Hardly any marketing communications activity is considered more valuable but also more challenging than customer advocacy. After all, you can say so many nice things about yourself, but when your customers endorse your company, product or performance, it takes credibility to a whole new level. Case studies, video testimonials, customer quotes and other public endorsement provide the sales organisation with the much needed collateral to get the deals over the line. And surely, journalists are just as keen to get their hands on exclusive customer stories, making reference activity the backbone of most public relations program.
With the stakes so high, it is unsurprising that organisations spend considerable time and resources building and maintaining their reference program. But as many marketing managers will attest, these coveted references are not always easy to come by. Here are a couple of ideas to boost the number of customer stories in the long run:
Invest in relationships
A commitment to reference activity in the contract is a good starting point. But from experience it comes down to relationships to get these stories off the ground. This starts with sales, as the account manager is typically the person that owns the customer relationship and acts as a conduit for all interactions. Understanding the manager’s expectations, schedule and red flags can make them powerful allies. On other occasions, the sales representatives will happily hand over the liaison with the customer contact to the marketing department, to manage the process from start to finish. Whichever approach works best (or you might have a mix of both), meeting and mingling with customers, for example at trade shows, customer conferences or training days, is always a great relationship building exercise for the marketing arm of the organisation. Once rapport is established, it is a lot easier to approach the relevant people for reference activity and get them to follow through internally on approvals.
Have a healthy pipeline
The road to customer advocacy is littered with obstacles. Even when things have progressed to the drafting stage, things can still derail along the way. The customer spokesperson might leave, reference activity gets pushed back due to other priorities, the customer’s legal or marketing department are slow to approve the collateral, and the list goes on. In many ways it is not dissimilar from the daily throwbacks of the sales division. And just like sales, the customer reference manager cannot put all the eggs in one basket. It pays to have a healthy pipeline and review stalled opportunities periodically ensure a steady release of press releases, case studies and other references, even when things go painfully slow behind the scenes.
Think integrated marketing
An integrated approach helps to maximise the return on investment in reference activity. A campaign could for instance commence with the press release to generate market awareness through traditional PR, follow up with a lead generation mailer based on the full text version of the case study and push the content also on social media, the company website and other digital channels. To miminise the downtime and inconvenience for the customer, it also makes sense to look at multimedia options from the get go, starting with written collateral to quality video testimonials and animated slide decks.