Automating the management of customer references is an emerging software category whose time has come. Companies like Boulder Logic, Point of Reference, References-Online and Metia all see how complex it can be to not only recruit customers to act as references, but to manage them as well. When customers act as references, they put their reputations on the line. And when customers migrate to evangelist territory, they are worth 10 great sales people.
Case in point: now that Metia has supercharged Microsoft’s customer reference solution, the sales process moves faster, site traffic has increased and more prospects and customers download Microsoft case studies. Boulder Logic has created similar results for NetApp.
While I commend these providers, I urge them to think bigger. Marketers are leaving a lot of ROI on the table when it comes to customer reference programs, by limiting their applications mostly to sales opportunities. But, investments in the comprehensive management of customer references drives impact (and ROI) far beyond the sales organization. Customer success stories help:
- Brand managers. When brand managers point to real customers who validate the firm’s value proposition, brand equity naturally increases. As marketer Guy Kawasaki reminds us, “What others say about you is more important than what you say about you.” (Reference: Reality Check. The Guide to Outsmarting, Outmanaging and Outmarketing Your Competition).
- Investor and public relations. Vendors that support brand promise with viable references reduce risk for investors. Savvy CEOs sprinkle reference stories throughout things like earnings calls, major account pitches, and conversations with institutional investors to show that the business strategy is working. PR and corporate communications people also use reference stories to validate the firm’s ability to execute its vision.
- Industry analysts and other members of the media rarely settle for theory; they want to know where you’ve succeeded in practice. Few publications mention a product from a provider without an associated customer success story.
- Finance managers. By investing in a well-defined, structured customer reference program, providers note improvement in customer profitability. Why? One marketer we talked to explains it this way: “Customers who act as references are also our most loyal and most profitable. Our CFO loves this program.”
Even HR managers want to get in on the game. Recruiters love to name drop. They love to use reference stories to convince the best talent to choose them over competitors. After all, who doesn’t want to work for a company with happy customers? If you’ve ever worked for a company full of unhappy customers, you know what Dante was talking about.
As in everything marketing, it starts with customers. When customers are happy, employees are happy, managers and executives from PR, IR, HR and all those “relations” boxes on your org chart are happy. Oh yeah, and Wall Street is happy too.
Okay, I’m not trying to develop a screenplay for Disney, but you get the picture. If more people get in on the love, the results can skyrocket. So vendors, if you agree with my point-of-view, think about updating your marketing copy.