here are the five criteria I think are most important in evaluating a customer’s potential value as a reference for your communications efforts:
1) Market alignment: Are you heavily targeting a specific market segment or vertical in your marketing efforts? Customer references that match the profile of that market provide valuable reinforcement for those marketing messages;
2) Product alignment: Customer success stories for your legacy offerings may be very compelling, but if your sales force is focused on selling the new generation, case studies, news announcements or media coverage of customers who demonstrate the value of your new products or services will provide better air cover;
3) A great narrative: You’ll get great customer reference value from a company no one has ever heard of if their success story is particularly novel or compelling. A great before-and-after story – especially if you can name a key competitor as the “before” scenario – will leave a strong impression as to how your company can transform a customer’s business;
4) Great quantitative results: Numbers-driven customers who can deliver the hard data that demonstrate vast improvements in the metrics that matter most to them – and most likely, to your prospective customers – are extremely attractive as customer references;
5) ROI: Customers who diligently track the impact of your products or services in the form of return on investment, and will sign up to extoll those results publicly, can be tough to come by. When you find one, you’ve found an unbeatable opportunity to quantify the true impact your company can deliver.
Are there criteria would you add to this list? Please use the Comment field below, or don’t hesitate to contact me at email@example.com.