POSITION PAPER Customer Reference Programs: Why They’re Important and How to Jump Start Them
Customer references are one of the most sought-after tools in deep tech marketing. Thesales team depends on them to close deals with prospects. Marketing deploys themacross a range of activities from media interviews and testimonial ads to webcasts andspeaking opportunities.Yet, so many deep tech companies have a very informal and often scattered approach tosecuring references and deploying such an important tool in the marketing belt.Fact is, today, garnering and deploying customer references might be the most importantinitiative a company can take on.Tell the Customer’s StoryWe often expound in marketing that companies should sell benefits and advantages overfeatures. In other words, many customers aren’t enticed by a hammer equipped with ahead and a handle (the feature). They want the ability to easily pound a nail into wood(the advantage) in order to build a house for shelter or to hang a painting to beautify aroom (the benefits).Fortunately, many deep tech companies long ago incorporated advantages and benefitsinto their marketing. What is less common is conveying the specific environment of aparticular customer’s application in order to help prospects and influencers imagine theproduct in action. This is also known as the customer’s story.To better understand the importance of telling customer stories, consider which is morecompelling: 1. Our agency leads aggressive media relations programs (feature) that help you increase sales (benefit) by raising positive awareness of your products through media coverage that your prospects trust (advantage). 2. Our agency leads media relations programs (feature) that help you increase sales (benefit) by raising positive awareness of your products through media coverage that your prospects trust (advantage). For example, one IT software company came to us with the challenge of building credibility among financial services companies. We developed a media relations campaign that secured 15 articles in targeted financial-services trade publications by highlighting customer case studies from the industry. When polled, five out of 10 new financial services customers claimed that they came to the IT software client upon encountering the positive media coverage.Clearly, the second pitch was more compelling.
Influencers Want to Hear the Customer’s StoryMany journalists, who are important influencers in the deep tech ecosystem, alreadyembrace the importance of customer stories. While some technology trade journals stillenable you to get away without telling a customer story, increasingly, many don’t. And,unless your company is extremely successful or well known, nearly all general businesspublications and daily newspapers require a customer story.For one, when journalists ask for a customer, they’re seeking validation of your claims.Second, journalists have a goal to clearly communicate to their readers; after all, manypeople have an easier time envisioning what your products do through a real-life exampleas opposed to confusing, undifferentiated marketing speak around features, advantagesand benefits. In fact, many top-tier technology journalists craft whole articles around acustomer story with maybe only one mention of a technology supplier’s products.It’s ironic: In marketing, we’re taught to craft stories using the inverted pyramid method,with the general leading into the specific. However, the world thinks in right-side-uppyramid fashion with the concrete helping us understand the abstract.A Formalized Customer Reference ProgramFor most of you who already understand the value of customer references, the above isjust reinforcement of what you’ve known all along. What you really care about is how toobtain more of this holy grail in deep tech marketing.Do you ever find yourself thinking, “References would be great, but many of our customersare barred from participating for competitive reasons.” Or, “References aren’t possible.My customers’ PR departments keep a tight leash on who talks to the public.”If so, your company is probably a good candidate for a formalized customer referenceprogram. You’ve already conquered the first step: understanding the supreme value ofleveraging customer references. Now you need to convert the marketing activity into aprogram to gain the resources and freedom you’ll need to be successful. Here are someinsights into the steps for launching a customer reference program in your company.Talking to and leveraging customers is an activity potentially rife with landmines, fromupsetting sales reps trying to protect relationships to ruffling the feathers of corporatecommunications needing to keep a tight reign on outbound communications. Therefore,gaining senior management’s buy-in is the important first step.
Once you’ve conveyed the importance of customer references, hopefully using some ofthe aforementioned arguments, your proposal to management should plan to addresshow you’ll: 1. Recruit references (e.g., phone, e-mail, through sales, etc.). 2. Qualify references. 3. Deploy references (e.g., media interviews, joint webcasts and white papers, speaking opportunities, etc.). 4. Reward references. Note that many companies prohibit their employees from accepting incentives from vendors. 5. Track reference activity. Word to the wise: Unless you have less than 20 customers in your reference program, spreadsheets prove inferior to databases for tracking activity. 6. Partner with other departments, agencies and customer reference program experts.And that’s just the basics to get you started. Robust customer reference programs, oftenfound in larger companies, sometimes entail many more components, such as how tointegrate with the sales department to sophisticated rewards programs and customeradvisory boards.Fleshing out the specifics of your customer reference program involves one eye towardprocess and practicalities and another toward creativity. However, do realize that bestpractices have already been honed by customer reference program experts within fellowdeep technology companies and agencies. You don’t have to go it alone.
For further information or questions: Jeff Hardison 503.546.1009 email@example.comCONTACT US 5331 Macadam Ave, Suite 220 Portland, OR 97239 503.546.1000 www.mcbru.com