A guest post by Val Stephen
Many things can motivate a customer to be a reference for your company. "Free PR" is just the beginning.
Customers are increasingly seeing other answers to the question, "What’s in it for me?"
Reference activities can help customers communicate with a number of audiences – internal and external, customers and investors, superiors and budget approvers, employees, and peers in other industries.
We all know we need to understand the kinds of reference activities a customer likes to do. Some customers love the live action of a media interview or speaking engagement, others want the defined parameters of a case study, and still others prefer private discussions or networking with industry analysts and peers where details can go deep but remain under NDA. These are personality-type choices, individual preferences.
But what about the customer’s objectives? It’s not about the kind of activity, but what the customer wants to achieve by participating in a speaking gig, media interview, etc. Who do they want to reach, and what do they want that audience to take away?
Don’t underestimate the ripple effect of reference activities. Use it to your advantage – and your customer’s.
Does it work? Yes, resoundingly yes. We’ve seen 50% more big brands doing named case studies by positioning them as us helping customers tell their story, versus asking customers to talk about us. And significantly more participation by the most senior customers in speaking opportunities, awards, and media and analyst interviews.
Customers appreciate the partnership – more than one has called me their own personal PR person – not to mention all the legwork I do vetting and qualifying the opportunities.
What motivates customers? Here are three objectives that have grabbed the attention of some of the very senior customers I’ve worked with:
1. Talent acquisition.
A lot of companies are fighting to attract top talent. Getting those premier candidates to want to work for a company requires communicating the benefits to them. Not the "we have free food and ping pong tables" benefits – HR and corporate folks do a great job communicating that already. References can help customers demonstrate that their company uses the latest and greatest technologies and strategies, which is appealing to candidates who want to stay at the top of their game.
And companies in less popular regions and mature industries – think snowy North Dakota or the highly regulated (read: restricted) financial services industry – often need to convey their advanced technology sex appeal.
2. Demonstrating the value of an initiative.
Proving the impact and value of a project to investors and senior leadership can lead to additional budget and resources. It can also help with user adoption. We all know how common a challenge that is for technology deployments. If that’s something that concerns your customer, you can find them reference opportunities that will help them reach, reassure and motivate that audience.
Perhaps it’s a different segment of media that a customer wants. And while you may prioritize media that reaches IT buyers, an article in a vertical media outlet that’s read by your customer’s customers could be a terrific win for all of you.
3. Groom top talent.
Another customer objective that shouldn’t be overlooked is the desire at the most senior levels of an organization to groom internal talent. I guarantee that CXOs have this on their radar.
Speaking engagements provide phenomenal professional development for up-and-coming talent, and the sheer variety of formats and audiences creates continual opportunities to refine and develop that critical leadership skill.
Ask customers about their goals and make sure they know you’re there to help them achieve those goals. Understand their objectives – and evaluate every opportunity with that in mind.
Be strategic in tailoring reference recommendations to your customer’s objectives. Develop (and position) reference activities as helping customers achieve their own goals. They’ll appreciate the partnership, and give your recommendations a better look because they understand you’re there to help them.
Be that resource for your reference customers and you’ll get more participation and enthusiasm. When they look good, you look good. And that’s a win-win.
Val Stephen is global customer reference pro who is passionate about tailoring programs to expand customer participation and reinforce credibility. She has developed and grown reference programs at billion-dollar companies such as Amdocs and Acxiom. She can be reached at email@example.com.