Wouldn't it be nice if the world were full of customers who just love your organisation so much that they're falling over themselves to be your advocates? In reality, to convince clients to provide customer references, you, or your sales colleagues, usually need to be able to articulate what's in it for them.

Tailor the message to the client

There's no single positioning statement that works in every case; the circumstances and personalities of different customer contacts will incline them to different reference opportunities and benefits.

Here are three common ways to answer the 'what's in it for me' question for different customers:

1. Celebrate achievement

People and organisations generally like to be recognised for overcoming challenges, doing things well or realising important goals. It's just human nature. For many customers, an opportunity to showcase their success is therefore reason enough to publicise their work with you. They may be interested in positioning their company as an innovator, or using their advocacy of your company to make their own organisation aware of the good things that they or their department are doing.

2. Engage in the conversation.

Reference activity can be a two-way street: being your advocate provides an opportunity for your customer to engage with others they're interested in talking to. If your customer enjoys communicating and networking, if they like blogging, contributing to online forums or presenting, then they'll be up for talking to a journalist or analyst, or at an event.

They're likely to feel pleased and honoured to be asked, and to recognise the opportunity it gives them to build their own professional credentials. Similarly, if they're the kind of person who's always on the lookout for new ideas and insight they may be happy to talk about your company with one of your prospects and take the opportunity to exchange ideas with them.

3. Piggyback promotion.

Many organisations will recognise the value of the publicity they'll get from your marketing activities. Certainly if they're short of marketing budget themselves or have their own reasons for wanting publicity, they'll be amenable to engaging in press activity or the production of a case study.

Conclusion:

Often, asking for a customer references can feel like you're hoping for your client to do you a favour. This isn't the case. Although there is a level of goodwill involved, a customer reference is mutually beneficial - it's often just a case of clearly communicating the benefits of providing a customer reference.

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