As all marketers know, there’s no tool more powerful than a customer telling prospects how much your product or service benefited their company. It’s generally not too difficult to convince a happy champion to speak one-on-one with a promising prospect — people usually enjoy talking with their peers — but these kinds of conversations typically happen near the end of the sales cycle to provide reassurance that they’re making a good decision.
To use customers in generating leads, you’ll need to scale up and provide your customers with a PR and marketing megaphone so they can communicate how fantastic you are to tens of thousands. Unfortunately, many customers get stage fright and are reticent to participate in media and marketing campaigns. And even if your champions are on board, their companies’ policies and legal teams may not be.
Thankfully, there are successful strategies for overcoming these barriers and getting customers deeply involved in your media and marketing efforts. Here are six suggestions you can use:
Get your company focused on getting customers involved: No one knows your customers better than the sales and support teams, so make sure they’re incentivized to turn happy customers into press and marketing references. However, creating incentives is just half the battle. Many organizations make the mistake of providing financial rewards without including the tools and guidance required to be successful. So, in concert with incentives, you need to educate them on how to approach customers about marketing and PR, provide materials that describe the many ways in which customers can participate, and build a process for submitting references to marketing.
Incentivize customers to participate and put it in the contract: Don’t forget your customers — incentivize them, too, and do so early, starting with the contract. It’s common, for instance, to include a clause that gives you permission to announce that they’ve become a customer. It may get negotiated out, of course, but this is a great place to start.
Beyond the press release clause, however, you can offer discounts for participating in case studies, webinars, press interviews and other efforts. Don’t go overboard with the discounts — you do have to make a profit, after all — but targeted discounts tied to participation can make a difference in securing customer participation and permission.
Don’t ask for a favor. Offer an opportunity: Many marketing organizations make the mistake of positioning customer participation in marketing and PR as doing the vendor a favor. Let’s be real: when customers participate in marketing and PR, there are significant benefits for them as well.
For instance, if your champion has larger career ambitions and is interested in increasing their profile, participation in press interviews, webinars and even case studies are an effective and free way for them to accomplish these goals.
What if your champion isn’t particularly interested in elevating their personal brand? Perhaps they’d like to see their group (whether it’s IT or some other function) receive more internal recognition for its work. A published case study or, even better, an article in a publication that covers their industry provides third-party validation that can go a long way toward turning executive heads and, perhaps, loosening the purse strings for more funding and resources.
What about their own marketing and PR efforts? Could they use a boost from your team to augment an anemic program? In exchange for some kind words about your product or service, they can be featured in media and marketing campaigns without having to fork over a dime. That’s a compelling offer.
Whatever the situation, work with sales and support to understand the needs of your champion, their business unit and the larger organization, and then tailor your request to communicate to them how participating in PR and marketing with you can help them accomplish their own goals.
Market marketing and PR opportunities to your customers: You’re likely already marketing to your customers through newsletters, webinars, customer portals and other media. Don’t forget to use these efforts to promote participating in marketing and PR!
Overcome objections — even policy objections — by providing alternatives: Let’s say your customer balks at a case study or talking with a reporter. Or perhaps they’re eager to do so, but company policy won’t allow it. Don’t give up. There are different levels of participation, so don’t assume that because your customer won’t let you issue a press release about them that all hope is lost.
For example, if they won’t speak to a reporter, might they participate in a contributed article? Many company policies regarding PR are put in place because the company fears losing control of their message. With a contributed article, the customer has almost complete control over the content of the piece.
What if they object to a case study? Would they participate in one that doesn’t name the company? These aren’t as effective as one that identifies the brand, but can still help you a great deal, especially if you don’t have other customer case studies in their market segment.
Start with the biggest request that you think has a shot at working, but make sure you have additional opportunities you can offer that require a lower profile commitment. Just getting permission to use their logo on your website is a win!
Hire a customer reference specialist: Incentivizing sales and support to create customer references is important, but no matter how good the incentives, they have bigger responsibilities. Hitting that quarterly number or ensuring customers can use your technology effectively will always beat out customer reference development.
If you have the resources, hire a specialist whose entire job is to create references for sales, marketing and PR. In our experience, this investment can have an enormous impact on not only the number of references you create, but also how deeply they get involved.
Want to go deeper in getting customers involved with your marketing and PR efforts? Get in touch. We’d be happy to help you develop successful customer reference programs.