How to Identify Your Best Customer Reference – It May Not Be Who You Think

 Identify Your Best Customer

In my previous article in this series on customer references in technology marketing, I examined the various stages of customer advocacy that can help you determine the activity that is the best fit for that particular customer champion. In this post, I’ll take a look at methods that can help you identify your best customer reference.

We’ve all been there – pressed for a customer reference for a sales opportunity, or marketing or PR initiative – and people begin shouting out company names. Usually the suggestions start with blue chip companies – such as a large beverage company or a big retail brand. These companies come to mind first because we all understand that leveraging the brand of a large, admired company makes our own marketing and sales efforts infinitely easier. Yet, it is also true that sometimes pursuing a reference from the big brands can eat up a tremendous amount of time and resources and create sales challenges. This is the guessing game many in marketing have played.

10Fold recommends a data-driven approach when it comes to selecting the best customers to become your advocates. Over the past two decades we have devised and honed a filter that measures specific characteristics, indicating where a customer will be more (or less) referenceable. The characteristics measured include personal attributes of the individual as well as corporate facts. This filter allows our clients to choose customers that are compatible with their marketing needs.

We have developed a number of ways to help us identify the reference readiness of customers. These include satisfaction and success with your solution; any corporate situations they are in – such as a crisis – that would prevent them from participating in external marketing opportunities; and well-understood corporate policies that prohibit them from participating in marketing and PR opportunities. Following are some more complex filters that bear further strategy and thought.

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Urgency Drives Decisions

Far too often the marketing or sales executive is tasked with quickly finding a customer who will speak on the record with the media or participate in a customer event. We’d propose that if you are in a hurry, this is the wrong time to pursue a large corporate brand. This type of company will make decisions more slowly, be much more cautious in approving opportunities for fear of brand damage, and be more demanding in following an arduous process.

Size Matters

Hooking the big brands can be like trying to date the most popular girl at school. The challenge is that both know they are desirable and they play that to their advantage in every way. If you are an early-stage company, we recommend starting the customer advocacy program with smaller customers, or companies that are in highly competitive markets. Both types of companies will appreciate the additional marketing and media visibility, especially when it is not paid for by them.

Titles Tip the Scale

In developing your customer into an advocate, you’ll have a stronger chance of success by selecting someone who has a title indicating a senior management role (10Fold recommends directors and above in most organizations, and VPs or GMs in very large corporations). These advocates will need “clout” in their own organizations to get the approval of corporate marketing to participate in “live” marketing and PR opportunities that are not pre-vetted and approved before an article or video publishes. Although often willing, managers or individual contributors have a tough time convincing corporate marketing that they can and should support you and your company.

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History and Habits

A very good indicator that your customer will be able to participate in your marketing and PR programs is their history in participating in similar opportunities. You can search their social accounts (especially Twitter and LinkedIn) for references about speaking at conferences or articles in which they were featured. Most executives featured in media often build interest in the article by promoting it on Twitter or LinkedIn. If they are not active on social channels, a good old-fashioned Google search can often reveal articles and/or conference activity in which they were included.

Review Your Options, Approach Strategically

In essence, what 10Fold recommends is assessing the available customers strategically. It’s important to understand what you need, how long you have to develop the customer relationship and trust, and how much flexibility you will have in supporting a lengthy or arduous approval process. By applying critical filters to your strategy of selecting customers to approach, you can save time and apply your precious resources and time to the most appropriate customers for the opportunities at hand.

So, you’ve identified your best customer reference – now it’s time to actually get that customer to say YES to your ask. And in my next article, I’ll detail some techniques to achieve exactly that.

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