29 May 2021

Customer reference programmes will soon reach their 30th anniversary: join us in time for the celebrations

Call them what you will, customer reference and advocacy activities continue to be worth their weight in gold. Sure, now and then they’ve adopted new coats. Today, not only found in traditional PDF garb they also sport video, podcast, infographic, blog, PPT and social media jackets. Nevertheless, high quality content remains the principal intent.

Our customer advocacy history

Having started the fashion in 1995, 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 came along. That made stories more interesting. With people at last having started measuring things, case studies containing quantified data became arbiters of choice; and absence of quantifiable evidence the reason behind failed bids.

At around the same time, CXOs emerged as the power behind the throne. Corporate reputation, online commerce, compliance, cybersecurity, and cloud all took seats at the table. Globalisation and public cloud hyperscalers joined as complex supply chains extended and networks became more powerful … and more expensive. Today, internet architectures are gradually elbowing out costly legacy technologies like MPLS, while relaxed regulatory environments are opening doors to lower international call charges over SD-WANs.

Against that background, the arrival of the CXO marked a customer advocacy shift. Suddenly top-level agenda setters wanted a voice. Getting an IT manager or software geek to bat on your side no longer counted. Many we know have not yet caught on to that.

Then, of course, COVID-19 came along and moved the needle once more. Not all bad news because marketing people have always been able to work from home. Paradoxically, we saw an initial increase in text-based customer reference activity as everybody suddenly got the time to talk. Having said that, video case studies dropped off for social distancing reasons and are only now beginning to pick up again.

So, keep your powder dry

The sting in the coronavirus tail is we’re starting to see marketing budget restrictions in some places as reduced business levels feed 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 many ways to improve return on investment. First, as indicated above, be more selective and make use elsewhere of the people and budget saved. Working out what case studies and how many you need is simple.

Second, improve your run rate. In these times, not every company wants the expense of full-time bid managers on the payroll. Aside from salaries upwards of £32,000 plus office space and training, there’s not always enough regular work to keep them busy. Help is at hand. As part of our service, we offer professional bid support. Our people have successful track records in sales and we know what works. Many clients use us to supplement resources or skills for top quality tender submissions. This doesn’t mean they can’t deliver the contract. They just need help portraying their strengths.

The third is concentrate on taking advantage of your 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 without the need for rented real estate in Barcelona, Düsseldorf, London, Milan, New Jersey, Paris, San Francisco, São Paulo, Toronto, and Utrecht, with other correspondents providing reach into Asia Pacific.

In a dynamic environment, our people can be working 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 assuredly be lower than you might be expecting.

Evaluation: As we’ve said, you really don’t need that many case studies. Say you’ve got three main product sets and five target industry sectors. Aim for two brilliant stories in each cell of the matrix and you’re looking at 30 in total. If you’re present worldwide 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 – a matrix mapping sector, solution, and geography. This deceptively simple tool highlights areas where your library is lacking, your sales teams may be slacking, or your coverage isn’t complete. Scorecards graphically show to marketing and sales teams where more focus is needed. Higher sales from more convincing bids will follow.

Incentivisation: Much-debated, this topic was well covered in one of our recent blogs. It offers a powerful way of using the salesforce frontline to advance strategic customer reference programme marketing objectives.

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. Most efficient, and developed by us, is this six-step process: internal briefing call; customer interview; first draft; internal approval; customer approval; distribution. Videos are similar, although a storyboard takes the place of the customer interview. Stipulate SLAs at each stage. It’s really that simple.

We’ve outlined above the basic tools taken to run a cost-effective digital customer reference programme. Bells and whistles can be added later. 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.

Small enough to stay agile and responsive, we’ve got the resources and resilience to assure stable and successful long-term relationships.

Reach out to GoRefCo. Be there for our 30th birthday. Don’t go anywhere else.

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