Despite displaying all the faults of old broadcast media in not really knowing who their audience ought to be, occasionally a fascinating piece appears on the BBC’s Click show.
I was intrigued on the impact of spam-style offensive, negative reviews on small business people (incorporating the absence of sympathy and dismissive inaction of Google).
It reminded me that any sales person that relies on the initiative of marketing departments to provide testimonial comfort for their prospects is unlikely to ever prosper.
The founder of tripadvisor, which relies heavily on user experience sharing, apparently suggests that you disregard the most both glowing and glaring of comments on his site, and make your decision informed by the middle.
This is something I’d never normally countenance. Middle-ground thinking is space I find deeply disturbing. Yet in this context, he maybe has a point.
Even from my first cubrep selling days, I was taught to avoid reliance on references. Use them nearer the beginning to gain traction, rather than at the end to close, in a campaign. I wouldn’t necessarily now cast this particular scheme in stone, yet it wasn’t that any reference may be bad, it was more that,
- organising a reference conversation (or even worse, a visit) needlessly prolonged the sales cycle at the most perilous stage and led to losing control of the process, and
- by definition references are going to come from ‘pet customers’ (“they should all be stuffed” was a familiar joke I recall) and so be nothing other than wonderful – every supplier would wheel out the same, so why bother at all?
- it was way better to focus solely on the prospect’s individual needs (they all like to feel they’re unique, so play up to it) and do some work akin to a validation (where custom pre-sales work proves the fit).
I have seldom seen any solution salesteam that has a commendable approach to gathering references. It really is less than one in ten. I myself have made a decent living along the way from helping those without obtain a grip on this.
It is my belief that you should have a bank of testimonials at your disposal even if you’ve had to be your own Sales Ops Manager to gather them.
Best practice could then help lay a trap for your competition by adapting the line web review monitor Kwikchex recommends. They create a good old traffic lights system. Dependent upon how much personal info people provide to help verify both themselves and their comments, a review is flagged accordingly. This enables you to ‘Flag As Inappropriate’ the worst (people likely to have a grudge).
When constructing your personal list of references, you could utilise a similar traffic lights approach. Remember where your strengths lie among your client relationship, and mould your lights to it. Imagine what a prospect might think if you presented your (selected elements of) customer base, with some flagged as a red light?
If you positioned these as not being appropriate for a reference you could surreptitiously throw competitors a googly. Red lights could mean that there’s a new person now managing the relationship, they’re busy going through a sort of ‘upgrade’ or they’ve only just bought and delivery or ‘implementation’ is still ongoing.
Whichever way you construct it, the crucial thing is that those in this category would be terrific references if called upon anyway.
Similarly, if you know the identity of your competition, and you have a list of clients that use your services in preference to theirs where your usp is in play, then you can pop those all in the amber section. Then use the tripadvisor code, and yet more traps can be laid.
You can expand upon this theme in many directions. Just make sure you have some dynamite in each section.