Most every entrepreneur knows that the easiest way to grow the company is when an existing customer or contact tells another person about your product and why the use it or like it. Most messaging apps and social networks grow primarily because of the “invitations” that the early adopters send to others in their trusted network.
B2B companies tend to face a different challenge for most parts. Their best customers rarely want to speak to others about the benefits they obtain from using a product or its bottom-line impact.
The reasons are many – first, they might believe that they lose leverage over the provider for future negotiations, second, they do not want competitors to get access to the same solution and lose a differentiation or third, their company prevents them from sharing information about their tools, techniques, methods and processes.
The biggest challenge is for those startups that deal with large companies and sell to enterprises versus selling to small and medium businesses. They tend to rarely provide testimonials, be very closed about their actual usage of the product and tend never to let employees use work email to identify them when signing up for SaaS products so startups cant identify them.
Which is the primary reason why many SaaS products start by gaining customers among the smaller companies and other startups, even if their product is most valuable for larger organizations.
What should you do if you are faced with this situation? I had a chance to talk to 3 entrepreneurs who are all selling to larger companies and there are 3 techniques that seem to work. None of the entrepreneurs said they worked all the time or worked for all companies, and they all mentioned the techniques were hit or miss, but they were worth trying.
First, aligning to the company’s corporate message or correcting a perception helps a lot. In this case the PR team or person is your best friend at the large company. Many large companies are looking to either a) enter new markets, b) change their perception or c) get new products or services out to the market. The more messaging and press that reinforces their goal to get a new message, the more favorably they take to press and testimonials. Be warned though, that corporate PR departments are immensely risk-averse and rarely if ever will want to be the first to be seen as someone that endorses a product.
Second, getting it written in your contract (that they will provide testimonials and speak to the press about product usage) always helps. Most companies negotiate a discount or customer service and support requests in exchange for their participation and it tends to be worth it for most startups. Sometimes large companies wont allow the usage of their logo, so be aware of their policies and put the right words in your contract so both logo usage and testimonials are covered.
Finally developing a champion internally who you support by going above and beyond to be successful does help. Typically if this person gets promoted or does better at their job because of your product, they are more willing to be supportive. How can you help them? Provide them tools, presentations, worksheets and other collateral to be able to sell the work they did internally (when there are best practice sharing events) at their company.
All these are useful for testimonials, but how do you get customers who are reluctant to share what they do with your product with others in the industry or their potential competitors? I’ll try and cover that tomorrow.