Do your customer references generate demand? One of the many stakeholders of a comprehensive customer reference program is demand generation. The Demand Gen team focuses on the very, very top of the sales funnel, where enticing email campaigns, webinars, and digital marketing are the name of the game.

B2B buyers are bombarded daily with demand gen communications and content. There’s a lot of noise out there, with each company attempting to differentiate itself from the competition. If you’re a customer reference professional, you’d probably be surprised by what a small percentage of messaging includes real customer stories. Yet, it’s common knowledge that customer stories are more emotionally compelling and relatable than vendor-generated solution claims and analyst opinions.

So, why is that? Probably because, like the other reference customer “consumer” in your company, it is difficult finding reference customers who have the desired story. Locating the perfect fit is just as hard for the events and campaign managers as it is for Sales if customer reference information isn’t centralized, clean, accurate, and searchable.

Start with a Grown-Up Reference Program

The key to infusing demand gen activities with captivating customer insights is the same as every other possible reference use case — have a formalized and professional customer reference process.

  • Someone must own the customer reference program
  • Establish and maintain a robust reference recruiting effort 
  • Align recruitment with company growth goals (which are also, coincidentally, Marketing and Sales’ goals)
  • Have a database of reference content this is searchable in the way stakeholders search
  • Set up a process for ongoing data maintenance must be in place
  • Quantify reference activity on revenue influence or other metrics.

By building a customer reference resource, you remove obstacles and enable the demand gen folks to effortlessly inject communications and messaging with customer stories, which are more emotionally compelling and relatable than vendor-generated solution claims and analyst papers. There is no better source for the experience of “living with” a solution than a peer in an equivalent business setting (industry, size, geo, etc.).

Advocate Insights Inspire Confidence

Peer perspective, including customer reviews (short-form customer stories really) submitted to B2B customer review sites such as TrustRadius, G2, Capterra, etc., gives buyers more confidence in your solution and in their own decision methodology. Buyers love performance stats (ROI, increased X by #, decreased X by #, boosted compliance by X, etc.) when evaluating a solution. But those numbers alone lack context. Numbers started in the real world: measurements from real-world actions, real people, and real things that changed. To make those numbers meaningful. enough to generate demand, they must correlate to real-world implications, and stories are excellent for that purpose. Conversely, the numbers give the story credence.

Customers do it Better

Rather than talk about your company’s best attributes in demand gen efforts, give customers the “microphone” and the spotlight. Each customer has not just one story but lots of story components to share. Those stories generate demand by delivering an authentic voice. They can:

  • Explain your company’s unique value proposition and what you offer over the competition.
  • Validate your company’s experience in particular industries.
  • Offer real-world examples of how your solution solves common pain points.
  • Describe how you help specific types, or a wide range of customers.
  • Provide customer experiences that explain why companies love working with you.
Lots of Possibilities

Customer insights can be effectively incorporated at all stages of the customer journey (including retention), but at the top of the funnel, there are plenty of opportunities, including:

  • videos (e.g, customer-generated)
  • PR
  • email campaigns
  • guest blogs
  • live streaming
  • downloadable content (e.g., case studies, ebooks)
  • webinars
  • podcasts
  • influencer marketing
  • customer reviews

The take-away is that a well-run customer reference program can provide extremely valuable resources to power your company’s demand gen efforts. If customer stories are not used generously now, it’s time to provide a better way for advocates to be found, and/or educate co-workers engaged in activities that prime the pump. Sit down with your demand get team to understand what customer stories they’ll need in the coming months based on their targets. Then you need to determine whether or not the customer reference program can supply those required customer stories, and from the necessary persona perspectives (IT, executive, power users, etc.). The demand gen team will appreciate the help, and Sales will appreciate compressed sales cycles and high win rates due to your efforts at the front end of the customer journey.