Customer references and solutions marketing: Building blocks for business impact
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- best practice, salesSolutions, Reference Management, Customer Evidence, Marketign Innovations, Marketing Challenges, References, Success stories in CategoryCustomer Connection,
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B2B marketers focused on high value solutions know that customer evidence is like gold. Great products may sell themselves based on features or price. But when you're asking business buyers to invest serious money in a complex solution, typically involving a customized mix of products and services, they need to know you've done it before and that other customers have derived real business benefits.
Not surprisingly, sales people selling solutions say that customer references are their most valuable tool. A recent internal study by a very large technology solutions provider found that their sales people said customer references were absolutely essential for selling new strategic solutions.
The growth of formalized reference programs in recent years reflects a growing understanding that documenting and promoting customer evidence is too important to leave to ad hoc initiatives in PR or sales. The success of the Customer Reference Forum in building a broad-based community of reference managers is another sign of a maturing discipline.
Too often, though, reference programs remain short-staffed, disconnected from other key marketing programs, and overly reliant on the kindness of individual sales people to provide access to satisfied customers. Indeed, many formal reference programs continue to vie for marketing and sales attention with the parallel existence of informal, fragmented reference initiatives across the organization.
As a result, many reference programs remain stuck in tactical, reactive mode. They crank out case studies and testimonials to support marketing launches and events but have relatively little impact in accelerating strategic sales or deepening loyalty with the most important customers.
Benchmarking the Best
Over the past six months I've had the opportunity to work with several large B2B firms to improve their customer reference programs. Along the way, I've been able to review a number other programs with companies widely acknowledged as reference management leaders while also review industry data and talking with a batch of vendors, consultants, and program managers.
Comparing the best with the rest, six programmatic building blocks are particularly important for programs that provide substantial business impact.