Nothing’s better than a customer who absolutely adores you.
This customer is constantly singing your praises, talking about how he couldn’t live without your product or service.
Naturally, you ask if he might share his experience in a customer case study or success story.
He replies, "Of course! Why not now?"
Seems like a dream scenario, but if you’re not careful, it could turn into a nightmare project.
Your valuable and well-meaning customer contact may have the authority to agree to share a story about his company, or he may not. And it can be a bit delicate to question your contact on the matter – especially if that contact is at a high level in the company.
But I’ve seen even VPs don’t always have final say on a case study.
It’s absolutely critical to make sure you’ve taken the right steps before moving forward.
Before beginning a case study project, you need to know exactly who will need to review and approve the story later on.
Here are few tips for handling – and helping – your best customers as you seek approval:
Broach the subject – You may say something like, "It’s been our experience that sometimes legal or corporate communications departments need to review and approve customer case studies. Before moving forward, we just want to double-check with everyone who will need to approve the story later on."
Do the homework for them – Your contact is busy. Offer to reach out to corporate communications about the request. Communications groups usually know the company’s case study protocol and can be your ally in capturing positive PR for both sides.
Keep your contact informed – Update your contact as you seek permission. You might even need that contact to help sway internal powers in his organization. Perhaps he can see the benefit to the company while the legal department cannot.
Have a plan B – If the company does not agree to participate for whatever reason, you still need a way to harness your happy customer’s enthusiasm. Maybe the customer can serve as a reference on live calls from prospects.
It can be tough to move beyond your customer to get all the proper permissions, but if you don’t, you risk getting shot down well into the process.
In most companies, producing a steady stream of customer case studies and success stories depends on sales and marketing teams working together.
Yet, it doesn't always go smoothly.
Pick up some tips in a guest post I contributed to Susan Fantle's B2BMarketingSmarts blog. The post, Teaming with Sales to Get Case Studies DONE, highlights some specific time-tested ways that companies succeed in getting the stories they need - and keeping both sales and marketing happy in the process.
Think getting great PR takes diligent relationship-building with editors? Not always.
With most publications running in print AND online today, editors are constantly looking for fresh, interesting content. And as we've said before, customer success stories and case studies are in high demand.
When a client landed one of its case studies on the online version of a major industry publication recently, I wanted the details on how they got the story picked up.
Here's my client's answer:
"A summer marketing assistant basically just reached out to this publishing group and was told they could use a story to spotlight. Nothing super difficult!"
Impressive. It's not always this easy, but I've heard enough similar stories to know it's worth a try.
The engineering software company's case study featured how one of its customers used the product on a major Canadian highway project.
The original case study
The software company initially created a two-page case study with a software screen shot and photo.
How it was submitted to the publication
The marketing assistant turned the story into a by-lined article, in this case by me (the writer).
The publication ran the story nearly as-is, shortening it just a bit. Here's the final story.
How to increase your chances
What really contributed to success here? My guesses:
- The article aligned with the publication's audience - their needs and concerns
- It was submitted in a way that matched the editorial guidelines
- It tells an interesting story
What are your success stories in getting PR placed using customer case studies?
Marketing teams don't just create materials for marketing; they also have to keep sales reps supplied with the tools to help close deals.
If they don't provide materials in the format sales prefers, then sales reps create their own materials - all too often.
Research shows that salespeople spend an inordinate amount of time recreating that collateral in ways that work for them.
When it comes to customer case studies and success stories, what specifically do reps need?
Often, reps are using slide decks. Why not package summarized versions of your customer case studies and success stories on slides?
Albee calls them "validation slides," but they might also be called customer slides, ROI slides, case study slides, etc.
The point is to capture the highlights of your best customer experiences in summary in a way that's super simple for sales reps to run with.
Make a point of creating slides to accompany every full success story and case study that you develop. Tell a story with your slides.
Who is the customer?
What was the challenge or business goal?
Which solution was applied?
What were the specific results?
The closer you match the featured customer with the one the rep is pitching, the better the outcome.
As Albee says:
These kinds of mini stories help them to believe that the outcome they want is actually viable.
I'm pleased to bring you an interview with Joshua Horwitz of Boulder Logic, which makes an enterprise customer reference solution. He founded Boulder Logic in 2003 after working in marketing for several software companies in the late 1990s, and seeing firsthand how companies struggle with leveraging customer references in the sales cycle. Horwitz blogs at www.referencesuccess.com and is on Twitter as @boulderlogic.
Q. More companies seem to be adding formal reference management in their organizations. To what do you attribute the increase?
I believe there are a couple factors. First, the marketplace generally is turning away from the voice of the company and even media in favor of the consumer. This is in part a result of new communication vehicles.
Secondly, we are at a point where organizations are looking to better leverage existing assets, and customers' positive stories have generally been underutilized. The move toward formal reference management programs comes out of the recognition that it takes some active steps to get this all to happen.
Q. What are the repercussions of not having a reference management program, or at least someone who owns the customer reference function?
I know of no company able to optimize customer marketing without a program to guide it. Positive word of mouth and testimonials can happen with or without a formal program, but it's safe to say that if a company is leaving it as reactive or a highly decentralized activity, it is sub optimal.
Q. How do you encourage sales or account reps that are accustomed to connecting current customers with prospects directly to give up control to a reference manager?
It is necessary to give account reps confidence that their needs can be satisfied efficiently and that their own customers will be treated well. One part of this is a reference manager that can execute well on a customer reference process.
Another part is communication. A customer reference program needs to be positioned as an important function in the organization, and reference managers need to articulate expectations in advance of activities as well as after in ways that reinforce the confidence of the account rep.
Q. What incentives do you see working most effectively in getting customers enrolled in reference programs?
Customers and their companies agree to participate in reference activities for a variety of reasons, but most often based on a genuine affinity for the company that is reinforced with opportunities for building relationships. Beyond incentives, the strongest advice that I can provide is to be transparent about the level of commitment required. Gain the confidence of customers in the same way you do for account reps; set reasonable expectations and make sure you can demonstrate how they are met.
Q. What "evidence" or reference activities seem to be the most effective with prospects?
There are a whole range of customer reference materials or activities. Pretty much all of them are useful. The best way to build an effective set of tools is to consider different stages of the sales cycle and the needs of different audiences. What you would share with a business sponsor early in the sales cycle is different from what would be appropriate for a technical evaluator during the latter stages. Creating a matrix of these scenarios is a helpful way to think through what will be best for your organization.
Q. What new trends do you see in customer reference management today?
We are seeing more companies looking to increase the level of self-service they can offer in their reference programs. This means reference recommendation engines, automated recruitment tracking, threshold management systems, and follow-up reminders. As companies formalize their customer reference programs, these capabilities help ensure complex processes stay on track.
Q. What advice would you give a company just starting a reference program?
I am happy to help get folks started and have lots of recommendations, but if I had to pick just one piece of advice it would be to have a vision of the full impact of customer references. When you are laying out plans, it is best to define achievable phases, but it is necessary to be able to articulate to executive management the significance of customer reference management and encourage their sponsorship early in the process. Done right, customer reference management can and should become a true strategic program and a high-profile role.