September 2019

B2B Customer Reference Program: a sum of many parts (not just case studies!)

How do you grow your business? Find new clients? Access new vertical or geographical markets? These are the questions that every business asks, and the possible responses are many!

For a B2B business, one route that is certainly valid is to promote products or services in such a way that potential targets recognise themselves in a story of how your help has resolved demands and challenges similar to theirs, for another client.

And the attractiveness of the business and its offering will find itself much increased the greater the quantity and quality of testimonials it can demonstrate from those who have already chosen its products and services.

No surprises here, of course. So that’s all we need to say on the subject, right?

Turn unspoken potential into high-value expression

Well, if that’s really the case, how does one explain the inertia of so many B2B businesses that are content to simply sit on the treasure that’s already within their own four walls – namely, a trove of stories from satisfied clients?

These genuine success stories are all too often relegated to internal conversations only, or, at best, they’re treated as low-hanging fruit, exploited to produce occasional and impromptu case studies that lack consistency of approach because they do not form part of a strategic action plan. But why does this happen?

To properly capitalise on such a fund of references requires a dedicated – perhaps even full-time – role that is responsible for expressing the value locked up in them. Often however, this task is either assigned to someone who already has a thousand other commitments and responsibilities to discharge, or who is without specific experience in this area.

This being the case, therefore, the business would do better to call on the services of a specialist partner, to whom they could entrust – either partially or pretty much completely – the management of an appropriate Customer Reference Program (CRP).

This way, they can reduce to a true minimum the time and commitment required of their managers and their reference clients, and – above all – maximise results.

These include greater brand exposure, demonstration of the company’s leadership and articulation of its skills and experience, creation of new sales opportunities and, not least, recognition of the internal teams who have contributed to each specific success – which, importantly, can serve to encourage others in the organisation to emulate their achievements.

The importance of choosing the right partner

To avoid reducing the sum of the CRP’s parts to just a few case studies, the partner chosen needs to guarantee the delivery of quality consultancy throughout every possible phase of the Program.

For us at BMP, this means providing hands-on support to enable those involved in the business’s customer reference activities to define the objectives of the CRP, and advising on the selection of appropriate stories, based firmly on their communicability and their priority in relation to criteria like market sector, product or service type, geography, and so forth. These are all factors fundamental to a balanced Program that is aligned with the needs of the sales and marketing teams.

Moving forward, the partner must demonstrate the operational autonomy necessary to deliver against the planned activities.

This starts by taking charge of the entire story production process – from first contact with the stakeholders involved and presentation of the planned activities to them, to production of the initial draft, based on brief but comprehensive informal interviews with internal marketing, sales or technical contacts, (and, above all, with the reference customers) – right up until the signoff and publication of the finished document.

At every moment of this process, it is crucial that the partner exercises great care over the relationships with the parties involved, in order to avoid the failure of the project or – worse – damage to the relationship between the business and their customer. This is why entrusting a CRP to an inexpert operator can turn out to be a grave risk!

Focus on results

A truly specialist professional will also be well placed to propose tools and approaches to the business – within agreed budgets, obviously – that can transform the results a single success story can attain into a multiplier effect.

For example, content that has been written to achieve media coverage can be reworked or repurposed to support the creation of promotional video, presentations, brochures, social media activity, brand-building and publicity around participation in events such as exhibitions, conventions and webinars.

The performance of the CRP must be monitored regularly, including with appropriate reports that show the take-up rate of reference requests amongst the customers approached, the time spent generating each story, the number of deliverables produced for each reference case, and the scope of products, services, markets and geographies covered.

This makes it possible to identify potential opportunities to make adjustments, as the Program runs, that will enable it to deliver maximum effectiveness.

Success stories, not fairy stories (but they all still lived happily ever after!)

Finally, it’s worth mentioning that the organisations that are the subject of the CRP will also benefit from positive returns in terms of visibility, pushing their satisfaction levels still higher and enabling the business to further consolidate relationships with them, with an eye to the long term.

And so it came to pass that clients everywhere became not only the best ambassadors for  B2B businesses’ successes, but unexpected fans of their CRP, too!

(Hey, what’s a success story without a happy ending?)

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