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Customer Reference Content: Where You’re Going Wrong

September 13, 2012 | By Megan Heuer

SiriusDecisions data shows the most trusted source of information for b-to-b buyers is their peers. The closest a marketer can come to delivering this source is a customer reference or evidence-based content. So if customer references are a fast track to trust and value, why is there so much mediocre reference content out there?

SiriusDecisions data shows the most trusted source of information for b-to-b buyers is their peers. The closest a marketer can come to delivering this source is a customer reference or evidence-based content. So if customer references are a fast track to trust and value, why is there so much mediocre reference content out there? The easy answer is that it’s really hard to get customers to agree to a phone call, much less a case study or press release, so we reduce our expectations in favor of easier, internally produced assets. We tend to package what customer evidence we have into lengthy, formal templates that look great, but cover up the real story with business-speak to get through all those legal approvals.

This is a huge problem. Just about the worst thing a marketer can do is to give up on collecting and sharing as much customer evidence as possible in a variety of formats. Yes, it’s hard, but most things worth doing are hard. That’s why there’s a meaningful advantage if you get it right. I suspect the bigger challenge may be thinking creatively about options for reference content. Here are a few ideas to get started; you’ll be surprised by how not-intimidating most of them are.

  • Customer logos. The most basic option is still a good one. Always ask to use a logo. Use logos in a variety of media, starting with online and presentation content. Categorize logos by segment so buyers quickly see relevant names.
  • Short quotes and stories. Short customer success story highlights and sound bytes are a lower-effort way to capture quick bursts of happy client feedback. The use of confidence-inspiring quotes (as in a sentence—you can get permission for a sentence, right?) is valuable as well. And what about linking up customers with the press and other influencers to share those quotes? This is very powerful. If you have a public relations agency, get it to help.
  • Event content. If you did the work to get the customer to the event, make sure to reuse the content. Event-related assets, including customer presentations at outside and internal events, get great leverage when packaged into shareable content; they make those expensive investments pay off long after the party’s over.
  • Numbers. Statistics or other data from customer feedback, or even general operations, are an effective and attention-getting use of advocacy that doesn’t require a customer to share a name. Think “Four out of five dentists surveyed said…” types of data that advertisers have depended on for decades. Data points are especially effective when shared via social media. Everyone loves to tweet statistics. Getting fancier, many companies populate infographics with aggregated customer data.
  • Near-term outcomes. Most case study development focuses on documenting formal, long-term return on investment. Get ahead of the pack by sharing near-term success from the customer’s point of view. Create “why we chose you” and “how easy it was to get started” stories from recently won deals.
  • Can you save a phone call? Overcome reference reluctance by making it a one-time gig. Audio or video references provide compelling content without burdening a customer with a live interaction with a prospect.

Megan Heuer

Megan Heuer is Vice President of Research at SiriusDecisions. With more than 20 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.