Using References to Penetrate Marquee Customers
From the June Issue of Reference Point:
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Marquee customers, particularly large ones, can provide an enticing opportunity for expanding your reach, both in finding more references as well as new customers.
Suppose, for example, your company has a terrific, marquee customer--we'll call it "JP Wal-Ford"--that's very happy with your work and is willing to engage in at least some level of reference activity. But within JP Wal-Ford, you only have one or two such references. There are potentially dozens more potential references. You'd like to get more. And while you're at it, you'd like to help your firm get more customers from within JP Wal-Ford. In some cases, you'll be in a better position to reach them than your account managers.
Here are some tips for doing so.
First, Understand Your Client's Business
This will inform everything you you do to expand your reach. What are the agendas of JP Wal-Ford's senior executives: at a minimum the CEO and the C-level executive who's over your current customer references. You can find what senior leadership is focused on relatively easily by looking at their quarterly reports, company press releases, and by searching them on the Web. There's no excuse for not knowing this information.
Checklist of things to know about your key-customer firms: Their industry, their overall strategy, where the CEO wants to take the company, and what it's overarching challenges are. What keeps the CEO up at night?
Second, Know Your Reference
This or course goes without saying. Build a relationship with your reference. Understand her job, her responsibilities, what keeps her up at night, what her goals and aspirations are, and so forth. If appropriate, connect with her on LinkedIn. Take a look at her connections, particularly those within JP Wal-Ford. Whom does she know that you'd like to get to know?
Reaching Out: Ask for Referrals
As you build your relationship with your current references, based on a mutual exchange of value, ask for referrals. Here are some examples of questions you might ask:
- Who else within JP Wal-Ford is using the solution or services that we're currently providing?
- Who else is benefiting from them, perhaps indirectly, and how?
- Who are the executive sponsors behind this initiative? How are they benefitting?
- What larger strategic purpose does your our solution or service support or contribute to? (Your knowledge of JP Wal-Ford's strategy will help inform this discussion, and prompt your reference to think of other groups of business units who are benefiting from your solution and willing to say so.)
- Are there communities within JP Wal-Ford that your current reference is a member of, and that you might participate with in some way?
"Pulling in": Ideas for Joint Activities That Attract Customers to You
Here are some ideas for "pulling in" more references, and possibly new customers as well. Some of these are time consuming, but if penetrating the customer has enough value to your firm, they're worth it:
- For case studies, suggest that the buyer invite another key stakeholder for a joint interview about the work they're doing (that's been aided by your solutions, of course).
- Suggest writing a joint article, blog post, or even a series for in-house publications, blogs, communities, etc.
- For the in-house publications, ask what sort of content are they looking for. What sort of ANSWERS are their readers looking for? Perhaps you or someone else at your firm can provide them.
- Invite potential references to key presentations put on by your firm or industry thought leaders.
- Offer to speak or provide other interesting speakers from your firm at their company events.
- Provide information or other forms of value to potential references or buyers at JP Wal-Ford.
- Participate in their community outreach or charitable activities, particularly if you or members of your team are genuinely passionate about the cause. If you do participate, get involved on committees, teams, etc.
- Networking: are there opportunities for you to get to know other users or beneficiaries of your firm's services at JP Wal-Ford, such as at company networking events or mixers, company conferences, etc.
- Learn what associations your references at JP Wal-Ford belong to, attend. Does it make sense for you to attend, join these?
Don't Forget to Prospect for New Buyers as Well
That's implicit in the list above, but is worth mentioning explicitly. I sometimes think that one of the great overlooked opportunities for reference managers is to uncover new sales opportunities for their firms. Why? Because account managers are often focused on where the next deal is coming from, whereas reference mangers are focused on nurturing reference relationships and understanding how these customers are currently using your solutions. That information can often lead to new opportunities for business with this buyer, or referral business with his colleagues.
So some additional questions to ask your referral customers. These can be particularly valuable to ask about six months or so into the implementation, when reality has set in. The reference will have a better understanding of what your solutions can do, what sorts of benefits are really being provided, and who else at their firm might find your solutions beneficial as well.
- Who else at JP Wal-Ford can use our services?
- What is the larger business goal of this project? Who else needs to get involved?
- Who else is affected?
- What else do you need from other organizations within the firm? Can we help them provide this?