With a strong process in place and the right amount of vigilance on your part, you can begin working with your customers to turn their stories of success into even more success for your business. Depending on the size of your business, your customers may be spread across the city, state, country or even the world.
Oftentimes, it can seem as though they exist on islands unto themselves. If you don’t work in sales, support or other customer-facing parts of the business, you might even feel as though they exist on another planet altogether.
Still, there’s undeniable value in being able to share customer success stories and connect prospects with happy customers. If you work in marketing or communications, there’s a good chance that sharing these stories and collecting references is part of your responsibility to the company. Not having direct access to customers is a challenge, but you can still find ways to connect and utilize their experience to help grow your business. It just takes a bit of strategy and a lot of vigilance.
This article will discuss strategies for obtaining customer case studies and references. These particular items are often critical pieces of the sales process — especially if your business sells to other businesses (B2B). Potential customers need to see or hear firsthand how other customers are deriving value and receiving a return on investment from your products or services to prove to their organization that the expense is justified.
Process, Process, Process
Before you begin connecting with your sales teams — or the customers themselves — to obtain success stories, you’ll want to make sure you have a fully baked process in place. Is there anything more valuable to the company than your customer’s time? Probably not!
You’ll want to give your colleagues and your customers the confidence that you're making the best use of their time. The best way to do that is with a streamlined process that gives visibility into every step. Put this into an attractive, shareable presentation.
Some questions you will want to ask yourself while building the process include:
• Do you need to interview and speak with the customer directly? How will you schedule the interview and how long will it take?
• Does the customer need to sign any legal documentation to participate in a case study or act as a reference for the company?
• What Service Level Agreements (SLAs) can you put in place to give your colleagues and customers an idea of how long the process will take? For instance, how long will it take you to complete a written draft for a case study?
• How much input will the customer have on the final product — whether you’re creating a case study document or video? Make sure they know they will be involved every step of the way!
Members of your sales team are most likely focused on meeting their quotas above all else, so you can understand why helping you collect and publish customer stories might not be their top priority. So what’s in it for them?
First of all, make sure they understand and realize that case studies and customer references are often a critical part of the sales process. They probably know this, though, because their customers and prospect are already asking about them.
What if they still need an extra push? What else can you offer your sales team for putting you in touch with happy customers who are willing to share their stories in a document or video, or act as a reference for the company? If there’s room in your budget, a financial incentive can be a great way to encourage your sales reps to look for customer success opportunities. If cash is out of the question, how about entry into a quarterly drawing to win a gift card or new piece of technology? Stoke sales representatives’ competitive fire!
Is there a particular type of case study you need more than others — one from a particular region or industry vertical? Prospective customers want to see similar businesses finding success with your products or services. Make sure your compensation system takes that into account. All stories of customer success are valuable in their own way, but be sure to angle for the ones you need the most. Offering better compensation for stories that meet the desired criteria is one of the best ways to do this.
Once you have your process for collecting customer stories and references in place and your incentive plan is set, it’s time to spread the word! There are many ways to do this, and the larger your organization is, the more creative you will probably have to be in your efforts to reach out. First and foremost: get yourself into weekly meetings. They’re already happening and your colleagues can probably find ways to squeeze you into the agenda. Work with department heads, managers and directors to allow you to present to their team on the process for gathering case studies and customer references for 10 to 15 minutes. This helps the sales team to put a face with your role of shining a light on customer success for the company.
The next time a colleague receives an email from a customer about how happy they are with your products or services, your smiling face should be one of the first things that pops into his or her head. If you need to connect with teams that are globally dispersed, see if you can join a meeting via conference call. There are also plenty of ways to evangelize your program digitally. Rather than sending mass emails, which are so often ignored, how else can you reach your colleagues? Does your organization use enterprise social software like Microsoft SharePoint or Yammer? Post regularly to let your colleagues know what you’re looking for, how you can compensate them for published customer success stories, and how their happy customers’ stories can help generate more business for the company.
Finally, don't discount the power of the printed medium. If your budget allows, work with the design experts at your company to create clever signs that advertise your customer success program and let your colleagues know who to contact to get involved. Everyone needs something to read and contemplate while at the company water cooler or waiting on the kitchen microwave.
As I covered in a previous article, your customers are most likely talking about you on social media. Monitoring your social media feeds and keeping an eye on your
mentions on Twitter can be a great way to find customers who are having success with your products or services.
A positive tweet is a beautiful thing on its own, but what can that tweet become? Can it turn into a full-fledged case study? Can that customer become a reference for potential future customers? Get in touch with him or her through a direct message on the social channel where you found the positive review and take the conversation offline. It never hurts to ask and, chances are, a happy customer will be more than willing to help you out.
Whether it’s case studies to publish on your website or hand out as collateral at tradeshows, video interviews that can be shared on YouTube and other social media channels, or direct references for prospective customers interested in your products or services — your customer relationships have so much more value than what’s written on a purchase order. Don’t miss the opportunity to tap into the relationship and make it shine!
By Franklin Teagle Apr 2, 2013