Make Customers Your Best Salespeople

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Today's social-media-driven environment has provided a broad platform for consumers to voice their delight or displeasure with a company’s products or services. These endorsements or disapprovals are so powerful that companies have been caught providing fraudulent reviews to persuade you to use their product or dissuade you from using a competitor’s. This easy access to experiential data has trained consumers to solicit reviews and references to aid their buying decisions.

This is true for the corporate world as well. The sheer power of and credibility associated with a positive reference from a well-known corporate leader highlights the need for corporations to incentivize their B2B customers to provide references for their products and services.

REFERENCES COME IN MANY FLAVORS

References can take a variety of forms. Some companies do not allow published references, but individuals associated with the buying decision or operation of your product may be willing to provide an informal reference. These can take the form of providing real performance data and quotes that can be used in an “off the record” endorsement, such as “A senior director of software development of a Fortune 120 consumer manufacturing company stated X.” You can also ask individuals with whom you have a good relationship if they would speak with prospects informally to relate their experiences with your product.

For companies that are willing to provide a formal reference, however, there are several options. Some of the most powerful include these:

  • A documented business case, one that showcases broad financial, operational, resource-allocation, and sustainability benefits; provides financial and operational analysis with actual performance data to demonstrate delivery of commitments; and includes quotes from senior management on the strategic value of the relationship and support of corporate initiatives such as cost reductions, reduced resources, and support of business expansion.
  • An agreement by the reference to provide a specific number of opportunities annually to meet and/or speak with your prospects.
  • Having the reference present a business case on your behalf at sales and customer events. When projects you’ve completed with a reference involve significant joint development and deployment efforts, suggest a combined presentation to highlight the collaboration, ability to work through the inevitable stumbling blocks, and unified focus your company exhibits with customers to exceed a project’s goals.
  • The reference agreeing to include its corporate logo on your website as a current customer.

If your company is also a customer of your customer, you can request bilateral references to extend the partnership and demonstrate the mutually beneficial relationship you develop with your customers.

TIE SALES CONCESSIONS TO BECOMING A REFERENCE

During the sales negotiation with a prospect, stress the importance of delivering on your promises and your unwavering objective to make them a satisfied, referenceable customer. Use the opportunity to meet customer requests for additional discounts, enhanced service-level agreements, or improved payment terms in exchange for an agreement to be a reference. This practice is used by successful consumer companies, which routinely provide discounts and incentives when a customer provides a referral. Given the cost of customer acquisition and retention, the money is well spent and the ROI eminently apparent.

Be very specific in the quantity, quality, and time frame of reference actions you are requesting. Know in advance the reference activities your company needs most and negotiate to ensure you get the actions that are most beneficial to your company. Size your requests in relation to your customers’—the greater the size of their requests, the more reference activities you will need to accept their concessions. Some customer may put contingencies on being a reference based on the outcome of the project. Welcome the challenge, as this customer will become a stronger reference when you deliver on your promises. Document specific project KPIs so there is no confusion about what constitutes success and ensure that you are agreeing to metrics you can deliver.

There is no better salesperson than a customer who has worked with your company and jointly delivered a successful project that met his expectations and your commitments. The advocacy of an impartial customer is unparalleled in providing credibility for your company’s expertise and operational excellence, helping to significantly differentiate you from the competition.

Paul Harney (pharney@itsoli.com) is director of sales for I.T. Solutions, an IT practitioner consultancy focusing on helping IT organizations solve their planning and delivery challenges with experienced and talented consultants across IT’s delivery value chain. Services include architecture/cloud migration assessment and road map, applications/infrastructure implementation, project management/business analysis as a service (PM/BAaaS), and technical/functional centers of excellence (COE).

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