Cultivating Customer References in a B2B Environment

Most of us understand the value of positive customer reviews. Especially in the world of online retail, a positive product rating on Amazon can represent a big boost to sales. Data suggests that roughly 90 percent of Amazon users believe positive reviews influence their purchase decisions, while 86 percent say the same of negative reviews. Because of the volume of buyers and sellers and the ease with which customers can provide feedback, Amazon can give a lot of information to potential buyers.

But in the B2B world, there isn’t typically an online platform showcasing thousands of reviews and star ratings. Depending on the industry, a B2B business might only have a few dozen clients — possibly fewer. Cultivating B2B references for these businesses can be a deciding factor for potential customers on the fence. Let’s face it: B2B relationships frequently mean big spend and long commitments, so anything that can be done to assure a potential customer they’re making the right decision is a great arrow to have in the sales quiver.

Do Good Work

This is so obvious it may not even merit mention, but it’s also painfully true. So often sales staff will be frustrated when going to the business unit to solicit potential references to hear that “this customer isn’t a good reference” or “we’re working through some issues with that customer at the moment.” It’s hard to sell when your existing customers aren’t completely happy with your work.

Know Your Weaknesses

A business can’t be all things to all customers. There will always be some things you could do better. You need to know what these are and which customers are not satisfied with those weaknesses. You want a customer reference that is focused on what you do well and doesn’t see your weaknesses as an issue for their particular business process.

Understand Your Prospects’ Key Concerns

Doing your homework on your prospect up front will make it much easier to identify references among existing customers. If you don’t understand what their primary aspirations or concerns are, it’s hard to know which customers shine the most favorable light on how you do things.

Know Who Your Best References Are

Nichole Auston, marketing director for Influitive, writes, “Advocate marketing programs are most successful when there is a depth and breadth of customers you can call upon for any sales or marketing situation under the sun, including customer references. As such, you’ll want to audit your pool of customers to find the gaps that may exist.” No B2B relationship is perfect, and there are going to be some customers who feel more strongly about your product or service than others, and some that have a more favorable opinion about specific aspects. Once you understand what your prospects are looking for and are most concerned about, having a great audit of your existing customers can help you select the best references for a particular prospect.

B2B businesses often operate in a relatively small pond with a lot of big fish. Those fish frequently know each other and talk to each other. And while this informal reference channel should be bound to a large extent by confidentiality restrictions, a formal reference can offer a prospect a lot of answers to his or her questions and concerns — and could very well make the difference in securing a sale.

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