The importance of good reference accounts is often overlooked in a global marketplace where digital marketing and technology command so much interest. However, most customers--especially big B2B companies--have concerns about placing big orders with people who are essentially strangers. That’s why many B2B buyers ask for reference accounts before deciding to do business. Companies that operate exclusively over the internet might worry about asking for references from their online customers, but many customers will be delighted to be asked.

Using Integrated Technology for Managing Reference Accounts

Even though the practice of asking for reference accounts might be dwindling, plenty of customers still ask for them. That raises questions about how marketers, salespeople and staff should be managing reference accounts. Influitive.com suggests that the process of choosing a reference account is a neglected art. [1] It can seem awkward to approach a paying customer to ask for a reference. However, technology can simplify choosing a customer based on many signals such as frequent interactions, multiple requests for special considerations, steady buying histories and a high engagement level with the company’s initiatives. Engagement levels can be analyzed by offsite communications, participation in special deals, willingness to place partial orders, repeat requests and orders, as well as other benchmarks.

Hidden advocates won’t remain hidden long when companies use technology to identify them. Companies can monitor customer behavior in social media, read posts, check review sites and gather intelligence about customer referrals, recommendations and attitudes. Customers who demonstrate characteristics that match the businesses’ core values are good candidates for furnishing references.

Best Practices for Choosing a Reference Account

It’s counterproductive to appear tentative, regretful or ashamed to ask for an unbiased reference. Assuming that all references will be 100-percent positive is also a mistake. Approach the reference account with a straightforward request to provide a reference to a similar business operation. Mention that it seemed likely that the customer and prospect would get along and have similar needs. Best practices for choosing and getting a reference include:

Asking for the Reference

  • There’s no way to disguise asking for a reference--just ask. If the customer mentions that the reference might not be completely flattering, don’t back off the request. Just ask the customer to tell the company about its shortcomings and/or file any complaints with customer service.

Doing Due Diligence

  • It would be stupid to approach customers that have had major problems with the company, but a few customer service requests from a big buyer shouldn’t disqualify him or her from providing a reference. Most customers are more impressed with companies that respond to their complaints and try to make things right. The 2017 State of Global Service Report found that 54 percent of customers expect more from customer service. About 66 percent of younger consumers between 18 and 34 years of age feel this way. [2] Choosing the right customers for references involves using technology and gut instinct. See who the most active customers are. Ask sales staff who among their customers is likely to provide a favorable review.

Incorporating Reference Requests with Sales Campaigns

  • If the company is planning any special sales or marketing campaigns, it’s easy to include a request for quotes and testimonials. Marketers can then choose the right accounts for references based on previous comments.

Keeping General References Available

  • It helps to build a portfolio of ready references to give customers for reference requests made on short notice. Just explain that these are general references but that it would be easy to supply more specific references within a short time.

Tips for Managing B2B Customer Relationships

Managing B2B customer relationships well equals the importance of good reference accounts in generating sales. Some customers might ask for references, but others won’t. It’s critical to demonstrate reliability and concern for customer service so that many customers won’t need to request references. Some of the strategies for managing B2B relationships include:

Evaluate Customer Profiles to Narrow Management Choices

  • B2B customers can run the gamut from buyers of multiple product lines and thousands of SKUs to niche buyers that have very specific needs. Salespeople, staff and technology integrations can determine what type of customer each buyer is and accommodate his or her specific needs. For example, some customers might spearhead committees that make buying decisions that require multiple approvals before purchase orders are issued. Some older buyers--and even some younger ones--prefer to develop a personal relationship with someone at the company before buying.

Share Details with Each Customer when Possible

  • Don’t be afraid to educate customers about the products, supply chain, customization options and shipping possibilities. Much of this information can be shared through self-service applications when the company website or store is fully integrated.

Provide Reviews and Testimonials on the Website

  • Many customers don’t ask for references when they see dozens of testimonials posted on the site. Try to choose these posts to include a variety of buyer types from different industries.

Managing Reference Accounts Skillfully

Technology makes it easier to request and get references, but there’s one more area that you should consider. Much of your success depends on the design or your sales platform and its full integration to provide likely reference candidates, user-friendly features and many self-service options. That requires development, and you might find it necessary to ask for developer references yourself. Clarity eCommerce offers many testimonials and portfolio case studies on its website, and you can ask for industry-specific references before you agree to any development project. You shouldn’t be shy in asking your customers to provide references, and you shouldn’t be shy to ask for references from potential developers.

 

References:

[1] Influitive.com: The Art Of Asking For A Customer Reference

https://influitive.com/blog/tip-2-the-art-of-asking-for-a-customer-reference/

[2] Customerthink.com: 5 Statistics To Know About The Future Of Customer Service

http://customerthink.com/5-statistics-to-know-about-the-future-of-customer-service/

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