They say that a person is known by the company he keeps. The same is true in the B2B marketplace.

So why not let the company you keep do the talking for you?

Using references early and often in your marketing strategy is the secret to creating and effectively communicating your message to prospects without overwhelming them. A good beginning makes for an even better ending.

It used to be that customer references were once thought to be a checkbox at the very end of a sales cycle, and even then, only upon request. But buyers in today’s B2B marketplace have more options to choose from than ever before. Therefore, peer-to-peer endorsements provide invaluable credibility and interest, even early in the buy cycle. In fact, incorporating customer references into a variety of touch points throughout your prospects’ buy cycle can move them further along the funnel faster and provide a much more effective engagement model in the process.

You only get one chance at a first impression

Using customer references in your lead generation can help improve the first impression because your message is being delivered by a credible third party rather than by a salesperson out to close a deal.

The key to success is integrating customer references into all possible sales and marketing lead generation initiatives:

Web & Search Marketing

Add teaser videos, testimonial quotes and customer reference collateral to motivate an opt-in or contact form completions. Give prospects just enough to wet their appetites, then place calls to action on the landing page that encourage users to access the full content in exchange for their information. The effectiveness of landing pages and calls to action can be easily tracked and quantified using your web analytics program.

People Love Videos

Video is the most compelling form of customer engagement media because it allows people to see faces and hear voice inflections. Customer reference videos don’t have to always be the expensive, polished interviews. Authenticity is key! Sometimes a customer giving a short 30 second testimonial ‘selfie style’ from their phone is more effective than the fancy interview with lights and microphones. Publish customer reference assets as video “teasers” on your website, in your email campaigns, in your social media campaigns, and more. Tag them with keywords your prospects would be searching for and post them to communities, social media and sites like YouTube for your prospects to find.

Get Social

There are multiple ways to share your reference collateral and foster interactions with prospects via social media. It has never been easier to share your media across multiple platforms. A sales rep could post customer reference media simultaneously on the company LinkedIn or Facebook, share it directly to his or her LinkedIn or Facebook, send it directly to prospects via Messenger apps, tweet it out to prospects, upload the image to Instagram, pin it on a board of relatable content, post it to Reddit and/or Tumblr, and snap it out to the community all within a matter of minutes. Companies could maximize on this social media strategy by more effectively publicizing or promoting their social media initiatives. Promoting and publicizing social participation outside of the communities of origin give ‘social proof’ of your company’s relevancy, efficacy, and popularity.

Reward Activity

Drive social media engagement by implementing a Reference Rewards Program to incent customers to chat you up more with their peers online. This can promote additional social media chatter about your solution and create more credible third-party endorsements. Rewards can be as simple as a gift certificate to more valuable prizes like 1:1 meetings with your exec team or tickets to an industry event.

Online Communication & Collaboration Sites

Give further support to your interactions by incorporating customer references that speak to the same topics that your prospects are buzzing about. Use popular sites such as Reddit, Pinterest, Tumblr, or create more personal buzz content and send it directly to your prospects through the ever-popular messenger apps.

Email Marketing/Marketing Automation

Feature testimonials and customer interviews as compelling email content to entice prospect engagement earlier in the cycle. Summarize a case study to showcase a success story. Invite prospects to attend a webinar that features one of their peers sharing best practices tips and tricks. The point is to be able to tie in to your existing campaigns while showcasing your customers’ voices to lend additional credibility to your message.

Tagging and Trigger Campaigns

Email nurturing campaigns are perfect places for finding additional ways to incorporate customer reference collateral and help convince prospects of your sales proposition. Telling customer stories in email campaigns not only brings a touch of human interest to your marketing automation efforts, they can also help foster prospect tagging and behavior triggering. It’s powerful when you can share a video of your customer talking about how much they love how you’ve helped them and their business. An enterprise can integrate its marketing automation activities with its customer reference program by leveraging reference asset “teasers” in its email tagging and trigger campaigns.

Professional Branding for your Sales Executives

Use the genuine endorsement of happy customers (hello LinkedIn recommendation!) to give further credibility to your sales team. Since the message is being delivered by a customer that is just like your prospect, they will be more apt to listen and have more trust in the sales rep trying to sell them your solution.

The traditional way of using customer references in the sales cycle is evolving. Technology is changing the way prospects digest information during the buy cycle, which means they are gaining access to more information at faster rates than they once were. With so many new and easy ways to incorporate customer references into your marketing and sales strategies, the opportunities to influence prospect decision making earlier in their buy cycles are growing.

Nichole Auston
Customer Marketing Director at RO Innovation
Nichole Auston is the Customer Marketing Director at RO Innovation. With a background in digital marketing and nearly a decade of experience managing marketing programs for a variety of SaaS companies, she’s passionate about sharing insights, best practices and stories about sales enablement and customer reference management, and the people and technology that power it.