Play it Forward, Sales: Give Marketing Access for Customer Case Studies

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The most frustrating part of being a marketer, at least in companies with high-touch sales cycles, occurs when sales gates access to current customers.

We’re all on the same team here. Sales is on the hook to act on qualified leads and close deals, and continue to grow existing business. Marketing, while having its own external-facing awareness role, is also on the hook as an internal supplier for sales at every stage of the customer journey.

Together, we always want to play it forward, generate more quality leads, resulting in more qualified meetings and more customers. We build sales messaging that is on target, ROI tools, competitive intel, and educational content to share and leave behind. Especially customer case studies – when they are relevant, they are the gold standard of marketing assets for decisionmaking.

There is, however, one sales phrase that always sucks air out of the balloon when it comes to getting case studies:

“It’s not a good time.”

Maybe there are some very tight negotiations going on for a renewal. Maybe the customer is dealing with a severe support issue. Sometimes, it is truly “not a good time” to propose that marketing has a chat with your customer. But what if it is simply “not the perfect time” to talk?

If everyone waited for the “perfect time” to have children, we might go extinct.

If you wait for that perfect time to appear, it almost never will. Customers will always have new projects, critical deadlines, mistakes to correct, and changes in their business and team makeup. The best time to gather stories from customers, even if it is not 100% positive, even if all the results aren’t in, is right now. Why the urgency?

A customer champion won’t be there forever

Our customer champion is interested in exploring and evangelizing new solutions. They act as a change agent within their own company. This person is always looking for ways to improve their business, and improve their own career trajectory at the same time.

Great salespeople interact with customer champions as trusted advisors, however the dynamics of even the best sales/customer relationships tend to lean toward goals, or where the company is going, rather than stopping to review and gather customer stories while they are happening.

Since we all love football metaphors, let’s say you are selling a predictive play-calling tool to one of the assistant coaches of a team. Obviously, this coach wants to contribute to a winning season, and that’s why they are evangelizing your innovative solution within the team. If they are successful, they might get promoted to Defensive Coordinator next season and no longer be as concerned with your tool. Or, they may take a leadership role that opens up at another team. It’s not personal, it is just how top performers tend to progress in their careers. If you wait until the end of a great season to gather their experiences, what if they’ve already moved on to other responsibilities?

Off-the-record is better than no record

Publicly available case studies will always be the gold standard of marketing assets. Engaged prospects at all levels of an organization will look for relevant case studies at some point in their solution research, especially at decision time. What happens if the customer says they are unable or unwilling to do a case study due to company policy or internal politics? 

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Most customers are more than willing to talk “off the record” to marketing. Even if it is not going into a public case study, hearing these stories provides a valuable back channel and contributes to a “generic” or "names/specifics redacted" case study for that person’s role and industry that can inform the dialogue at every stage of the customer journey.

Simply by being a good listener who is not directly involved in the sales cycle or service of the product, a marketer can be a sounding board for customer issues and improve customer experience. We can learn how they learned about us, or some of the challenges and successes of adopting the solution, or some product features or fixes they want to request that they feel aren’t being heard. Having an open channel for feedback means we all need to hear and share customer concerns.

Whatever you can capture off the record, you should collapse for your own internal knowledge base – a matrix of “generic” customer stories (By industry, role, solution, partner, company size, geography). You can also prepare and play back a written story. Send it to the customer for validation to make sure you got their impressions right. You never know, they might see that the resulting case study is much better than they anticipated, and be willing to go forward with an approval for broader use. If it makes them look good, and makes their company look good, where’s the harm in that?

Save your customer some reference hassles

If you have a customer that is referenceable, but has not captured a story about their journey, they might as well get ready for a lot of calls from other prospects. As an account manager you can try to shield your customers, but that becomes harder to do when important deals are on the line across sales territories.

Don’t burn out a great customer champion with too many referral calls from peers at other companies. At the very least, reduce the amount of time needed per reference. If the customer already has a great success story on record, there is no longer a need to waste as much time with one-on-one reference calls covering the same ground, as the fundamentals of the story are already there and can be shared with the prospect.

It takes a customer to know one

As a buyer of vendors and services in a marketing function, some part of my own success depends on my buying decisions, unless the service is basically a commodity. I am most put off by companies that don’t seem to understand my situation when communicating with me, since as a marketer I don’t get a pass on that. 

While Marketing seldom reaches the level of customer interaction reached by sales or consulting teams, we do need to walk a mile in their shoes. Meaningful contact with customers helps marketing get the message right, build the most valuable sales tools, and keep personalization and outreach efforts on target.

So Sales, play it forward to Marketing. Make a habit of encouraging your customers to take a little time with marketing to capture their story. And Marketing, play it back to sales with stories that engage customers at every step of their journey. Pledge not to waste one iota of each customer’s time, and make the process one more part of a great customer relationship that will build success and positive referrals far into the future.

Seeking a strategic and creative boost for your technology marketing efforts? Contact blueFug Ventures today and find out how we can partner with you.