Underrated customer testimonials make a comeback

Unfortunately, people are tired of hearing from you.

“My company does this, my company does that. My staff is wonderful. We provide the best service. Blah, blah, blah.”

Traditional marketing — advertising, brochures, direct mail, media releases, even your Web site —

is usually all about you waxing eloquently about your products and services. It’s from your perspective, talking about why customers should select your business over the competition.

Blowing your own trumpet is fine. But hey, no one wants to hear Chuck Mangione all the time (trust me). You need someone else to sing your praises. Cue the customer testimonial, an underrated — and underused — marketing tool.

Compared to your self-promotional marketing — “We’re the best because, well… we say so!” — customer testimonials, or reference stories, add a level of third-party credibility that you simply can’t offer. You already know this works. Think of the times a potential lead arose after being referred by an existing customer, and how that sped up the sales process or even helped close a deal. Why not harness that “word-of-mouth” influence into a broader marketing program? Let your customers help “refer” more than just one person at a time.

Better still, reference stories best demonstrate how a real-life customer benefited from your products and services. “Don’t just tell me what you do, show me” is what the market prefers. Customer stories fit that bill.

Here are some considerations and tips when developing and executing a customer reference program for your business:

First, get the customer references

  • If a pool of potential customer reference candidates is not readily available, consider implementing an incentive program for your sales force to bring them forward.
  • When offering pricing discounts to customers, consider incorporating a clause in the sales agreement that requires the customer to allow you to promote your product installation or service in marketing activities.
  • Explain the customer reference process to the customer clearly: you want to showcase them as an example of your business through a variety of marketing vehicles. Explain the customer will have final approval of any materials you produce. Most importantly, explain that a customer testimonial will also increase exposure for them as an organization or business that is now operating more efficiently and competitively — something their customers, employees and shareholders would look upon favorably.

Now, tell the customer’s story

  • Resist the temptation to showcase your business. Remember, you gain exposure by highlighting the customer’s experience with you.
  • Incorporate these four essential components: a brief background on the customer and what it does; the business problem it had; what your solution was; and how your solution made a difference.
  • Ideally you want to demonstrate the how your products and services now allow the customer to: do something it couldn’t do previously; either make more money or save more money; or operate more competitively and efficiently.
  • Numbers speak volumes, especially dollar figures. Provide tangible examples. For instance, your IP telephony installation has reduced the customer’s telephone long distance and maintenance costs by 20 per cent monthly, or your new CRM solution has reduced customer service waiting periods by 15 per cent.
  • Promote the heck out of them

Use your customer testimonials in multiple marketing vehicles. Advertising is the most obvious. Press releases are also effective, since journalists and editors are looking for real-life examples of businesses using technology in interesting or unique ways. When your customer is featured, you shine through the halo effect. As well, a simple slide or PDF of the customer story can easily be included in sales presentations and sales kits. Brochures for trade shows, direct mail campaigns, your Web site — all can illustrate customers extolling your virtues.

Avoid an all-Mangione, all-the-time marketing program (please!). Let your customers help play a set or two on your behalf.

David Morelli is manager, Canadian communications and global programs, 3Com Corp.

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