Over the last couple of posts, we’ve talked about how winning awards and getting industry influencers to endorse your company will build credibility but there is another way that is far more compelling. In the end, the very best kind of endorsement is from your customers.
This should not be surprising as prospects want to hear what others think before they buy. It’s a rare company that wants to try a new technology or solution first. And, it’s even better if the customer is someone they know and trust. For example, a bank wants to know another bank is using your solution before they buy. But getting a customer endorsement is easier said than done; especially for a start-up.
Every start-up needs to find their first one or two customers, which is hard since those customers will also want to hear from others but it’s absolutely crucial to success. While larger companies may have existing customers, it’s not always trivial to get them to talk publicly and endorse the product. Many have policies in place around not doing news releases so sometimes you need to be creative which I’ll explore later.
But first, I want to talk about a mistake that I think many start-ups make. I know every start-up CEO wants to land the tier 1 customer and have them be quoted in a news release or do a customer testimonial but in the early days you can’t always hit the grand slam home run. Start-ups are built by securing many smaller victories along the way. If you get the big win early, leverage it as best you can, but don’t wait for that.
In the early days, start-ups should go after any customer, get your product installed and learn from that deployment. Then, if the customer is willing to endorse you, take whatever they will give you as success breeds success and these small wins will lead to the big customer and testimonial. It will also help you learn and improve your product.
Now to secure these references, regardless of the size of your company or theirs, it’s important to work closely with the sales team and potentially even give them an incentive to ask customers to be a reference. Without the support of sales, it will be hard to navigate the customer and get the endorsement approved, whatever the form, as they have the relationships with the key people. This is yet another example of why sales and marketing need to work closely.
Once you get someone interested in providing a reference, you need to nurture this relationship to make sure the customer is always happy so they will act as a reference for other prospects or talk to the media when they are working on a story about your company or industry. Talking to the media or analysts is invaluable and one of the key asks you will have for customers.
However, I wouldn’t always try to hit the home run on the endorsement front either as news releases are nice but there are many other ways to get the customer to talk publicly about your product that may not involve the same approval cycles or may be of more benefit to the customer. Writing a positive review on a third-party site can be easier and more effective than a news release, for example.
Or even better, having a customer speak at a conference on your behalf has clear benefits for you, but also allows that person to talk to other people in the industry and learn from them, not to mention the benefit of a trip to a hopefully nice spot. Videos are also a great way to do a testimonial that can be used by you and the customer in many forms.
The list of what you can do with a willing customer to build credibility goes on and covers everything from a private reference for another prospect to a full on case study that outlines what they did and the results they achieved. And then there’s the ultimate goal, of having a customer advisory board that you can promote but that also gives you feedback and ideas on your product. The value of this to your business can be immeasurable.
Everyone knows that getting your first, hundredth or thousandth customer is critical to your ongoing success. But it’s not just about revenue. Customer testimonials and referrals are the very best endorsement and build credibility that will make getting that next customer easier.