For years, marketing professionals have been touting the importance of using customer stories in sales and marketing efforts. After all, what better way to reach prospective buyers than with tales of success from existing customers?
While these pleas have often fallen on deaf ears in the past, it seems the tide is turning and the practice is finally catching up with the promise. For the first time in over a decade of its publication, the Edelman 2017 Executive Summary shows that peers rank above the likes of CEOs, government officials, and financial analysts as credible sources of information during the buying process, putting them on par with academic and technical experts.
But it’s not just Edelman’s report revealing the growing trend. Recent findings from The Incite Group suggest that over 90% of B2B buyers are influenced by word of mouth when making buying decisions, while HubSpot found that only 3% of people consider sellers and marketers to be trustworthy.
These numbers raise an important question: “So what?”
The reports are actually a big deal because it means that if peers are now rated as credible as experts, and the level of trust in sales and marketing has fallen to new lows, the job of engaging prospects and driving sales becomes is more challenging than ever.
Already, the ROI from pushing content to buyers in the early stages of the sales cycle through automation is trending downward because buyers are overloaded with vendor-driven content and struggling to sort the wheat from the chafe.
They’re trying to understand which messages are the most relevant to them while simultaneously determining how credible that information is in the first place. And while the implication is that not all content is created equal, the greater insight is that what customers really want is access to the information they trust the most: the opinions and recommendations of others who’ve been in their positions before, their peers.
Gaining an advantage with peer-to-peer marketing
Understanding just how much influence peers have over one another makes capturing the voice of the customer a crucial step in improving sales success and setting your company apart from the competition. Peer-to-peer marketing is an emerging (and increasingly popular) strategy that facilitates connections between existing customer advocates and potential buyers across every stage of the sales cycle.
People want to hear from each other, how others have faced similar issues and solved them, what lessons were learned along the way, and how to achieve better outcomes. Whether it’s via customer success stories, community forums, or other media, few things are as effective for meeting those expectations as having an opportunity to actually connect with existing customers to hear (or read) first-hand about their experiences.
The challenge, then, for marketers is deciding how to leverage the fact that people are turning to their peers more than ever when making buying decisions bringing customer advocacy into focus at every sales stage.
Customer advocacy: more than just case studies
When potential buyers first become aware of your business offerings, they’re likely to turn to social media or review sites to learn about the experiences of your customers. The internet casts a wide net, and getting the stories of satisfied customers–in video, guest blog posts, traditional success stories, or as participants in a webinar–in front of potential buyers via their favored online networks and formats is a great opportunity to hook them early on.
As buyers move further into the purchasing decision process, it’s important to diversify the type and depth of customer evidence you’re using. It’s imperative to mobilize customer references in ways that go beyond just pointing to case studies such as inviting them to community forums to produce opportunities for buyers to hear directly from existing customers, ask them questions, and establish a baseline of credibility.
Going a step further, setting up 1-on-1 reference calls between a buyer and a satisfied customer have long been a popular option for encouraging the kind of no-holds-barred honesty between peers that people are looking for. When buyers are able to speak openly with your customers (and without someone from your account team looking over their shoulders), they’re more likely to believe what’s being said.
In the age of “fake news,” pay-for-play reviews, and unencumbered automation, leveraging the voice of your customer is the surest way to cut through the noise and establish a credible connection with prospective buyers in ways your competitors aren’t.
It’s also important to remember that putting customer advocacy at the center of customer marketing will also be beneficial in other ways. Not only will it help drive sales, but it also creates a compounding effect on happy customers. In other words, customer advocates help bring in new business, and those new customers become advocates themselves to perpetuate the cycle and keep your company’s good name top of mind for other prospects down the road.
Peer-to-peer marketing is a difference maker for marketers who understand its value and look for creative ways to employ it.
To learn more about using the voice of your customers to provide touch points with prospective buyers at every stage of the buying journey, download our free Peer-to-Peer selling ebook or contact us for a free consultation.