Tailor your customer reference programme to suit your client

Customer reference programmes are a great way to promote your product or service to potential new customers and overcome any objections they may have. However, the amount of time your reference customers are willing budget for this may be limited.

If that’s the case, you can still deliver value for yourself, and them, without investing too much time. Ideally, you’ll offer them a range of options and allow them to choose the level of involvement that best suits them. For example:

Level 1: Logo and name only

Use of your customer’s name and/or logo on your website and in marketing collateral requires the least amount of commitment. But, remember, you still need their permission.

Level 2: Testimonial

Customer quotes that endorse your company’s work are valuable when you have to work that little bit harder to engage with your audience, such as when using direct mail or PR activity, for example.

Level 3: Text-based customer success story

In an ideal world, your customer will be willing to participate in a telephone or in-person interview and to review the copy before publication. This can take the form of a press release, newsletter article or printed case study.

Level 4: Video story

If your story is one of real human interest, why not exploit  audio and video for your customer reference programme to show the emotion behind the words? A three-minute video interview can be used at conferences or seminars, published online and promoted through social media channels.

Level 5: Speaking engagement

If customers have a very high level of goodwill toward your company, they may be willing to speak at a conference, trade show, seminar or similar event. Get the most value you can from this commitment: such presentations can be recorded and broadcast on your website as a video or podcast.

Level 6: Reference visit or telephone reference

The highest level of commitment a customer can make to your company is to agree to be a reference site. The customer will agree to take telephone calls or host visits from your qualified potential customers to allow them to discuss their experience with you and see elements of the solution in action.

Which customer reference activities have worked best for your company? Let us know in the comments field below, or through Twitter and LinkedIn.

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4 ways anonymous case studies work for you

Does a case study still work if you can’t name the customer?

Some people, would say no. At best, they say, the story feels bland; at worst, people might think you’ve simply made it up if you can’t name names. At HN, we take a broader view on the value of customer stories.

The confusion lies in the fact that, over the years, the different types of ‘customer story’ – testimonials, use-cases and the traditional ‘deep-dive’ case study to name a few – have become synonymous with each other. Of course, for some of those a name is necessary: a testimonial quote must have an attribution to be of value. And clearly, if you’re working with a household name, being able to call on that association is tremendously valuable. But, for example, a deep-dive case study provides such a detailed business case for your product or service, that the name doesn’t add any validation to the story. And historically it’s always been the case that there are situations where the customer’s name is, for one reason or another, off limits – but we don’t believe that makes the story worthless or less believable. Here are some examples of when we think anonymous customer stories are just fine:

When the name simply gives context
Sometimes the name is simply a shortcut that helps the reader or viewer understand the context and backdrop to the story we want to tell. If that’s the case (or if the name isn’t one that’s particularly well-known in the industry), then we can achieve the same result by describing the business and the attributes we believe make the story meaningful to our audience. We might use descriptors such as ‘a financial practice with three partners who are always on the road’ or ‘with a dispersed operation covering offices and manufacturing facilities in sixteen countries’ to give a sense of scale.

When it’s the results that tell the story
Take this quote, for example: “We helped a financial services company reduce their IT costs by 60% in three months.” With statistics as powerful as that you don’t need a name in order to grab attention. What you do need, however, is the detail to back that stat up – so make sure you capture that when you’re gathering information for your story.

When you’re going deep
Traditionally, a case study or application note was an in-depth analysis of a situation, including figures, facts and commentary to help the reader or viewer learn from the experience of others. In that circumstance, the name of the organisation doesn’t add to the lessons learned. In other words, when you can tell a story in depth, naming names becomes less important.

When you’re coaching, not promoting
Who says a case study is only for your customers? There’s huge value in sharing best practice and helping teams across your organisation replicate success. You can share stories from the front line – how the deal was won, mapping solutions to customer needs and competitive positioning or the deployment challenges that were encountered and overcome by your technical specialists. In doing so you create valuable training material to use around the business.

What do you think? Is there value in an anonymous case study? Let us know your thoughts by leaving a comment, or getting in touch on Twitter or LinkedIn.

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What the Royal Variety Performance teaches us about customer references

It’s the Royal Variety Performance this week, so of course there’s only one topic on our minds at HN HQ — customer reference programmes! If you can’t see the connection, read on and all will become clear…

What’s the connection?

As we’ve said a few times before, customer references and case studies are fantastic ways to communicate your company’s qualities and achievements to prospects. The Royal Variety Performance does the same thing: it showcases the achievements of the UK’s entertainments and arts sector to help promote interest in the performing arts. (It also raises money for the EABF.)

Interestingly, customer references and the Royal Variety Performance share the same measures of success: quality is essential, and — our focal point in this post — you need variety.

Variety is the spice of life

If the Royal Variety Performance booked only singers, or dancers, or dogs, it would appeal only to people who enjoy that type of act – and those people would soon get bored of watching the same thing over and again. The same can be said of a customer reference program: if it covers only one aspect of your business, or only one type of customer, you risk limiting its appeal and effectiveness.

So, you may well ask, what’s the best way add variety to your case studies (assuming that you can’t recruit a dance troupe to perform it?)

Get to the story

When we conduct a case study interview for a client, we dig as deeply as we can into the customer’s story to find out what challenges drove the need for our client’s solution, why the customer chose our client over the competition, and the specific ways in which the solution has benefited the customer’s business. It’s that level of detail that helps to give case studies variety — even when you interview a number of customers who are from the same sector or are using the same solution.

Make your own variety performance

By taking the time to get detailed information about your customers and crafting a unique story about each one, you’ll end up with a set of case studies that have more impact, offer more insight, and are just more interesting. You could use them to sell different elements of your solution, or present them as a pack to show how you can help a variety of customers overcome a range of challenges. Most crucially, you’ll have something for everyone; an act for every taste.

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Reference programmes — why should your customers care?

In our blog about building customer confidence in reference programmes, we talked about how they enhance your credibility as a supplier and boost your customers’ credibility in the marketplace as well.

Once you’ve overcome customers’ initial concerns, however, you may still need to answer the question “what’s in it for me?” They may worry that the sheer effort involved in taking part won’t be rewarded. This is where you need to articulate the benefits:

1 Raising their profile — a good reference programme will communicate the good reputation and brand of your customer. For individuals, references can be used as a measure of their personal success.

2 Positioning them as advanced adopters of cutting-edge technologies /services. This can boost their reputation as market leaders focused on delivering the best services or products for their own customers and partners.

3 Expanding their professional network by building communities, sharing ideas and best practices, and building their media profile within the press and analyst communities.

4 Exclusivity. If participation in the reference programme is by invitation only, your customer will feel honoured to be chosen.

Once you have persuaded your sales team and customers to get involved in principle, however, how do you motivate them to participate actively? In her blog about the value of customer references, Carey outlined some key methods to build involvement in your programme, and it’s well worth another look.

If you need help putting together a customer reference programme, please get in touch.

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Your case studies — do they read like The Gruffalo?

You may have noticed that marketing collateral is taking on a much more conversational tone these days. And case studies are no exception — whereas they used to have a rigid structure, they are now presented in a multitude of formats and styles. One of the most popular is that of a story.

Children’s stories are written to capture the imagination or engage them through topics they understand and relate to. Think of a wildly popular children’s book such as The Gruffalo — children relate to the little mouse, enjoy its adventure through the wood, and feel genuine relief as it outwits its adversaries!

As we grow up, stories continue to inspire us. So when you embark on your next case study, why not use storytelling to ensure your readers engage and empathise with the subject, and inspire them to read on?

1. Take your audience on a journey. Set the scene with events leading up to the project such as an untimely phone call, an interrupted dinner or sudden spike in support calls.

2. Humanise your story whenever possible. Don’t just write about solutions and services, but talk about the benefit your solution or service has delivered to an individual, team or community.

3. Be honest about the implementation experience — don’t pretend everything went perfectly if it didn’t. People will relate more closely to projects that encountered teething problems but received expert service and support.

Remember, customers generally don’t just buy products; they buy into you, your team, your company, your service.

Have you experienced the challenge of turning case studies into stories? Why not tell us all about it?

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Customer references: build confidence to secure customer participation

There’s hardly an organisation that doesn’t realise the value of customer references in supporting sales. In fact, according to Forrester Research (2012), 75% of the buy cycle is now completed before the sales team is ever contacted, so materials that support the investigative phase are essential for securing sales.

Customers do not just buy into your product; they buy into your company’s reputation and the individuals they’ll be dealing with. They will look to word of mouth and publically available information when deciding if your company can meet their needs. Customer references are a key strategic tool that can directly influence their decision:

– A good reference programme should provide demonstrable evidence of the benefits you deliver.

– They don’t have to be long documents — quotes, short stories, blog posts and videos can work.

– A good reference can be used in turn by your customer to demonstrate their expertise to their target market.

But success stories can be elusive — customers may be fearful about whether they and their business will be represented in the right way. Demonstrate that their reputation and their business will be reflected positively, and you can overcome these concerns. One way to do that is to look at your customer’s own content; perhaps even research their reference programme! Build your reference assets around your customers, and they’ll support your programme with confidence rather than apprehension.

We’ll cover the specific benefits to customers of getting involved in reference programmes in our next blog but in the meantime, if you’ve built a successful customer reference programme or would you like to, why not get in touch and let us know?

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Time to pick up the phone and try these techniques to get customer references.

Gone are the days where a getting customer reference has to be a long arduous task. Weaving the proposed techniques into your sales team’s routine will ensure quality references, which the client will want to participate in, and boost your sales team’s confidence that asking for a customer reference will not affect their negotiations.

1. Ask as the norm. We want to make is as standard a question as ‘do you want fries with that’. Ask the sales person to ask and keep asking. Give them standard text/script to use as part of the usual follow-up call to check everything is satisfactory before sending the bill. If you don’t want everyone to be a full case study you could ask for endorsements on a web page or on the company’s LinkedIn as a preliminary step.

2. Make it easy. Share the process with sales so that they can see that there’s minimal effort needed from them. Make it as easy as pie for them to submit a nomination – using chatter/IM, a text, email or carrier pigeon; whatever takes their fancy

3. Equip sales. Give them the arguments that position being part of the programme as a favour for the customer – how this can help them to build their reputation, showcase their achievements, get support to promote their good work or a particular approach internally, gain the ear of management and so increase their influence, etc. Sometimes this is communicated in an invitation/welcome pack that sales can give to the customer and that all adds to the exclusive feel of taking part.

4. Make it desirable. Make being part of the programme look and feel prestigious and something the customer will want to be part of – special invitations and handwritten thank you notes, exclusive offers or special events, for example.

Let us know how you get on. Has implementing these techniques increased not only your sales team’s confidence but the amount and quality of your customer references?

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Using the ‘reverse psychology’ mantra to motivate your sales team and gain customer references.

Reverse psychology is a technique that many parents rely on to get their children to want to: go to school, do their homework or clean their room. But can this technique be legitimately transferred to the business environment? Perhaps not explicitly but the idea can definitely produce good results.

When asking clients to provide customer references its good practise to keep the reverse psychology mantra in mind and ask ‘what’s in it for them?’

Here are three hints on how to go about instigating customer references:

1. Quid pro quo. Sales want references; they clearly see the value they bring to their conversations with prospects. Ram this value home by continually reminding the sales teams of the value and, when they ask for a reference, offer to trade them one for the opportunity to do a case study with their customer.

2. Value. Beyond the asset itself, show that there’s value in the process of developing the asset and how it can deepen the relationship between the sales person and the customer.

3. Instil confidence. Reassure sales that customers will be professionally engaged with and that we’re sensitive to preserving good will and competing pressures on people’s time. We’re a safe pair of hands.

Let us know the techniques that work for you and how your company nurture customer references.

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The value of customer references is never in question, so why does there seem to be a shortage?

Sales rep:
“Quick I need a Reference to support this campaign”

Marketing Dept
“We haven’t got any relevant ones, are there any companies you can approach to ask?”

Sales rep “well..I..a… I don’t want to impact the relationship; asking for a reference may affect the sale and send us back into negotiations.”

Asking for customer references in many organisations has become taboo. HN has identified several approaches to asking for customer references that will not affect the relationship or sale.

1. Offer different ways to get involved. Not every story is worth a big investment and even a little support, such as a testimonial or LinkedIn endorsement, is valuable.

2. Set up competition. A little rivalry can gamify the process and get your competitive sales people involved. Prizes don’t have to be big — simple league tables can do the trick. Publicising success builds momentum for the programme, too.

3. Incentivise. There are mixed views on whether it’s good practice to offer incentives for the sales team and for the customer. But they work — one client sent out cameras in exchange for the prospect uploading a video; they got to keep the camera.

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What’s in it for your customers? Reference programme promotion 101

Wouldn’t it be nice if the world were full of customers who just love your organisation so much that they’re falling over themselves to be your advocates? In reality, to convince customers to participate in your customer advocacy or reference programme, you usually need to be able to articulate what’s in it for them.

Tailor the message to the customer

There’s no single positioning statement that works in every case; the circumstances and personalities of different customer contacts will incline them to different reference opportunities and benefits. Here are three common ways to answer the ‘what’s in it for me’ question for different customers:

  • Celebrate achievement. People and organisations generally like to be recognised for overcoming challenges, doing things well or realising important goals. It’s just human nature. For many customers, an opportunity to showcase their success is therefore reason enough to publicise their work with you. They may be interested in positioning their company as an innovator, or using their advocacy of your company to make their own organisation aware of the good things that they or their department are doing.


  • Engage in the conversation. Reference activity can be a two-way street: being your advocate provides an opportunity for your customer to engage with others they’re interested in talking to. If your customer enjoys communicating and networking, if they like blogging, contributing to online forums or presenting, then they’ll be pre-disposed to talk to a journalist or analyst, or at an event. They’re likely to feel pleased and honoured to be asked, and to recognise the opportunity it gives them to build their own professional credentials and network. Similarly, if they’re the kind of person who’s always on the lookout for new ideas and insight they may be happy to talk about your company with one of your prospects and take the opportunity to exchange ideas with them.


  • Piggyback promotion. Many organisations will recognise the value of the publicity they’ll get from your marketing activities. Certainly if they’re short of marketing budget themselves or have their own reasons for wanting publicity, they’ll be amenable to engaging in press activity or the production of a case study.


Do you find that your customers are motivated in these ways? What other techniques do you use to encourage customers to be your advocates? Let us know in the comments.

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