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There are a lot of folks in the SaaS industry specifically talking about customer success and see that as a result of higher customer engagement. Can you share with us where you think customer success can really meet that channel and generate a sort of kind of partner proof?
Most of my clients are SaaS spenders and as you know in the world of SaaS, it’s all about renewals and what your renewal rate is because if you’re churning customers faster than you can win new ones, you’re just treading water or losing money. One of my SaaS customers does more than 70% of their business through the channel. Another one about 50%. And some of the issues that these companies face is one, the vendor gets so removed from the end customer because the channel partner, the reseller has the relationship with the customer. So, the vendor is getting less feedback from the customer, they’re having less impact themselves on the customer success, and they just don’t have as much opportunity for engaging the end customer directly.
And then on the flip side, you get the resellers that are competing on their value-added service, sometimes competing with other resellers for the same vendor, but they’re always competing with other software vendors and their resellers. So, they’ve got a double challenge of proving why the vendor solution is better than others as well as why their own value-added service is better. And, let’s face it, sometimes there’s not much difference between the two.
I think that’s where customer engagement and customer voice comes in. I’d like to say that it’s probably the only thing that your last bastion of competitive differentiation is your customer engagement and customer voice because competitors can copy your messaging. They can copy your product, they can even try to steal your channel partners. But what they can’t do is steal your customer success and the voice of what your customers have to say.
I’d love to hear some more of your perspective on what is really going to help a company thrive when it comes to customer engagement when you’re thinking about that entire sales ecosystem. One of our customers has an actual person in the organization whose job is to be the voice of the customer. He is in every meeting that has to do with a product or any services, so they constantly remember the customer’s in the room. What other advice do you have?
I commend that company that has the voice of the customer role because that’s just so important and not enough companies actually do that. And if it doesn’t come out of the customer’s mouth, it’s just an educated guess, right? In too many companies they’re just making educated guesses as to what’s really on the customer’s mind. The more you can have your customers sharing their experiences and speaking up for you, the better you’re going to be able to persuade people to buy. But one of the biggest questions I get is well, my customers don’t want to participate, or they’re not allowed to. It takes way too long for them to get PR approval. And so, that’s a real challenge.
When it comes to capturing stories, one of the biggest pieces of advice that I have is to don’t ask for your clients for endorsements recommendations or testimonials. And this might sound counterintuitive because this is what we as marketers have always done. We get all giddy when we get a quote from a customer that says, “A.B.C. Company rocks. I recommend them to everybody looking for a UFO widget,” right? I’ve gotten all giddy when I’ve gotten quotes like that and I’ve said “Let’s put this on our website, let’s up this in our sales presentations.” And CEOs love it too. But those types of quotes don’t really help buyers. I say don’t ask for endorsements, recommendations or testimonials because for many reasons. One is generally there’s not much in it for customers to give you an endorsement and oftentimes their hands are tied, they’re not allowed to give endorsements. And if they do, sometimes they have to go through rounds of PR approval before you can use them. Whereas instead, I say ask your customers to share their experiences, advice, and knowledge.
This is very different. This is what I did at Forrester in my customer voice program. I would ask customers to share “What advice do you have for other marketers?” because they were selling to CMOs who are looking to get the most value out of working with a research firm. Or “Tell me about some of the major initiatives that you’ve done better with the help of the Forrester analysts.” Questions like that, people love. Your customers love to talk. They want to be heard, they love to give advice, they want to look smart, and they want to show how much knowledge they have.
You want their experiences and advice because in the end, that’s what’s really going to help a buyer. If a buyer is worried about whether they’re going to get executive-level support for their initiative, they’re going to care more about the advice that other customers of yours have about how they got executive-level support.
Just some advice for people working with the channel. You know, there’s a lot of benefit in companies that have a channel to think about how you can generate customer proof that your channel can use as well as how you can enable your channel partners to develop their proof as well. And do it in a way that they can bring together both short customer stories that pertain to the vendor and their product and reliability and service and things like that. As well as some stories and customer feedback and advice that pertains to the reseller’s value add, and then the service that they provide and the ongoing training or the implementation support because you’ve got to remember that to the buyer, they’re buying a single solution.
The fact that the service and implementation and training might be coming from afar and the technology and maintenance might be coming from the vendor, they don’t really care. To them it’s all one solution. They want that one experience to be unified, and so they want to hear proof that relates to the whole solution.
To learn more about customer success and the channel, opposing the customer testimonial, and more, tune in to episode 23 of The Allbound Podcast.
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Want to hear more? Subscribe on iTunes. Also available through Google Play. The Allbound Podcast explores the evolving fundamentals of partner-based selling in the SaaS and subscription economy. Featuring some of the industry’s brightest minds in channel sales and marketing, episodes of The Allbound Podcast delve into how and why indirect sales and marketing has long been, and continues to be, a proven medium for accelerating growth and success. And how traditional “channel” models are being transformed into efficient, connected ecosystems to supercharge sales and drive customer success while keeping costs low. Subscribe on iTunes