People like to talk with other people. Industrial professionals, in particular, like to be expert sources of information for their colleagues. They like to share their experiences. That’s why satisfied customers may recommend your company’s products and services to other potential customers, without you ever knowing about it. This basically amounts to free advertising, but only better. Peer recommendations don’t come with the level of burden of the skeptical eye that prospects often place upon advertising.

Industrial marketers understand the value of customers speaking for them. That’s why we put so much effort into developing case studies and testimonials. Written case studies and video testimonials are the bread and butter of customer references. Going further, you can also invite customers to jointly present a Webinar with you, or ask them to speak at an event.

These are important tactics, but they require resources and management on your part, and often take a long time to develop due to finding the right customers and working through their company’s approval processes before a testimonial or case study is made public.

Where Social Media Shines
Successful marketers go beyond these tactics, and have a way of getting satisfied customers to speak up without too much prompting. They can do this through social media, which is on the rise with industrial professionals. Public-facing platforms such as blogs, Facebook or Twitter give companies an opportunity to interact with customers, and for customers to share their own opinions.

One company holds contests on Facebook, asking customers to share a unique or innovative use of their products and then allowing everyone to vote for the best one, with the winner receiving a prize. This type of activity gets your customers spreading the word about you, without your team having to go through extensive work to recruit customer spokespeople.

Another company invites customers to submit guest blog posts about their positive experience with the company. Why would a customer go through this effort? Sometimes happy customers simply enjoy spreading good news — and getting their own company name out there. Other times, offering an incentive will help, anything from discounts on orders, to access to key product managers or executives, to some kind of a giveaway.

A third company tried a campaign using Twitter. It invited customers to submit their own humorous videos showing them using, explaining, or talking about the company’s products. The marketing team discovered that a lot of aspiring and creative filmmakers were out there, and suspected that the request for humor helped increase the submissions. Videos were posted on YouTube, the company’s Web site, and linked to from their profile page on GlobalSpec.

Identifying Satisfied Customers
One challenge you may face is identifying the satisfied customers who may be willing to speak on behalf of your products and services. Probably the best source for case studies and testimonials is your sales team. They are closest to the customers and know who is most satisfied, has an interesting story to tell, and may be willing to speak.

Another good way to identify satisfied customers is to host an online, customer-only discussion forum. Customers can bring up topics or respond to topics that you post. You can monitor the discussions and identify customers who have positive things to say, then approach them for possible case studies and testimonials.

You can also monitor other online discussion boards or media sites. For example, GlobalSpec solicits user opinions and posts them on their site. In a poll of engineers, GlobalSpec asked: “From your perspective, which companies are creating the most innovative temperature controllers?” Respondents listed their answers. If your company name appeared, you might be able to find the customer who mentioned you.

Getting your customers to be your best spokespeople requires a careful balancing act. You can’t just pass out the megaphones and ask them to shout. Sometimes you need to identify candidates, proactively reach out, and request case studies and testimonials. Other times you need to provide ways for customers to speak up for themselves, such as Facebook contests and video requests. In both cases, the rewards are worth the effort.

One caveat: when you give customers the opportunity to speak out, not everything they say will be positive. You’ll need to take the good with the bad, and use any negative comments to help improve your products and services. Addressing negative comments about your company will be a discussion for another time.

How do you solicit testimonials and case studies from satisfied customers? Let us know in the comments section below.

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