Traditionally, Customer Reference Managers Or its equivalent function within marketing in any B2B company have had the enviable job of promoting “Our Customers Success”. Also called as Customer Success Managers for the same reason. The obvious reasoning behind promoting the customers’ success has been – We have all the right reasons to make sure our customers are successful and we are telling the world about it, because the more successful they are in using our products and services in solving their business problems, the more we tend to gain – directly in terms of repeat sales, and indirectly in terms of referral sales and being a reference. Win-Win.
The job typically involves targeting the star customers, making sure they are happy, recruiting them as a reference , creating testimonials (content), and engaging them in the various marketing and sales activities. At all times making sure that both parties are happy. In short – you are the one stuck between the customers and the stakeholders. And that could be badly injurious to your health for all the expected reasons. just kidding :-)
This function has become all the more important in 2014 for the following 2 main reasons.
1. The importance of Customer Success
Especially in a revenue model where customer value is not limited to one time buy, but spread across the lifetime of the customer in terms of support, upgrades, up-sell/cross-sell, referrals, being a reference, etc. Customer Success has become even more of a critical function for businesses that have a subscription model (eg. SaaS) where all revenue is equally spread along the lifetime of the customer.
- (See this blog article on the importance of Customer Success in SaaS in 2014- Predictions for Customer Success in 2014 (Lincoln Murphy with Nick Mehta of GainSight)
2. The importance of being the Most Valuable component in the Content Marketing Strategy
Remember content is king and queen today. Even Google will not find you if you don’t have content ! But the best part is that customer content a.k.a customer testimonials (quotes, photos, case-studies, video, etc included) is #1 within the content stack in terms of value and effectiveness. Reason being customer testimonials if done right comes with the dual benefit – Firstly, that of providing credibility, and Secondly has the ability to deliver that marketing message to your audience, which other pure content types have to try hard to accomplish.
- (see 1 cool example of how some companies are using testimonials from their Reference Customers – Best Examples of Rock-Star Customers on the Home Page. Pick your Favorite ?)
In the rest of this article i would be covering the challenges of the role in the perspective of REASON#2. Customer Testimonials being the Most Valuable component in the Content Marketing Strategy. (please watch this space for another blog article soon on the role of Customer Success Manager as it pertains to a SaaS business, and its linkage with the traditional Customer Reference Manager role)
Working with some of the Top Customer Reference Professionals in the industry gave us in-depth insights and learning’s on the challenges and solutions that could work.
I am summarizing it into 5 important areas as follows.
1. You never have enough Reference Customers. Ever. – You are always challenged in providing enough choices in terms of fitment of the right star customer for the right marketing/sales situation. It is probably not that you do not have enough happy customers; it is just that you don’t have enough willing and agreed customers that met all the criteria, and available at the moment. As a result, you tend to over-use certain customers, and under-use a lot of others.
- Focus on Creating Tangible Content – Of course recruiting more customers is the silver bullet solution, but the focus should be on getting written or recorded pieces of content. They act as solid proof points that the customer is happy and willing to vouch for you. And they have a considerable shelf-life and can be used off-the-shelf. It also addresses the Top 3 challenges of content marketing as seen in this info-graphic from Marketing Profs. Now, this does not take away the need for situations where you need customers to be available online, but it does fulfill the majority of your content needs, hence reducing the need for online situations.
(Infographic Source: Survey by CMI/Marketing Profs in 2013)
2. Where do you start ? – One of the biggest challenges in recruiting customers to be a reference would be where to start. You would typically have a large customer base and it is a no-win game to second guess which ones to approach and when to approach, especially when you are not the ones who has the best access to the customers ! That is – the availability of a high quality lead list with all the necessary details is one of the critical success factors.
- Build a solid pipeline – Work with people who have the best access i.e the Sales/Account teams. Have a mechanism for them to nominate their best customers. Put together a reward/award system to recognize the best contributors.
3. Synergize with Sales – Sales/Account staff are the best people to know the temperature of the customer, and also have the best access. But seldom are they motivated or vested in the overall process. Also, they are typically very busy selling and have very less time and persistence to followup for other non-sales activities.
- Build a Win-win Relationship – You need to address the top 3 concerns that they might have.
- What is in it for them? How they win by helping show-case their customer’s success. Everyone likes to be a champion.
- Piggy-Back versus By-Pass. Approaching the customer as a team with the sales person leading and not as a competing team is the key.
- Always keep in the loop. Sales/account team will always be the 1st person to be approached by the customer with a question/concern, hence always keep them appraised.
4. Kill Complicated Processes – Lengthy processes and multiple touch points is the biggest show stopper in taking a piece of testimonial from being just a customer intention to being a published asset for you.
- Keep it very simple yet realistic – Build a process that is very simple and transparent to all the parties involved. But always keep in mind that a piece of testimonial is an agreement that both parties agree upon as the common positive takeaway. It will need iterations and approvals, and your customer’s time/effort is very precious.
5. Doing manually is loss of productivity – doing things manually without the right tools and tackles would mean that you are spending a lot of time on the operations side, which means you are spending less time talking to the customers and the sales/marketing guys, which makes you less effective and spending late hours. Also, there is the high risk of things falling through the cracks.
- Use Systems/Tools – The key would be to use the right systems though, the one that is simple to use yet helps you manage the process end to end.
I am sure that i might have missed out on some points here. please feel free to add by commenting on this thread.
Summary: The role of a Customer Reference (Customer Success) Manager as it pertains to promoting the Customers’ Success has become all the more important in 2014 due to the high importance of Content in the Internet Marketing Strategy and the key role played by Customer Content a.k.a Testimonials (quotes, stories, case-studies, videos, discussions, etc etc). There are many challenges, but also practical solutions that can help make it become the Most Valuable component in the mix.
Now over to you. Please share your opinion and experience by commenting. thanks
By Anupam Bonanthaya
Anupam Bonanthaya is an experienced Customer Success Marketer and the Founder of CustomerRivet ( Rivet.ly - software that helps you to get more leads and more conversions by optimizing the use of customer and social proof in marketing)