In spite of the growing sophistication in technology, not the least of which includes the flourishing area of digital marketing, a new business opportunity is often won or lost simply by whether your prospect feels convinced of the true value that you are offering them.
From the customer’s perspective, in this situation there is often nothing better to help them decide than to hear an honest endorsement directly from another, similar customer.
That’s why it’s critical to properly leverage your past client successes when doing business.
While publishing a client list may satisfy certain companies, this is not enough anymore. In today’s market, especially when trying to sell new and often complex technology, B2B companies must create and communicate compelling client references allowing them to clearly show how existing clients have benefited from using their offers.
For many organizations, systematically gathering, organizing and easily making this valuable information available can be a real challenge. To build and manage a successful client reference program there are several key steps to consider:
Construct a clear and practical strategy for identifying the best client success cases
This begins by identifying the right set of target clients that will help generate the business you are focusing on. Your selection should include a range of clients covering the offers, client types and/or geographies that you are trying to develop and grow.
To be effective, client success references cases must necessarily include a clear indication of the business value that your firm has enabled through the offers you have provided to those clients. In this respect, a client case may not be ripe until a certain time has passed allowing them to experience the true benefits of your offer. When selecting the best client success cases you should be patient and you will be rewarded.
Establish expectations with potential client references up-front
To get a client’s buy-in work with the appropriate client-facing staff (e.g. account manager, customer service manager, executive sponsor, etc.) to identify the best client stakeholders to reach out to. Approach your client contacts to understand their actual experiences with your offer and discuss their willingness to participate in your reference customer program. Try to understand their personal motives, while offering them something of value in return for their participating, like personal exposure, participation in a unique event or free publicity. It’s important to remember that they are under no obligation to cooperate.
Agree upon the type assistance that you are looking for. Depending on nature of the client reference you are trying to develop, this might range from simply providing a quote, to participating in an interview, co-authoring an article or even advocating to prospective clients on your company’s behalf in. Agreeing with your client contact on the type and level of involvement at the outset will help to ensure that you will successfully complete each reference.
Develop a practical, repeatable process to capture, distill and circulate client success information and insights
The primary goal of creating successful client references is to validate your products and services in the marketplace by educating new prospects on their merits and helping them understand real-life benefits that they can have by buying from your company. To effectively address B2B companies this means addressing the specific role(s) that will be interested by your propositions (e.g. Company owner, CFOs, CMOs, etc.), while identifying and highlighting the repeatable business benefits that you can offer them, in consideration of their particular business context. During this process, you should also be looking for new insights – in the form of innovative business ideas or perspectives, specific advice, pitfalls to avoid, etc. – that can be beneficial to potential client.
In order to maximize the value of a client success case you should determine the best ways to capture and reuse the information. While you may be planning to write an article, develop a detailed case study, record a client video, or have your client participate at an interactive event, the information generated should be captured so that it can later be reused in different ways.
Finally, as expected, some people are understandably weary of sharing sensitive information. You should determine what they are willing to say by listening carefully, finding common ground on what to say and not to say, and by being creative, all without falsifying information. For example, it may be easier to mention relative business results (e.g. per cent cost reduction or productivity increase) rather citing discrete figures.
Make reference cases easily available. Integrate them within your commercial process.
Successful customer references are only useful if they can be used in a timely and appropriate way with clients. To influence new business you need to communicate available cases to your clients, via your organization where appropriate: sales managers, customer marketing, client service staff, etc. This should include a self-serve method allowing anyone to match a prospective opportunity to existing client references. References could be organized on a website or using a searchable database, according to product or solution used, business location, company size, etc.
References should be used as an integral part of your customer relationship and commercial process. Depending on the formats available, you can give prospects a short brief outlining what your customers have said about your company and your offers; you can offer them a detailed account of a successful case, including the lessons learned, or you can invite them to your next live, interactive event to hear about your customer’s experiences directly from them. Based on such actions, your sales organization will be able help your clients in their decision-process, while measurably moving your commercial pipeline forward, while generating new sales.
Properly acknowledge and reward your reference customers for advocating on your company’s behalf
Customer contacts that agrees to act as references are your most valuable asset. Not only are they demonstrating that they are satisfied clients, but they are acting as advocates on your company’s behalf. Your corporate brand depends on what clients like them say about your company, not what you say. With this in mind you should acknowledge their participation in some way. Depending on their specific motives and interests, and on any existing company policies, this can include offering them unprecedented publicity opportunity, special reductions on future purchases, exclusive access to new reports or insights, or simply a special gift or reward.
Developing a strong client success reference program is one of your most important assets for growing your business. It pays to carefully establish a focused and repeatable way for generating powerful, customer success references that educate and convince new clients of the value you offer, ultimately leading to new business and more satisfied customers.
In our follow-up article we will look at the ideal way to showcase your customer success references, and the associated advantages and challenges of each.
To see how we can help you create value for your customers and generate added growth, visit us at: merkadoservices.com