30 September 2022
Customer reference programmes will soon reach their 30th anniversary: join us in time for the celebrations
Call them what you will, customer references continue to be worth their weight in gold. Sure, they’ve adopted new coats. Today, not only found in traditional PDF garb they also sport video, podcast, blog, PPT and social media jackets. But high-quality content remains the principal intent.
A customer reference history
Having started the fashion in the 1990s, our company’s now coming up to 30-years’ experience in the game. So, what’s changed in that time? Well, for a start, digital transformation, which made stories more interesting. With people having started measuring things, case studies with quantified data became crucial. Absence of such evidence the commonest reason behind failed bids.
At around the same time, all-powerful CXOs emerged. Corporate reputation, compliance, cybersecurity, and cloud took seats at the table. Public cloud hyperscalers joined as complex global supply chains extended and networks became the missing link. Today, SD-WANs are elbowing out costly legacies like MPLS, while relaxed regulatory environments are seeing lower call charges.
Meanwhile, better marketing signalled a customer advocacy shift. Suddenly top-level agenda setters had to have a voice. Getting an IT manager to bat on your side no longer counted.
Then, of course, hybrid working came along. Although marketing people have always been able to work from home, we saw an increase in text-based activity as everybody got the time to talk. Yet video case studies are picking up again as people are happy to meet more often.
Keep things tight: too much is as bad as too little
The sting in the tail is we’re see ing marketing budget restrictions as reduced economic activity feeds through. The obvious answer is to focus on quality – of customer and solution – rather than quantity. As we often ask prospective customers, “Do you really need hundreds of case studies when many will be viewed only once and lots of them are pretty similar?”
Of course, for bid responses, award submissions, annual reports, and so on, one will always need reference customers. But there are lots of ways to improve return on investment. First, be more selective and make use elsewhere of the people and budget saved. Second, improve your run rate. Not every company wants the expense of full-time bid managers. Aside from salaries and overheads, there’s not always enough regular work to keep them busy. We can help with professional bid support. Our people have solid track records; they know what works for top quality tenders.
Third, concentrate on taking advantage of competitors’ weaknesses, especially if you’re attempting to enter their territories. Having lots of domestic stories doesn’t really cut the mustard when you’re trying to build a market presence elsewhere. But using agencies that charge for local office overheads can be a very expensive way of working.
On the other hand, we’re represented worldwide without the need for rented real estate. Our people can work one week on a video in Canada and a podcast in the UK, the next on a value proposition in India and a case study in Latin America, and then finish the month on an eastern European assignment.
Try doing it our way
Like many things in marketing the most powerful tool is common sense. Running a customer reference programme really ain’t rocket science, although plenty of agencies would like to argue otherwise to justify higher fees. Here are the essentials:
- Compensation – Following the guidelines below, the annual external budget you’ll be facing will certainly be lower than you might be expecting.
- Evaluation – As we’ve said, you really don’t need that many case studies. Aim for two brilliant stories in each cell of your industry matrix. You may want to replicate that in all global regions, but if the brands are strong household names that may not be necessary.
- Segmentation – Use a three-dimensional scorecard mapping sector, solution, and geography. This deceptively simple tool highlights areas where your library is lacking, or your coverage isn’t complete.
- Incentivisation – Much-debated, this offers a powerful way of using the salesforce frontline to advance a strategic customer reference programme.
- Production – Alongside business-literate writers, graphic designers, and video producers, our programme managers ensure we deliver to time and to budget: first time, every time. A six-step process works every time.
Peerless marketing specialists
We’ve outlined above the basic tools for a cost-effective digital customer reference programme. However, our bet is you’ll find all you need among our peerless group of marketing specialists, where graduate recruits with strong digital roots complement seasoned client-side professionals.
Finally, we trade on three USPs:
- We’re business-literate with up-to-the-minute understanding of technology, and we’re pleasant and professional to work with.
- Managing anything from point projects to entire integrated marketing campaigns, we offer a safe pair of hands.
- With fair-priced transparent project or campaign commercial terms, we ensure you’re always in financial control.
Finally, we’ve got the resources and resilience to assure stable and successful long-term relationships. Just ask our customers.