If You’re Happy and You Know It … Be a Reference!

A very popular inquiry for our clients is asking how to get more customer references. This is an important challenge for marketing and sales alike due to the critical role that peer-based content and advocacy play in the buying cycle. It’s a matter of trust: SiriusDecisions research shows senior leaders making purchase decisions consider information from peers an important resource at every stage of buying. There’s power in the stories real people tell. Sellers work hard to identify those willing to speak on their behalf.

Now, I’d like to turn that conversation on its head and talk directly to the buyers. We all know sellers care about references, but what’s in it for you to step up and talk about the great customer experience you’re having?

Here’s a list of six ways you’ll benefit from supporting a reference program. (Hint to sellers: If you’re not offering these benefits to advocates, you should be.)

  • Become an influencer in your area. Ever wonder how non-CMO-level marketers get invited to speak on webcasts or at conferences or get quoted in the press without having to write a book? The path to becoming better known in your field can start with a great reference story. Find ways to share positive outcomes you delivered. Consider offering to be a traditional reference or reference for an analyst’s review process. You could also offer a case study, or to be a source for press quotes on behalf of your supplier. These raise your profile outside your company and help build your presence as a market influencer.
  • Get better attention from your vendor. If a vendor knows you speak publicly and to prospects on a regular basis, it’s reasonable to think they’ll be more attentive to your needs. You gain more leverage in the relationship by making it clear that future sales will be at risk if you become unhappy. This does not mean the supplier is held hostage to your unreasonable demands. It does mean that the squeaky wheel others can hear generally gets oiled faster.
  • Meet more peers and build your network. A broad network of peers is a significant asset for any professional. When you offer to be a reference, you have a built-in way to meet more people in similar roles at other companies. This is valuable because you can learn about different ways others are addressing the same types of challenges you face, while helping them by sharing your experience.
  • Learn about new developments sooner. If you are part of an advisory council, user group or other community, a key benefit is early access to news. Most companies use these groups to preview what’s on the roadmap or introduce new offerings, as well as share announcements and changes. You will also benefit from more time to digest the impact of these changes to your situation.
  • Have more say in what happens. If you are an involved member of a reference or customer community, you should be asked for feedback on planned developments to ensure something new is not met with negative feedback that goes public. Hopefully you also get more access to company executives (e.g. at customer events).This access, plus the knowledge that you share experiences publicly, means your input gets heard more loudly than others who remain silent.
  • Prove the value of your investment. This may be the biggest benefit of all. If you structure your project around demonstrating how well you reached the goals set for the investment, you will have a great story to tell both internally and externally about what you did for your business. The vendor will be delighted to have quantifiable results to share, and your internal leaders will know that you have been a good steward of resources.

About the Author

Megan Heuer is Vice President and Group Director, Data-Driven Marketing, at SiriusDecisions. With more than 15 years of industry and professional services experience, she has worked both in – and for – organizations to build a wide variety of collaborative sales and marketing deliverables that drive systematic, predictable growth. Follow Megan on Twitter @megheuer


4 Comments

  • Roland Kelly, 29th June 2012 at 3:34 pm

    Reply

    Nice article Megan. As this is from the seller’s perspective I think its also worth noting the importance of the seller keeping an impartial opinion on the vendor’s offering so as not to unfairly favor one vendor over another (and hence weaken their negotiating power). The most powerful reference a seller can give is the statement that the vendor met and exceeded their expectations and most importantly delivered ideas, value and growth to the client where perhaps it was not expected. To quote a famous car maker, Henry Ford, as a supplier of transport if he had listened solely to his customer requests he would be supplied them with a faster horse ..

  • Megan Heuer, 1st July 2012 at 10:39 am

    Reply

    Hi Roland, thanks for your thoughts. Yes, there’s a line between being customer-focused and being customer-led. Innovation relies on independent, fresh thinking. I like to think innovation and customer focus are compatible but need to be applied appropriately. I also like your point about objectivity. Being a great reference isn’t about blind loyalty, but rather true stories of shared success.

  • Bill Lee, 2nd July 2012 at 3:53 pm

    Reply

    Megan, great article, glad to see you and Sirius Decisions commenting in this space. As you observe, customer advocacy is increasingly important to the buying cycle. Btw, another reason to become a reference is that it can open up co-marketing and co-innovation efforts. If, for example, your vendor touts your success in their marcom from using their products and services (and a lot of vendors are seeing the value in doing so) that can multiply your marketing reach.

  • Megan Heuer, 3rd July 2012 at 11:34 am

    Reply

    Hi Bill, thanks so much for your comment and your thoughts on co-marketing- great add to the list of benefits. As I see it, advocacy has incredible potential to be a game-changer for marketing impact. It’s a shame so many companies have a hard time connecting with customers to get more of those valuable stories out there. Of course, there’s no replacement for delivering a fantastic experience, which drives word of mouth with or without the formal advocacy program, right? It’s a different problem if that experience component is underwhelming.


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