WebJam: Unleash Your Customers' Voice

With David Meerman Scott and Jeff Ernst

Watch the webjam recorded on November 3, 2016 in which David Meerman Scott and Jeff Ernst talk about why and how to unleash your customers’ voice to win and retain more customers in 2017.

David Meerman Scott:  Hey, it’s David Meerman Scott here. I’m the author of 10 books, including the one on best known for, The New Rules of Marketing and PR, which has been translated into 29 different languages. And I’ve spent my entire career talking about how organizations can do better marketing. And one of my friends that I’ve spent a lot of time with along the way, Jeff Ernst, is here, we’re gonna be talking today about interesting ways to jump-start marketing that a lot of organizations really aren’t doing very much of, and if they are doing it, they’re not doing it in an effective way. Jeff and I worked together for several years when I was on the Board of Directors of Kadient and Jeff was the Vice President of Marketing at Kadient. Then, he moved on and was the Vice President at Forrester, big, high-profile job. And he’s recently started his own business and he’s co-founder and CEO of SlapFive. Jeff, how’s it going?

Jeff Ernst: Great, David, thank you. And glad to be chatting with you today about this very important topic.

Scott: And the topic is customer proof points and customer voice. And it’s so important because what I’ve been talking about for a really long time is the idea of content, content as great ways to do marketing. And so many organizations, when they think content, kinda get bogged down into the idea of product pitches. They think, “Okay, I’m gonna do content, I’m gonna create a blog and I’m gonna create a Twitter feed. I’m gonna do this, that, and the other thing.” And they end up being pretty egotistical about it. And that really doesn’t work so well in this new environment. So Jeff, you’re doing some really cool stuff around that. Why don’t you just kick things off here and let us know a little about what a customer voice program is?

Ernst: Sure. So let’s talk about why you need this. As you said, people are kinda doing fits and starts around trying to do customer proof points with case studies and testimonials and things like that. But why is it so important to be doing this now?

Well, as you now it’s all about trust, we live in this trust economy. Buyers today put so much more trust in what their peers and colleagues have to say than they’ll ever put in your sales and marketing messages, unfortunately. And I know you’ve said a lot over the years, David, about all the emphasis people put on their products. Well, I really believe it’s becoming more and more important now that companies inject the customer voice and use the actual words and stories and experiences of their customers to validate the claims that they’ve made and to earn that trust of customers.

And that’s really what I mean about what a customer voice program is, it’s a way to formalize and organize and make it much more efficient to operate a program where you’re gathering the voice of your customers in a more surgical way, which I’ll explain later, than people are doing today, but to basically knock down the biggest objections, fears, challenges and obstacles that get presented at any stage of your marketing and sales funnel.

Scott: So, I mean, when I go to Amazon, I’m totally looking at reviews, or if I wanna go to a restaurant, I’m checking out Yelp and whatnot. I understand that aspect of customer voice because those things are actually written by customers. Is that the sort of idea that you’re talking about here or is it something different?

Ernst: It’s the same principle of how people put more trust in what their peers have to say, but we’re taking it in a little bit of a different approach. And so if you think about the Amazon reviews or Yelp reviews or TripAdvisor, that’s giving third-party objective validation, hopefully, although sometimes it’s not always objective.

Scott: Yeah, I’ve been able to figure out when it seems like it’s real. It’s hard, but you can find little clues to whether it’s real or not, especially if you aggregate 50 or 100 reviews on a particular product. But sorry, I cut you off there.

Ernst: No problem. But the goal here is to be much more authentic and genuine with the voice that you’re bringing to bear. And as I said to do it in a more surgical way. And probably the best way to explain why I’ve built this methodology and process for how we do it, and I’ve built SlapFive as a technology platform to scale this, is to talk about my experiences at Forrester, where I built a customer voice program from scratch there and learned the lessons through trial and error on how to do it right or to arrive at the best-practice way that I’ve got to do it now.

Scott: That’d be really fascinating, ’cause one of the things that’s so interesting to me about Forrester is that, Forrester has built the entire business on the idea of trust and the idea of reputation. Because as an analyst firm, and a firm that provides advisory services, all it is, is opinions of analysts and other experts. And without that trust, without that proof point, Forrester wouldn’t have any clients. So it seems like you had a wonderful laboratory to be able to test out these ideas. I mean you weren’t testing it out, it was your job. I’d love to hear the experience.

Ernst: So, I’ll tell you a little bit about the story, about the program there, because I think it illuminates a lot of the thinking behind how people should scale their programs and make them more effective as they move forward.

And so, when I first took over as the VP of Marketing at Forrester, I took a look at what the team was doing, and they were doing a lot of great things around producing webinars, and field events, and Email campaigns, getting a lot of prospects to show up and consume the free content and advice that made Forrester look smart. But what we were struggling with was getting these people that were consuming this free content to then become buyers, and enter our sales pipeline. I like to say they would just take the free content and run.

And so, when I was looking at that I said, “Well, what do we do about that?” And I just couldn’t do more of the same. I knew I had to do something different if we were gonna really impact the growth of the company. And so, where I started is, I did a buyer persona project. I’ve always been a big believer in buyer personas, and I had previously been an analyst at Forrester where I did a lot of buyer persona work for our clients.

So I put my analyst hat back on and did a buyer’s persona project and I interviewed about 18 buyers of research services, and really dug into why they bought and why they didn’t buy, what their objections were, what their doubts were. And what surfaced were four key personas, not organized by any way that the company had ever organized personas before or thought of the roles, and it wasn’t by functional role, it was more by the problem or challenge that they have, that they’re looking for help with.

I’ll just give you a good example. One of the personas is one I called the ‘decision validator’. This is probably the best known persona for a company like Forrester or Gartner. This is the person, the executive, who needs to make an important decision and wants that third-party validation from experts that help give them more confidence in making that decision. And oftentimes, that decision is around the purchase of a technology, but it could also be around reorganizing their department or something like that.

And so, what was the biggest objection that I heard from those people, it would come out that, “Hey, I’m spending X-hundreds of thousands of dollars with Gartner or some other analyst firm. Why do I need Forrester?” And so, what I did to try to counter that objection, I said, “How can I do that?” I could try to give my sales reps more messaging when we’re competing with that company. But we’d already given them battle cards and other things to try to do that. So, instead I realized, “The only way I’m gonna knock this down is to hear what customers have to say about this.”

And so, then I went and I interviewed about eight or nine of my customers who were buying from both firms and I said, “Hey, just tell me, what is the incremental value that you get from Forrester above and beyond what you get from Gartner or the other analyst firms you work with?” And what I got from these people was pure gold.

So, you notice David, I wasn’t asking them to diss, to criticize anybody else. And I was basically, “Just tell me about the incremental value.” And one customer talked about… This was a manufacturer of industrial equipment that talked about how Forrester helped them really create a digital experience, had all the different touch points for interacting with their dealer network, as well as the end buyers, the farmers and construction people that buy their tractors, and talked about how Forrester helped them understand that persona and this or that. That was pure gold.

Scott: And how can you take that content that somebody gives you and turn it into something that was useful by salespeople who are trying to close similar business?

Ernst: Yeah. I’ll tell you what exactly I did. So, when I asked these customers this question, I just recorded it as an audio file basically, on the telephone, and then I created a landing page. I used a tool called Postwire, and I created this landing page where I put these little audio clips from seven different customers that had given me these great stories about the value that they get from working with Forrester.

And then I gave that to some of the sales reps that had told me that they were struggling to figure out how to differentiate from two of our biggest competitors. And when they started using that, and when they would get that objection, that question that I just mentioned or when they were in a deal up against one of those competitors, they would pull that out and share that with the customer. And because before they did that, they would try to struggle to answer that question, they would say some of the things about our coverage area and where we focus that others don’t. But the response from the buyer would be, “Well, Gartner says that too. SiriusDecisions says that too.” So, that didn’t make you different.

Scott: It strikes me that that’s so much more valuable to have actual words and phrases that somebody actually said than what so many other marketers do, which is make stuff up or reengineer something that was said to make it feel like a customer quote.

Ernst: Right. And it’s so much more believable too. And because, as we said, the buyers, I like to say the buyers want a crystal ball into what life is like working with you, and that’s definitely what Forrester wanted to know. You’re asking them to spend a good chunk of money for this intangible product, and they wanna know that they’re gonna be a hero as a result of that advice. And so, I was really surfacing these stories about people that were made heroes by the advice and guidance that they had gotten from Forrester and there are quite a few of them. So it wasn’t a challenge surfacing the stories.

Scott: Tell me what the metrics of success are. We marketers, I’m guilty of this too, we marketers love saying, “Oh, we made this great thing and a whole bunch of people looked at it.” That’s wonderful, but did it move the needle? Do you have any metrics that suggest that the salespeople were happy with this content or they closed more deals as a result of it or anything like that?

Ernst: Yes, I do, and that’s critical as well because Marketers have such little visibility today, into the impact that all the materials and content that they’re creating actually have in the sales pipeline. In this particular case, I was doing this specifically to help with the big roadblock in the sales pipeline. So the success metric was basically the average deal cycle time. How long does it take to close a deal? And so by bringing stories like this we were able to accelerate deals and make them happen much quicker. And we could see that in our Salesforce.com you could see that stage movement of opportunities was quicker when people were exposed and seeing these stories. And also, just the overall win rate. What would happen previously is, when that objection would come up, that would often be the reason why the customer, the buyer, stopped engaging and then went dark. Now, we could actually see an improvement in the win rate. And so that was both evidenced by the data in Salesforce, which is the truth and also by the anecdotal stories from the salespeople, that attributed this to helping them close the deal faster.

Scott: That’s awesome. Let’s segue a little bit here. I’ve been involved with a number of different organizations, either ones that I’ve been a marketer in, or ones that I’ve worked with or ones who have shared their marketing with me. And most of what they do to try to capture this kind of thing falls in these really traditional, and I think really ineffective ways of trying to gather this sort of information, these sort of proof points and whatnot.

For example, and I’m sure you’ve seen these things as well, the typical customer case study, and I’ve seen hundreds of these things, where a company will find a customer that’s willing to be interviewed; they’ll interview them. They won’t even know what all the good stuff is, for whatever reason it all falls on the cutting-room floor and they end up writing a story that basically says, “This company had a terrible problem, then we came in and we’re the saviours and now everybody’s living happily ever after.”

And number one; that’s boring, number two; that’s not even the thing that’s going to be the most helpful for salespeople. So I see that a lot. The other thing I see a lot are video interviews of customers, and again it tends to not really be focused on things that are valuable for others that are evaluating a potential product or service to move the needle. It tends to be more egocentric stroking of an organization. So what are you saying here that’s different than the sorts of things that I’m seeing out there that have been done for decades?

Ernst: Yes, it’s a great question because I’m guilty as anybody. I’ve probably created over a hundred of those boring case studies that have that traditional, “the challenge, solution, the results”, and the little happy quote in the sidebar. ‘Cause salespeople are always asking for more of those. You could have 10, they want 50. You could have 100 they want 200. And so a lot of the marketing departments are just chasing their tail trying to pump out more of those the old fashioned way.

But the real issue is that those don’t help buyers. Let me just talk a little bit about why they don’t help buyers and then some of the specific problems with them, but if you look at the buyer journey today, and as I said I’ve done a lot of buyer persona work and journey work. Buyers as they go through their buying process, they encounter specific questions, fears or doubts or objections or other points that just stop them in their tracks. And before they’re gonna be comfortable moving to the next stage with you, they want that resolved. And so, even though that nice company video, or that customer testimonial video that gives us all goosebumps when we watch it, it might create that emotional reaction, that feel-good reaction, but it doesn’t necessarily address those specific questions, fears and doubts.

Scott: That’s really interesting. I never really thought about that before but you’re right. I mean, I sort of experienced that myself. You might see a video and say, “Wow, that’s really cool.” But, does that take you to the next step of the buying process? Huh. Very astute there. ‘Cause I’ve never really put those two things together.

Ernst: Right. And the video, I’m not saying you shouldn’t do them because if you’ve got the budget to do it, I mean, it’s a great way to kick off a user conference is to show one of those customer videos with the music and professionally produced, and you’re filming their factory floor or showing their product in use. And as I said, it gives you goosebumps when you watch these things.

Scott: Yeah, as long you know where in the sales process or marketing process that belongs, and don’t misuse it, ’cause I see so many people that take a content asset that was designed for one thing or maybe wasn’t designed for something in particular but they use it at the wrong stage of the selling process. They are trying to use a piece of content that’s designed to move somebody to the final process of choosing product A or product B, which is someone who’s gone through the entire process over months. And many salespeople will give that content to somebody way up at the top of the sales process and where it’s absolutely ineffective.

Ernst: Right. And they’re also not taking into account the sales rep should be finding out what is the biggest concern on the minds of their buyer right at this moment. And by just saying, “Okay, I’ve got a buyer that’s in the financial services industry. Let me get just pull out my best financial services industry case study and sent it to the buyer and cross my fingers and hope it influences them.” That’s a prayer. Most salespeople have never even read the case study so they don’t even know what the issues or use cases were for that particular customer. And so, it’s like throwing spaghetti against the wall and hoping it sticks.

Scott: Right.

Ernst: And so the approach that I learned by trial and error at Forrester was to be more surgical about it. And so, you have to recognize that the buyers do have these, I call them the ‘QFDs,’ the questions, fears and doubts. And you have to identify what those are and recognize that when those come up, almost everything that ever comes up, a concern that a buyer has, can be best addressed by your best customers telling their stories about how they overcame the underlying issue. I don’t think anybody can dispute that, especially anybody that’s been in sales trying to overcome objections. There’s so much more credibility when a customer telling their story that knocks down that objection is being shared with the prospect.

And then, you mentioned a couple of the tools like the classic case study. Another problem if you notice with the case studies is that they all sound alike… If you take anybody’s case study and then…

Scott: Well, yeah. They sound like they are all written by the same person. There’s like some guy or some woman who specializes in writing case studies and everyone goes to the same person. They all use the same words, ‘best of breed’ and ‘innovative’ and ‘cutting-edge’ and ‘innovative’, and it’s nutty.

Ernst: Yeah. And the reason they’re like that is because here’s how we produce them, we wait, we beg our salespeople or our support people “Hey, do you know any customers that are willing to do case studies?” And then, after a while, somebody raises their hand and says, “Yeah, I’ve got a customer willing to do it.” So, then we spend a month or two trying to get permission from that customer and then we set up an interview, we hire the professional writer to go interview them.

And then the professional writer goes off for a couple weeks and writes up the narrative, the story. And then, it tends to be told full of your marketing speak and the messages that you’re trying to get across as a marketer vs talking about the customer’s real experience.

And then, it goes back and forth for review and a couple months have gone by, that’s very expensive to produce, and end result is a three or four page PDF, and buyers today don’t wanna read three to four-page PDFs, they want that specific question answered.

So, that’s one of the big problems.

Scott: The other thing that’s really interesting to me is that other than maybe you and Forrester, I’ve very rarely run across an organization that truly has a customer success program, a customer voice program. Most of my experience in working with other organizations, the experience in those organizations, is that this is not necessarily a big priority ongoing.

What typically happens in my experience is that it becomes a very, very high priority every once in a while when somebody gets upset, typically, the vice president of sales, “Oh my God, we don’t have any customer stories, we need some marketing, get your ass on the customer stories,” and all of a sudden it’s the fire drill of the month and everyone’s focused on creating some. And then a few get created and then it kinda drops off.

Or they’re having, the company is having their annual user conference, “Oh my God, we’re having annual users conference, let’s hire a video team, bring customers in and interview them, we’ll create a series of videos.” But it’s not an ongoing program. It’s not something that, that one or several people or the whole department is focused on, on a regular basis.

If we’re looking at a marketing plan for the next year or the next quarter, whatever period of time makes sense, how would you go about making this an ongoing important priority in your organization? What would the steps or what would the process look like?

Ernst: Yeah. So, that’s sort of the crux of what we wanted to communicate to people today. I’ve identified five critical success factors, five real things that the people should take into account as they’re formulating their plans.

And the reason I’m doing this is because I’m talking to a lot of marketers and sales leaders in the last couple months, that are very interested in what SlapFive is doing but they’re also in the process of trying to put their plans together for next year, thinking about, “Oh, we know we need to get more customer stories out there, what should we do?” Or, “We know that we don’t have enough customer validation of our claims, what should we do?” And so as you said, not a lot of people have this in a well-structured organized program.

It tends to be done very fragmented and so you might have the sales operations team running a customer reference program and they’re overburdening a few handful of customers in saving these references ’til the very end of the sale cycle. You might have the PR team looking for people to talk to the media or talk to analysts or they might be running an advocacy program to get people to amplify their voice on social media. Then you have the marketing team trying to do more case studies. You have the events team trying to get people to speak at their conferences or go to their booths at the trade shows.

So, it’s very fragmented. I call this the “Random Acts of Customer Proof”. And so, what do you about this? Well, let’s dig into a couple of things that I really think people need to be taking into account as they plan for 2017.

I’d say the first one is to set your goals or reorient your goals for these disparate activities, for why you think you need customer stories and proof points. Reframe these in terms of goals of how you wanna impact the business and specifically impact revenue. Like any initiative, you should really have goals, because too often the goals of the sales team, obviously the goals of the sales team is to close more deals, but a lot of times the goals of the team that creates case studies is just to produce more case studies, and they don’t really care about how effective they are or whether they’re used or not.

And so, I think this is where it’s a great opportunity for marketing and sales to work together because what you really need to do as you’re setting the goals for how you’re gonna impact the business is understand what are the objections, the perceptions, both false as well as valid perceptions, and what are the barriers that are slowing down buyers at all stages of the funnel? At the top of the funnel, middle of the funnel, bottom of the funnel, every company is encountering obstacles in their sales cycle. And this is where you should really be looking at these obstacles.

Don’t just create a case study because a customer said, “Yes, I’m going to do one.” Instead look at where their biggest pain points are in your funnel and figure out how can the customer voice and customer validation be brought to bear to knock that down. That’s what you need to do if you wanna actually impact revenue.

Scott: So that sounds like it’s… A typical journalist before they interview a source knows what they’d like that source to say, more or less. You’re hoping that they would either validate your thesis or they would… You sort of go at it from the perspective of you know what you want them to say. Whereas, what I’m hearing you say is that most people, when they do customer case studies, they don’t know what they want that customer to say so they just randomly ask questions. So gosh, what a different way to approach an interview with a customer for a potential customer story to already know the specific aspect that you want to interview them on, and sort of what a general thought is that you’d like to get them to say. Wow, that’s a pretty significant difference.

Ernst: It is a significant difference. And this is what I mean by being more surgical about your customer proof points. The reason you’re being more surgical is because you’re putting some thought into understanding what are those choke points in your funnel. And I’m a big believer in buyer personas but not everybody has done the, made the investment in buyer personas but even if you haven’t made that investment you can learn a ton.

I was just on a call today with a company’s sales team to really try to understand from them what are the biggest snags that they’re hitting in their sales cycles and where the customer voice could be brought to bear. And whenever I have these discussions, even with sales teams, it starts off a little tough because they’re talking about, there’s a lot of bravado.

But once I dig in and start asking some really pointed questions, they start to open up and share more of the actual issues that they’re struggling to overcome. And if marketing wants to impact sales in any manner, the best thing you can do is to help sales reps overcome the issues that they’re struggling to overcome, that are gonna then advance deals.

Scott: So, I think you’ve already answered this question but, should this program live in marketing, or sales or PR, or where should it live?

Ernst: So, that actually brings us to step two, the second big thing that I wanted to cover. Because the short answer is I think companies should consolidate the efforts around the customer voice with a single person or a single group, at least from an oversight and governance perspective, even if the actual detailed actives are taking place in different parts of the company.

But here’s a step that I would recommend and do before they figure out how they and where they wanna organize it. So, this would be to assess, take a look at your current customer proof point initiatives from two perspectives, from the deliverables themselves and the programs that generate these deliverables. So, focus on the deliverables first.

You need to take a look at what you’re producing from these different teams and say, “Are they being used by sales? Are they being consumed by prospects? How helpful are they? Are they impacting sales opportunities? Do the things that are being created, do they speak to the questions, fears and doubts that your buyers have?”

And I really believe that if you can’t answer those questions, you should stop those activities right now because there’s a lot of uncoordinated effort, around especially mid to large-size companies around these things that are often not producing any benefit. So, that’s one, really assess the deliverables, and then assess the programs themselves.

Again, I say this is the Random Acts of Customer Proof with all these different groups reaching out. It helps you just to even inventory all the people that are asking the customer for feedback and for stories and testimonials and things like that. And you may be shocked by how many you find when you take that look.

So, David, let me just kinda transition into my third big recommendation that people take into account right now because it’s so connected to what you’re just talking about with, “Where should this live?” What I strongly recommend as an organizing principle is that companies should, once they’ve identified all these different random acts of testimony and advocacy and customer voice, they should really bring it together under a single, what I call a ‘customer voice program’. That’s what I called it at Forrester, that’s what I’m calling it now when I recommend it to companies because it is really all about the customer voice, capturing the customer voice and managing and organizing it and then delivering it where it needs to be.

And it’s not just for new buyers. It can also be for existing customers where you can use the customer voice to help your existing customers use more. And that was another big use case I had at Forrester’s. We knew that the more likely… That the more that a customer was reading the research and speaking to the analysts through the inquiries, the more likely they were to renew. And so, we used customer stories within companies to capture the voice of customers talking about the experiences of the value they were getting out of Forrester, and then having those people share them with their colleagues in other parts of the company.

And as a way to both cross-sell and up-sell while also just driving more usage from the people that are already seat-holders so that they’re gonna be more likely to renew. So, the benefit of treating it like a more holistic customer voice program where you’re coordinating all the outreach, in doing so, what I strongly recommend to people is that you think about it as a program that you’re inviting the customer into. You’re then inviting the customer into this voice program. You’re positioning it with the customer and you’re actually running it as a two-way back-and-forth equal exchange of value between you and the customer because you want the customer to get as much out of it as you are.

Then, the expectation of the customer is that through this program, you’re gonna be gathering their feedback on an ongoing basis by periodically asking them questions. You’re gonna be using that feedback to both make them more successful, to make your product better, to make your service better. And also, you’re gonna be capturing their stories in a way that can make them look like heroes. And you’ll capture their experiences.

Scott: What’s really interesting to me about that is how different it is from the approach that so many companies do. So, many companies look at this as a one-way transaction that they’re trying and begging… They’re begging their customers to, “Please, please give us a testimonial. Give us… Endorse our product.” And it’s interesting how when that is asked for, that people naturally… I would, too, naturally get defensive and more than likely to either say, “No.” Or, if the customer says, “No”, then their public relations department will… I’m sorry… If the customer says, “Yes,” then that customer’s public relations department will then say, “No”.

So, when I hear you saying here is that if you can build this around creating value for the customer as well, it’s gonna be a much easier ask than in the old days when you said, “Oh please, would you give us an endorsement of our product?” That was really hard.

Ernst: Absolutely and I learned this the hard way as well and I’m guilty of running reference programs in my past. I was usually the guy running the reference programs and the advisory boards, loved it, but it used to be the old way of thinking about this is to offer incentives or rewards for customers to be references or provide testimonials. And I just don’t think that that is true advocacy. When you’re rewarding somebody, when you’re giving them a discount or a rebate, or a t-shirt or whatever it may be, when you’re giving people money or rewards for doing favors for you, that’s not genuine advocacy.

And even the behavioral scientists have proven that when you operate in that type of relationship with your customers, you condition them to just wait for the next reward to be offered before they’re gonna do anything. So, that’s not genuine and authentic, that’s more of a mechanical transaction. And so, that’s why it really does have to be a two-way exchange of value and that’s what’s gonna cause your customers to wanna participate. It’s the power of reciprocity. It’s the serotonin and oxytocin that gets released in the brain when you feel like a company is doing everything possible to make you successful, you’re gonna wanna return the favor and help make the company successful.

Scott: And I know some companies also offer rewards for the salespeople. If you’re a salesperson, your customer does a testimonial, then you get a spiff of some sort, which I think if you follow your advice, that whole requirement goes away and it makes it completely different from the salesperson’s perspective of, “Oh, this isn’t a chore to gather these things, but rather, it’s a privilege to be able to offer them.”

Ernst: That’s a great point and I believe that your salespeople and your customer service, or customer success people, they are the ones with the deepest personal relationships with your customers. So, they are the best ones to surface the customers who have great insights to share and great stories to tell and can also be the ones brokering the conversation and inviting them to participate in your voice program. So, I absolutely support that.

And I don’t think you need to give spiffs as much but it also… I thinks it’s a best practice and I’ve done this before to recognize and thank the employees who are surfacing them.

But the most important thing that you hit on was it’s no longer a burden because my experience has always been when I’ve tried to get customers to be a reference and you ask the salespeople, “Hey, who can be a reference? What about Bank of XYZ, could they be a reference?”. You know how you always get the excuse, “Oh, now is not a good time. We’ve got a contract negotiation going on with them… Well, we have a customer support issue.” Or, “There’s a reorg going on and our champion is been moving to another department.”

So, there’s always that protectionism that happens that sales or customer support doesn’t want you talking to their customers. By treating it as a voice program, you overcome that objection, and especially when you couch the questions or prompts or the things that you’re asking your customers to do to share their feedback, especially when that’s coming from the person that that customer has the trusted relationship with whether that’s your salesperson, whether that’s the customer support person or it might be an executive sponsor in your company.

Scott: Right. Cool. So, sounds like that’s a pretty good list of the things that I need to do to plan this program for… To make it an ongoing part of my marketing. Is there anything we missed there on the steps to get involved?

Ernst: We hit on a little bit but let me just add a few more points, so on my point number four, which I wanna make sure people take into account is you really need to rethink the definition of the term testimonial or proof point because it means a lot of different things to a lot of different people.

And just for sake of clarity of communication within your organization, you should define that term because some people use it just to be in that quote, that happy quote that says, “XYZ company rocks. I recommend them to anybody who’s looking for this.” A happy quote like that, that’s useless. We all love to get them, we all feel good when we get them.

And so, by rethinking the definition, you need to think about the most important thing here is the testimonial. Don’t think about it, and I learned this the hard way by the way at Forrester. Let me back up and tell you about that experience, when I was doing it at Forrester, I started off my voice program by asking people for endorsements and recommendations and testimonials. And, “Can you say something good about this? Say something good about that.” But you know what, people would… There’ll always be a reason why, “I can’t do that. My PR people won’t let me do that. I’ve got legal restrictions or I’m just not comfortable saying that.”

But you know what, at the end of the day, that’s not what buyers want anyway. They don’t want that testimonial quote or even that recommendation because what they’re more interested in is… As I said, that crystal ball into what life is like as a customer, they wanna hear your stories, good and bad about your experience.

And so, that’s why my big recommendation as you’re rethinking this, is make sure you’re asking your customers to share their experiences, their knowledge and their feedback, not asking them for the endorsement or recommendation because you’re gonna save yourself a whole bunch of frustration, as well as resistance. If you do it right and you ask them the questions and they know that you’re gonna share some of these experiences more publicly and you’ve gotten the right permission to do that, you do it in such a way that you’re helping the customer build their profile and reputation within their companies and within their industries, and who doesn’t wanna do that?

I’m working with companies in some industries right now that you would think their customers would have a hard time going public. One of them is the security software industry. You would think, of all places, why would somebody that’s bought security software wanna let the bad guys know what they’re using. But here’s an industry where these people wanna be thought leaders in their space and so, they’re out there sharing experiences on threats that they’ve discovered and improving the overall community’s response and ability to respond to new threats. So, there’s a whole sense of community there and a whole pecking order of thought leaders in the security practitioner space.

So, that’s really important. That would be my final recommendation there, have customers share their experiences and knowledge and feedback. Don’t go begging them for the self-serving testimonials because you’ll really realize that that’s what buyers want anyway. They want that genuine… They wanna know, “How did you go about getting executive level support for this initiative? How did you re-organize your team to support to do this? What snags did you hit that you wish you had known about before you started?” So, those are the types of things that buyers really wanna know.

Scott: Yeah. Absolutely. Cool. Did we capture all of them?

Ernst: David, I just wanna thank you for having this discussion with me and sharing your insights on this really important topic that I really believe companies need to make a very high priority in 2017 because there is no more important thing, I believe, that a marketing team can do than to make their customers successful and then showcase the success that their customers are having so that it drives deeper level of engagement and helps the company with the bottom line of acquiring new customers.

Scott: Absolutely, Jeff. There’s no question about that. That’s why I’m so excited about what you’re doing. That’s why I’m so excited about SlapFive. I did not say it at the start of the call, but I’ve signed on on Jeff’s advisory board as a member of the advisory board. I’m gonna be helping Jeff out on a regular basis as he’s developing the company. We’ve been speaking with Jeff Ernst who’s the co-founder and CEO of SlapFive. I’m David Meerman Scott. Thanks so much for listening in.