When your best customers won’t talk

Camille Rasmussen - December 21, 2016


You just received an urgent sales request for a customer reference, with a significant deal on the line. Now you’re scrambling to track down a volunteer, but you’ve already called on your go-to client so often that you’re worried about burning them out. And the last thing you want to do is come back empty handed.

Or maybe you’ve had grand ideas of wowing your prospects with a big-name customer logo displayed on your website, but the client can’t sign off on any vendor endorsements because of their corporate legal policy.

And when you’re looking to jumpstart your customer advocacy program? Finding customers who are both willing to participate and have a valuable story to tell can be a major roadblock.

Your customers can sell your product more effectively than your best sales rep — but getting your customers to talk can be a challenge.

The reality is only a small fraction of your happy customers will agree to participate in your sales and marketing activities. We know. We reach out to our customers’ customers for a living. We recently tallied it up, and out of the 244,981 people who have responded to an NPS question on our customers’ surveys, only 21% of promoters (those who rated their likelihood of recommending the company at a 9 or 10) agreed to be a reference. That leaves the 79% of your happiest customers — the ones you really want to hear from — who are unable or unwilling to go on the record to promote your brand. We call this untapped resource ‘The Silent Satisfied Majority.’

Is there an opportunity to use the voice of the Silent Satisfied Majority?

So, you have a lot of happy customers, and the vast majority aren’t jumping at the chance to participate in your customer advocacy activities — particularly the more time-intensive efforts like case studies, video interviews and webinars. Going back to the same marquee customers over and over may work for the short term, but you know you need to expand your reference pool. So what can you do to get more customers involved?

Here are two approaches:

  1. Focus on increasing your total number of happy customers, which should also increase the number of reference volunteers based on that 21% stat we mentioned earlier.
  2. Uncover what’s holding your happy customers back from participating in the first place, and then remove some of those barriers to get more customers to contribute.

While the first option is really important (improving your NPS score is something every company should strive for), it can be a long-term, cross-functional effort. Not so helpful when you need more customer testimonials ASAP.

Check out our blog on how companies are using NPS data to increase customer retention and revenue growth >

On the other hand, getting to know the real reasons your customers aren’t volunteering can be as simple as sending out a short survey. What you discover will guide how to best work with them.

Legal policies preventing them from going on the record? Consider a blind case study (it will be more effective if it’s 3rd-party validated). Or send out a survey and use the results to create statistical charts and graphs that show the general sentiment across your customer base.

Figure 1 – Box uses TechValidate to show how customers are using the tool

Are time constraints the real issue? Maybe they can’t budget a 30-minute phone interview, but a 3-minute survey could produce some really powerful insights. After all, the 79% of promoters who wouldn’t volunteer to be a reference still filled out a survey.

There’s also the issue of incentive — or, usually, lack thereof. Considering your typical customer has their own job with quarterly goals to hit, a boss to please, and maybe employees of their own to manage, what motivation do they have to devote a piece of their day to your marketing initiatives?

To address this, some companies choose to use monetary incentives, including product or service discounts, gift cards, or swag. But this doesn’t often pay off, and worse, it can bring the reference’s objectivity into question and destroy the element of trust with your prospects. And that basically negates the whole purpose of the reference.

To ensure your company’s integrity remains intact, incentivize customer advocates with what they really want: access to executives, previews of upcoming product updates, and the opportunity to network with their peers.

Regardless of what’s holding your customers back, the key to this strategy is to determine what your customers are able to contribute. Then, meet them there.

Learn how TechValidate helps you increase participation in your customer reference activities >

Camille Rasmussen

Camille Rasmussen is the Content Marketing Manager at TechValidate. She studied Journalism at the University of Oregon (Go Ducks!) and has over 6 years experience in marketing communications + content. When she's not writing, she's usually trying out new restaurants around town or exploring the beautiful parks, hikes, and beaches the bay area has to offer.

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