Using Reference Customers in B2B Sales

Using Reference Customers in B2B Sales

Last week when I spoke at the Eastside Incubator on “Enterprise Sales for Startups,” there were a lot of questions from founders on reference customers, including how to leverage them as case studies and use cases. In business-to-business (B2B), reference customers are an important part of the selling process because they demonstrate to potential buyers that other customers have successfully implemented and are using your product or service. Below is a brief overview of reference customers and how to use them in different formats with buyers.

  • Reference Customers – A reference customer is a company that has successfully deployed your product or service and is using it to create value within their organization; i.e., increase revenue or reduce costs. Generally, a specific contact is provided with the reference customer. The reference contact is someone who worked closely with you and your team before, during and after the sale. Their purpose is to discuss with potential buyers what it is like to work with you and your company. They also serve as proof that you can do what you say you can do.
  • Case Studies – A case study sets forth a specific business problem at a customer and how it was successfully solved by your company. Case studies generally have four sections: situation, problem, solution and evaluation. In the evaluation section, why the customer decided on your product or service is discussed, as well as the specific benefits and return that have been derived from same. Benefits and return should be expressed in dollar values. Effective case studies are generally between one and three pages in length.
  • Use Cases – A use case sets forth how another customer is using your product or service to solve a specific business problem. For example, a use case for Twitter is to distribute new corporate blog posts to followers. Another Twitter use case is the service team engaging with existing customers on satisfaction issues. Similar to case studies, use cases also set forth the specific benefits and return that customers are deriving from your product or service. Use cases are generally 1-3 pages in length. Many are also communicated in video form.

It is important to remember with reference customers, as well as with case studies and use cases, that the more similar the company (industry or size), the more similar the problem (increased revenue or reduced costs), the more similar the contact (role or title), the better. For example, a case study with Microsoft may not resonate with a startup. Thus, building a reference library is important. In addition, because reference customers are regularly used by buyers to make decisions and mitigate risk, always be open to doing something creative or special to get them.

All contents copyright © 2013, Josh Lowry. All rights reserved.


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