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2 Keys to Customer Testimonials

1) Customers willing to publicly sing your praises (a no-brainer)

2) The internal organization to effectively push out the testimonials.

I've had several positions where a huge part of my responsibilities were securing, capturing and publishing customer testimonials, and I've had ample experience to fully understand all the key ingredients to get your customers out there singing your praises.

Customer testimonials can come out in so many different formats - press releases, speaking with a reporter, a video testimonial, a case study (or variation), social media commentary, speaking at an event, podcast / radio interview, serve as a reference, etc. Stating the obvious - some people are more willing to participate in one of these formats. Marketing must identify the candidate, sharpen the story, find the right format, and get it out the door. It's not a small under-taking, even if you have a plethora of customers stepping up to tell others about how great you are.

In the first part of my career, the majority of the road blocks were securing the customers themselves. There was always a reason why "not now." And even with what seem like obvious solutions, it was never never really easy.

For example:

  • Sales didn't ask for in exchange for a discount. Sales just gave a discount to secure the sale. Solution = get Sales to be your partner. However, as easy as this sounds, I found that too often sales reps were quick to bail on the testimonial contingent of a contract if the prospect seemed skittish in the slightest, but wanted the discount and would sign today if the testimonial requirement was taken out.

  • The customer contact was happy to agree to provide a quote for public consumption, but then the company legal advisor would come and just simply say "no." Since Sales and Marketing team members aren't typically lawyers, and typically a customer testimonial in a contract isn't worth fighting for, that clause in the contract just disappeared as if it was never there in there first place.

  • Agreement on providing a customer testimonial was in the contract, but with loose language like "upon successful completion of..." Customers wanted to haggle over the word "successful," and we never got to the start line to capture the story.

  • Customers used the bait of a testimonial to get another discount or something for free to an extent beyond what the organization was willing to provide, and so again the promise of a testimonial lingered in purgatory.

Every stumbling block toward a customer testimonial felt unique to that particular situation and customer, and it also seemed surmountable - next time, and yet often at companies there's a pattern of lost opportunities, even if they each had their own very specific reasons for not happening. It was like pulling teeth every single time. So, of course when a customer story was secured, polished and published, I was more proud than an outsider could appreciate.

So, then I was shocked when I ran across a completely different types of stumbling blocks - the kinds that are created internally. We had customers publishing their own praises of our incredible product, lining up asking to be the face of the next advocacy campaign, on a waiting list to be interviewed and published. A marketer's dream come true.

And yet, if the internal systems aren't greased to support your customers' advocacy on your behalf, it's also painful. Poor internal organization and prioritization can slow down the pipeline to the same crawl as an org working to find customers willing to speak in the first place.

Because we had so many amazing customers publicly praising the organization, there were lots of internal stakeholders who had ideas about the best way to capture and spread their praise. There was no one-size fits all the needs in the org, and it was a fight for who's need won out (Sales, PR, event speakers, digital content creators). All of the different ideas and voices, meant internal bickering, politicking, justifying, approving (or not approving) and essentially, a very clogged pipe between incoming praise and what was published. And while it seems that someone at the top should be able to call the shots, I watched the head of Sales, the CMO and the CEO operate on different pages, cascading the chaos and struggle.

Yesterday, I was talking to a COO at a non-profit who was casually telling me about how they captured the voices of "customers," put those testimonials in front of donors at a private fund-raising event and raised over $3M. He was proud of the dollar amount. But I was also proud of his team for internally being in sync enough to execute. I know from personal experience the effort he was describing was a giant effort, and the only way to pull it off is not just having the supportive customer voices, but working together collaboratively and constructively. This internal cohesion shouldn't be taken for granted. Customer testimonials are gold, and everyone in an org wants their hands on the treasure.

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