How’s this for an end-of-summer last hurrah?
This week you get insights from not one but two industry experts. And this is unique because instead of our usual emphasis on customer success, we’re looking at the adjacent, rapidly-growing world of customer marketing.
Jeff Ernst is the co-founder and CEO of SlapFive, a Massachusetts-based startup that developed and launched the first customer marketing software platform. Alongside Kaily Baskett, SlapFive’s director of revenue, Jeff joined UpdateAI’s Josh Schachter on the latest episode of the “Unchurned” podcast to discuss CM.
Like CS, defining CM can vary from company to company. Here’s how Jeff summarized it on the podcast:
“At the end of the day, why does customer marketing exist? It exists to bridge the trust gap in the market between buyers and sellers.”
And both CS and CM share a common thread among those who are successful at it: they’re all obsessed with delivering the best experience possible to the customer. As Jeff puts it, he wants to be the “voice of the customer” – the person who knows what the customer wants, what their challenges are, and how they use your product.
The goal, ultimately, is that by knowing your customer backwards and forwards, you’re able to exceed their expectations and spur customer-led growth for your company.
Be sure to listen to Jeff and Kaily’s full discussion with Josh on “Unchurned,” which you can find by clicking here. Here are a few highlights from their conversation:
Customer Testimonials > Case Studies
Ditch the case studies.
You know, the detailed one pagers that highlight a customer’s achievements based on using your product? With the classic challenge-solution-results layout? Yeah, those don’t get the job done.
Jeff and Kaily couldn’t be more adamant about this one – if you’re trying to highlight stories of customer success, case studies aren’t the way to go. SlapFive’s research shows buyers don’t want those and – because they’re ubiquitous at this point – they don’t help to differentiate your company. And worst of all, they often come across as phony.
“When [the customer] sees those case studies that are full of these glorious statements written by a third party writer – they don’t believe that,” Jeff told Josh. “They’re disappointed because they want to hear what your customer has to say.”
Instead, SlapFive opts to leverage customer testimonials. The basic structure for each of these is as follows:
1. First-person testimonial
2. Video, rather than written
3. Customers talk about the good, the bad, and the ugly
Why? Because these allow customers to move beyond the generic case study framework and actually talk about how your company or product helped them. And that last point is essential – let’s go into it a bit more…
Authenticity Bridges the Trust Gap
Remember what Jeff said about customer marketing existing to bridge the trust gap?
He added: “To overcome that trust gap, you can only do that with authenticity.”
That was the name of the game in this episode. Case studies fall flat, Jeff and Kaily said, because they don’t feel authentic – they feel manufactured. When a case study only pushes good news, customers will instinctively push back.
“If you only see 5-star reviews on Amazon, what are you going to think? That it’s a bot or not even a real product,” Kaily said. “People are skeptical by nature, and that’s the gap we want to bridge – all buyers are human. If you’re only showing perfection and the number one best case scenario, then that’s only going to draw more suspicion.”
That’s the main reason why SlapFive advocates for customer testimonials – it allows them to answer the first question that always comes to mind: “What went wrong?”
Leaning into this question, rather than running from it, is where authenticity comes in. Every buyer knows there are going to be problems – but they want to see how the customer got through those roadblocks with your company. By being open about both the triumphs and challenges in the business-customer relationship, you’re better able to foster that trust you’re aiming for.
Make Your Customers Look Like Rockstars
Oftentimes, customer testimonials are not only needed to win support from new customers – but to reinforce and expand existing client relationships.
Companies struggling with retention tend to run into the same issue: a few employees who work for the customer use your product in a number of ways, while most others have failed to adopt most of its features – or don’t even know about them to begin with! That’s an issue, but that’s where authentic testimonials can also be an asset.
This is a “perfect case,” Jeff said, where a manager can go to a customer who uses their product and ask for permission to use their voice internally. The testimonial is only going to be shared within the customer’s company, among their coworkers. And the kicker is, “I’m going to do it by making you look like a rockstar,” Jeff tells the customer.
This is a win-win for everyone. The customer looks good with his company, and you’re able to show others at the company how they can better utilize your product – and potentially upsell them in the process.
Jeff and Kaily followed this playbook with one customer recently who hadn’t been using a product to its full capacity. Following a customer testimonial, though, they “ended up tripling the size of their annual counteract value, because we had the champions within that account showcase what they were doing to their peers,” Jeff said.
This approach, coupled with the results they’ve seen, has only reinforced their commitment to customer-led growth.
“Customers are at the heart of CLG,” Kaily said. “We’re huge believers in the fact that a bunch of executives sitting in a room can’t come up with the best solution for their clients without listening to their customers… it has to come directly from the horse’s mouth.”