Customer testimonials are a widely used prospecting tool by most of you who sell technology solutions to B2B customers. But, I’m going to let you in on a little secret: Most of your customer success stories or reference stories aren’t “executive sticky”. They don’t provide sufficient business value insights or compelling financial reasons to cause a busy CXO buyer to dig deeper into your solution. They don’t act as a catalyst to make your executive engagements, well, more “engaging”.
Today’s executives know a lot about your company before they ever agree to talk with you. As a buy-side executive, I did my homework to get ready to meet prospecting B2B sales professionals. If they piqued my interest enough to get on my calendar, I intended to get a ROI on the meeting.
My Standard Meeting Preparation Routine
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#1 The first step in my pre-meeting due diligence process would be to perform a quick assessment of the financial viability of the seller’s company. Normally, I checked out three financial metrics: (i) gross profit margin (to assess my price negotiating flexibility in case that subject came up), (ii) debt-to-capital ratio (to assess the financial leverage and long-term viability of the vendor), and (iii) free cash flow (to assess the ability of the vendor to reinvest in new products and services).
#2 The second step would be to contact my peers at other companies to validate their experience with the company and the sales representative.
#3 The third step would be to scan the company’s website. Was the key messaging product-feature-function-centric or customer-centric? Was the messaging burdened by internally-focused arrogance and hyperbole or lifted by examples of customer centricity and business impact? Were the value propositions muted and mundane (with soft ROI “waste words”) or compelling (with hard ROIs and KPI impact)?
“Executive Sticky” Messaging
One of the most important steps in my due diligence process was the review of the publicly-disclosed customer success stories archived on the company’s website. These testimonials told me a lot about the culture, business value-add, and customer-centricity of the organization.
Unfortunately, many sellers take the view that the QUANTITY of success stories archived on their website is more important than QUALITY of those testimonials. I take the opposite view. You only need a handful of high-quality case studies to make a compelling argument at the customer executive level.
When I review a seller’s customer success stories, I want concrete, not abstract, examples of how their solutions helped other customers accelerate business outcomes (e.g. expand internationally, integrate acquisitions, speed new product introduction). “Concrete” also means financial implications are spelled out clearly in detail.
If you want to see examples of high quality customer testimonials check out SAS Institute Inc. (a large privately-held business analytics solutions provider) and Accenture (a publicly-held management consulting, technology services and outsourcing company). For the most part, their customer success messaging are “executive sticky”.
An “executive sticky” message is one that a buy-side executive understands when they read it, that they remember it later on, and that changes the way they think or act going forward.
Importantly, an “executive sticky” success story can set a very positive tone for a prospecting sales professionals about to meet with a customer executive who has done their homework and reviewed it.
Are Your Company’s Customer Success Stories “Executive Sticky”?
What do you think of the customer success stories archived on your website? Are they suitable for buy-side executive consumption? Are they business compelling enough to promote curiosity, or better yet, ACTION?
Do they fully support your efforts to articulate solution value when you are face-to-face at the executive level with your customers and prospects? Are they “executive sticky”?
The 7 Traits of Highly Effective (and “Executive Sticky”) Customer Success Stories
1. Suitable for Executive Consumption – Were they written in business language for an executive audience, or are they a “one-size fits all” or “technical-level” type of communication?
2. Practical (versus Abstract) Language – Do they contain interesting stories that convey concrete examples of business value impact, or are they constructed using abstract language and “waste words” (e.g. our solutions enhance collaboration and accelerate time-to-market)?
3. Hard Financial Value – Do they describe solution value in “hard” financial terminology (e.g. DSO was reduced by 10% resulting in a 3% increase in Operating Cash Flow), or in “soft” terminology (e.g. efficiency was enhanced and productivity was elevated)?
4. %-% Range of Financial Impact – Do they translate financial value into percentage ranges of improvement (e.g. product returns were reduced by 10-15%), or in discrete $/€/¥/£ amounts, which offers no scale relevance to the reader (e.g. product returns were reduced by $500,000)?
5. Complete the Math – When describing financial value, do they complete the math to connect to a higher-level key performance metric (e.g. time-to-market was reduced by 10-15% which accelerated current period revenues by 2-3%), or do they stop short (e.g. labor productivity was increased by 10%)?
6. Customer Executive Quotes – Do they contain statements of support attributed to “executive-level” supporters, or are they the statements of “lower-level” supporters?
7. Catalyst Effect – Will a buy-side executive UNDERSTAND it, will they REMEMBER it later, and will it cause them to THINK or ACT differently about your company going forward?
- Do you think your company’s customer success stories are “executive sticky”? Why?
- How can they be written to make them “stickier”?