How large B2B enterprises like IBM get social proof at scale

Camille Rasmussen - February 28, 2018

It’s no secret that customer stories are gold for credibility—whether your goal is to build trust in a new product or equip your salespeople for the daily battle against the competition. There’s just one problem. Even though your sales team is begging for case studies and testimonials, they aren’t incentivized to help you get them. How do we escape this Catch-22?

We recently spoke with IBM’s Cheri Bergeron, Marketing Leader, Strategic Client Programs, to understand more about how she bypassed the sales bottleneck, established a direct line of communication with clients, and got tons of customer testimonials—what she calls “the most valuable content any company can have.” Cheri walked us through three of her top use cases for social proof:

  1. Establishing credibility for new products with very few customers
  2. Leveraging the voice of the customer from mature products’ larger bases
  3. Using social proof for competitive differentiation

Watch the on-demand webinar here, or read on for a summary of the tips and expertise we got from Cheri.

Establishing credibility for new products with very few customers

We know customer proof builds trust and wins over prospects, but what can you do when your product has very few or no customers at all?

We often hear from organizations that it’s a huge challenge getting voice-of-customer evidence at a pace that can keep up with the speed of innovation (for instance, getting enough case studies and social proof to support product launches and new features). It’s inherently difficult to get customer evidence when you just don’t have that many customers.

At IBM, Cheri has driven successful product launches and early adoption of new products, even when those products have only a handful of customers or beta users.

Following an IBM acquisition, there was only a small pool of clients who could speak to their experience using the product under the IBM umbrella. Cheri’s team reached out to about eight of these customers using TechValidate, and as a result they got eight highly targeted testimonials and case studies to use across marketing materials and sales conversations.

Cheri credits part of her success to the control customers have over using their name and company in the testimonials; TechValidate enables respondents to publically hide this information, so more customers are willing to provide their feedback.

According to Cheri, “The client has the power of choice. They can either choose to be publicly recognized with their name and company, or they can choose to be anonymously quoted—which through the TechValidate platform shows what industry they’re part of and what company size they are. This makes their content extremely valuable.”

Of course, it’s one thing to leverage a small client base for case studies and testimonials. But what can you do when you don’t have any customers at all?

Cheri’s team was faced with this very challenge when IBM launched a Software-as-a-Service offering called IBM Graph. The technology was new and they didn’t have any clients to tap into, so they ran a TechValidate Market Research study to demonstrate the value of graph databases. After aggregating the 1,000+ responses they received in under a month, IBM created a robust market education piece at a fraction of the cost of paying an analyst to do it.

Leveraging the voice of the customer from mature products’ larger bases

The challenges facing early-stage products—like raising awareness, generating demand, getting a handful of initial references, etc.—are very different than those facing well-established enterprise products with thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of customers. More important for mature products is winning or maintaining market share—a goal that can be helped along by leveraging large customer bases to get social proof that differentiates the product.

For one of IBM’s more established products, IBM Cloudant, Cheri’s team ran a TechValidate survey to thousands of customers. Then they sliced and diced the proof points in interesting ways to put a lens on different industries, different company sizes, and even different countries—so they could arm their worldwide teams with geographic-specific social proof, and equip their salespeople with industry-focused content.

They also leveraged the data to create an in-depth report on the state of Database-as-a-Service that became a valuable demand generation asset. Finally, they were able to identify new customer references—without having to go through the sales team. “We’ve identified clients that the sales people didn’t even know would be willing to speak,” adds Cheri.

“When you have a large base that is happy with your products, you can be unstoppable.”

– Cheri Bergeron, Marketing Leader, Strategic Client Programs, IBM

TIP: To be successful in leveraging a large customer base for customer-fueled marketing content, it’s critical to know who your users are, not just your buyers. You need to go out to the right set of customers to get the right set of data. Also, it’s helpful to have specific messaging that you want those customers to validate, and to keep outcomes in mind when creating your survey.

Using social proof for competitive differentiation

Can social proof help your product thrive under intense competitive pressure? Cheri thinks so.

At IBM, the sales team needed competitive ammunition for the daily battle against the competition. But competitive information can be difficult and expensive to get. Luckily, it’s a different story when it comes from your customers.

To get more customer proof around the competitive advantages of a very mature product, IBM DB2, Cheri’s team ran a TechValidate project to gather charts, stats, and testimonials comparing DB2 to the competition.

Based on what their customers had to say, the study reinforced some of their top differentiators, namely performance and availability, and simultaneously debunked a common assumption that it was more costly than competitors’ products.

Proof points like these were golden information for their salespeople, who were hungry for more evidence to support their competitive claims and differentiate DB2 from other solutions.

According to Cheri, the key is to ask questions methodically to help pinpoint what problems clients faced using competitors’ products and what benefits they’ve experienced after switching.

To hear more about Cheri’s customer-centric marketing efforts, including how she measures the success of her customer stories, watch the on-demand webinar here.

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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