We’ve already looked at the mistakes that kill customer advocacy programs: focusing too much on pursuing your biggest customers, and insisting on sanitising the stories you share. Now let’s look at the solution. We’ve got five pieces of advice that can help you make a real success from your customer references.

1: Look outside the big leagues

Everyone likes reading about people like them. So why do all your case studies cover your biggest names? Represent all sizes, all industriesand all individuals in the buying group. Try mixing different companies up into one storyif a mining company and a retail enterprise are both using your software, why not compare and contrast their approaches to implementing it? It will show off your versatility.

2: Take a chance with the content

No prospect believes the “perfect” story that so many case studies tell. Instead, come clean about the mistakes you made, the screw-ups your partners and suppliers made, even the things your customer overlooked. Including these parts of the story will make it resonate with the reader and give you the opportunity to show how you triumphed over adversity with guts, initiative and sheer hard work. A perfectly smooth process says nothing about your skills, your processes or your people. Anybody can do an easy job well. Your reader will no doubt have been through a fair few nightmares in their careers. They’re looking for a team that can help them if things go wrongone that’s got experience of real-world situations.

3: Let the story guide the format

Case studies don’t have to be two pages long. Don’t let a “standard” format overwhelm common sense. If it’s a hugely important, complex dealrun with it. Let the content (and the reader’s interest in it) lead you. Give it four pages with diagrams and tables if it warrants it. Conversely, if you’ve got a story that takes half a side, don’t just pad it out, that’s just wasting the reader’s time. If your story is one of real human interest, why use text at all? Use audio and video to show the personalities in their own words. If it’s a story about the Large Hadron Collider or stewardship of the Grand Canyon, why not do a photo tour of how your solution made a difference to give the reader some eye-candy?

4: Show who your heroes are

People buy from people. Mix it up a little. Interview the end user, the CIO, the customer’s customerget some different perspectives in there. Make it personal, so the reader can relate. Name your salespeople. Name your customers. Name your engineers. Give them room to tell their stories. Let those relationships come out, and make the individuals and teams shine. They’ll reflect well on your products, processes and brand in a much more credible way than you could achieve on your own. And through their qualities and achievements they may become advocates.

5: Think of it as a programme

Once you’ve gone to all the trouble of interviewing a customer and getting their approval for quotations, don’t leave your hard work languishing on a server getting old. Tweet it, Facebook it, blog it; chop it down into a slide to use in presentations and put the presentation on Slideshare; grab the stats or a single quote to use across your websites; translate it; record it for YouTube; get your customers up on stage and in front of prospects at events; revisit old stories to issue “where are they now?” updates and demonstrate your lasting value. None of this need cost the earth, and the return on investment can be enormous. Remember that case studies aren’t just for clients. Use them internallythey can be a great way of generating that “feel good” factor. Publicise new stories on internal newsletters and categorise them on internal portals for sales teams and others to use. If you keep the reference programme top of mind your colleagues will bring you more leads.

Here’s where we come in

Customer reference programmes are vitally important, but there are a lot of small moving parts involved and it’s easy for more urgent tasks to take priority on your to-do list. Fortunately, customer reference programs are also the perfect project to outsource. Get in touch if you’d like to see how we can help.

Posted by John on 22 December 2010