The biggest challenge is convincing customers to be references. Customers naturally become concerned about the time required to be a reference (especially if you want them to be available for a telephone conversation with a prospect). Hence, there are two things you can do:
1. Tell customers you put a limit on the number of times you will use them as a reference, for example once per quarter. You can also rotate them out of the program after one year, or some other period of time. Refreshing your references is always a good idea because it keeps them current.
2. Tell customers you will instruct prospects to respect their time and only call if they have questions not answered in the written testimonial.
When you request customers to be a testimonial or case study that will be written up and published, there are a few things you can do to put boundaries on the customer’s time.
- Have a well structured interview, that the client can complete by email. Make this optional of course. At least 80% of your clients will answer your questionnaire over email. If you prefer a live interview, tell the customer it will take no more than 20 to 30 minutes. But, when you conduct the interview, make sure your questions are brief and easy to understand. Stick to your agreement – do NOT go over the time frame you commited to .. and never make it more than 30 minutes.
- Include your customer reference program as a natural step in your sales cycle. Too often, we look for references from our current list of customers, where we have no leverage. We are simply asking them for a favor. Hence, it’s more effective to address the customer becoming a reference during the sales cycle as part of your sales negotiations. Think of every prospect as a potential reference. Many providers get new customers agree to be a testimonial when they close the deal, in exchange for a discount, a free service or some other offer. This is a very effective tool for increasing the volume of references.
- Position the testimonial as a promotional tool for your customer. Testimonials and case studies, tend to be all about you. This is logical of course, because it’s a tool to demonstrate what a good provider you are; that you have satisfied customers. But you can also use the testimonial and case study to promote the good work your customer is doing. When you write the testimonial, include copy about the customer’s value proposition and their successes. When prospects see this, they often agree quickly to become a testimonial because it is essentially free promotion.
When sales people hand out the published case study or testimonial to prospects, they are increasing the customer’s brand awareness.
And, in many cases, sales representatives report that prospects become interested in doing business with their customers.
Ask your customers directly: What can we include in this testimonial or case study, to promote you? What is it about your value proposition that would like us to highlight?
Manage your customer reference program just as you manage your sales funnel.
Track your conversion rate. Sales people don’t expect every prospect to close, hence they build a list of prospects with a pipeline value that exceeds their quota. For example, if your conversion rate of prospects that become customers is 50% and your quota is USD $ 1 million, you always have at least USD $ 2 million in your pipeline. You can manage your reference program using the same technique. For example, if your goal is to develop 10 solid references, you know you should be working with at least 20 customers as reference candidates (assuming you have a 50% conversion rate).
Make sure your references represent a broad range of types. Too often, our customer references are similar. For example, they all fall into the same industry or they are of a similar size. Account managers are famous for not using a reference if it doesn’t mimic the exact issues of their prospect. Make sure your spreadsheet of potential references that you are tracking includes a broad range of customer types.
Manage your reference program as a two-way street. Always give something in return. Customers that agree to be references are your most valuable asset. Brand is about what others say about you, not what you say about you, so make sure you’re acknowledging their contribution. After a testimonial is published send your customer a gift. For example, I send Gartner clients a series of books from Gartner press.
Again, the best technique is to include your reference program in your sales cycle as a negotiation tool. This is effective since it costs the prospect nothing and gives them something in return.
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