Strategy & Planning

BSMS 22 - How to get your most important piece of content

What’s the most important piece of content a B2B SaaS startup should have? Testimonials.


 

Strong testimonials are your important piece of content. A testimonial from a happy customer means a lot more than a list of product features coming from your marketing team. Anything you can say, a customer can say better.

Today we give you an overview of why testimonials are so important, how you should use them, and tactical advice on how to gather them. We even include a 28-question tactical playbook on how to guide a customer testimonial conversation. 

2 simple ways of gathering testimonials we’ve found to be especially successful are: 

  1. Turning problems into praise. If you receive questions about problems in your product or service, be diligent about helping solve their problems and using that feedback to improve the product. Build a relationship. Then, when the customer is HAPPY, it’s a perfect time to gently ask for a review.  
  2. Proactively reach out to customers. Ask your customers if their experience with your product has been successful. If they answer yes, it’s a great time to ask them for a testimonial. If they answer no, it’s a great time to ask why and build a better relationship.

Episode Transcript:

Mike:

Welcome to episode 22 of B2B SaaS Marketing Snacks. I'm Mike, product lead at Kalungi, and as always I'm with Stijn Hendrikse, one of Kalungi's co-founders and executive CMO.

Today, we talked about the most important tactic you can execute as a marketing leader. That also leads to the most important piece of content that you can have, which is getting really meaningful customer testimonials and reviews from your customers. Getting them to describe your product in ways that you can't, and then using those words to support your marketing efforts. So, in this episode, we talked about a couple of ways to do this, and then Stijn gives the exact playbook that he's created over his 20 years of marketing experience to lead customers through testimonial interviews, and actually capture those nuggets.

So, before we dive in, if you like the stuff that we talk about here, we're encapsulating a lot of that similar strategic and tactical knowledge into an actual book that's slated to launch in the third quarter of this year. And it's a consolidation of Stijn's years of experience as a marketer and business leader, and a lot of the playbook that Kalungi uses to help early stage SaaS startups build the marketing functions that are set up for long-term success.

We're obviously really excited about it. I think it's going to be a really cool book and we're sending out early access content to people starting really soon. If you're interested in learning more and getting entered to win a free hard copy, you can check it out at T2D3.pro. So it's T, for triple. Two, for twice, D double, three for thrice dot pro. T2D3.pro.

And if you mention the podcast in the referral field, we'll hook you up with two entries into the book giveaway. So you get an extra one in there just for being a listener and you’ll also get one for every person that you refer to the early access signup. So if they write your name in, you'll get an extra entry. So the more you share, the more that you can win. All right, cool. Let's jump in.

Okay. So for today's topic, I had one that is really interesting for me and for some reason it just sticks out in my head. But when, when I did the first, when you took me to the first workshop that I experienced with you, you said something, one of the exercises that we were doing with the company that we were working with, where it was an exercise, trying to understand who the best candidate customers were that we could reach out to, for customer testimonials. And you premised that whole exercise by saying that the most valuable piece of content that your entire company can have is a testimonial. And that's something that's been really interesting.

It's stuck with me all this time and I have definitely regurgitated it more than once in client meetings and in internal meetings as well. And it's something that I stick to and I find it really interesting. I think there's a lot of different components that make up testimonials. So I'm wondering if we could dig into that a little bit. I'm most specifically curious about how you initiate them, who you ask to get them and what you ask to get them?

Stijn:

No, that's a great way to structure the conversation of this really, really big topic. You're right, Mike. Sometimes when people just say, “Hey, we need a couple of customer case studies or testimonials or quotes…” It can be seen as a very tactical quick, quick thing to just check the box on. And I believe it is one of the most important things you do as a marketing leader. And you do it early in the journey that you're going on with your team.

 So, let me put it into context a little bit. I used to run product marketing for Microsoft's Office products for B2B, for the B2B audience globally. And I had, in my team, I had one team whose sole job was to drive customer testimonials because for every new product launch, when we launched Office 2010 or Office 365, or when we had to launch a certain version of the product in a certain market, the first thing you needed was great customer testimonials to put in your sales materials, to use for press releases.

You never wanted to do a press release without having a quote from a customer to put on your website, to use for advertising copy. There are so many places where you need customer voices, customer quotes, to not only just make your content richer, but to make it credible. Right? If you say things, it's one, but if your customer say it, it's so much more powerful.

At Kalungi, we also use a framework to do messaging, and positioning, and to develop content. We call it a pain claim gain model, where we map sort of customer pains to both how you start any form of content, because you want to talk about them, right, and what’s driving them and how you get people to be aware of you early in the funnel. And after that, you can talk about your claims, what are the things that you do to help them.

And finally, you drive action and you drive the next step in the funnel through the gains, right? What do people stand to gain? Why should they act now? And you use the customer testimonial process to basically work on all of those three. You use it to confirm the pain points, when you think that your software does a certain thing, and it's sold for certain challenges, nothing is more powerful than, go talk with customers, interview them for customer testimonials to confirm that those are the right pain points. That those are actually perceived as pain points by your clients. And you can now actually ask them to describe the pain in their own language, so that the messaging that you're going to use is going to resonate better with your audience. Then you also use the testimonials to find how relevant your claims are, right?

The features that you tout, the benefits that you described, that your product delivers on your website. You know, how relevant are those, right? There's probably 10 things you do, which of those is the most relevant for your customers? Testimonies will tell you that.

And then finally the gains, you know, how do you understand the actual impact of your solution in a very tangible way. What do your customers actually say is the effect, the impact of your solution? Those are the gains. So discovering those gains, understanding how relevant your claims are and confirming the pain points that you think your solution solves for is really the main goal with doing customer testimonials, in addition to creating some nice content.

Mike:

Absolutely. And I think the first time I did them, I really started to see how it can help you, like in episode, I think it was in episode 16, we talked about how to verify your ICP and your positioning, right? And it's such a good tool. Once you have your kind of idea, what you think you're the best at, what you think you're the only at, especially if you're starting, if you're a young company, you're dialing in on a niche, you can ask your customers, your happy ones, ask them the same thing that you're asking yourself when you're creating your positioning. What do you think that we're the best at? Or what do you think that we're the only at? And they may tell you something very different from what you think you're the best at and what you're listing on the website.

And that can give you a lot of really interesting insights. Sam Shepler, who's the CEO at Testimonial Hero, he put it really interestingly, he said, when you say something it's marketing, but when your customers say it, it's social proof. And anything that you can say, your customer can probably say better.

So if you take some of those interviews with your customers, you'll find some nuggets where they describe what you do so much better, and in terms that other people like them, in their same roles, in their same kind of areas of expertise, will understand a lot better than you might think they would. So I found that really impactful the first time I kind of did this.

Stijn:

Yeah. I had another example, actually. It's very timely, Mike. I think I shared this with you yesterday. That one of the, so the first company that I supported as a sort of a advisory board advisor, CMO coach, was a company called Atera. Atera was a very small, early stage startup in 2014, 15 ish. I met the CEO and he asked me to help him get to real product market fit and to get to scale. And I helped him only with a couple of things with his websites, some of the messaging and content on the website, initial press release. We did some work on his investor deck. And all of those things started with me interviewing a couple of his customers. And those interviews are still on the website. They are still, there's quotes there.

And they went on, last year, so now it’s 2020. He raised his Series A, he's actually raising a Series B right now this week. I just heard about that. And they're definitely on that T2D3 growth track. And if I look back, it really started with a couple of testimonials and then of course having a great product, right, that allowed us to do those testimonial interviews, but it's yeah, it cannot be underestimated how critical these are.

Mike:

I have one more story, and then we can talk about the tactical component of it, like how to actually get them. The plays so to speak. But so we have a HubSpot theme in the asset marketplace and one of the kind of core strategies that I had. We have - a little peek into the backend. We have a small team that's developing it, I think relative to some of the other themes that are in the marketplace. So one of the things that I wanted to do when we launched the theme was to get as many downloads and reviews as possible, so that it showed up as one of the highest reviewed themes. The things that I know that we are very good at is solving unique problems for some of the modules and doing it specifically for B2B SaaS. So one of my strategies was to, whenever someone had an issue with the theme or ran into a challenge, if somebody came into my inbox and said, “Hey, I'm struggling with this module, or I'm not sure how to make this work. Can you help me with this?” We were very quick to respond and to make sure that those people were happy. And when they were happy, we were very diligent about asking them for reviews.

And now, as a result, having come late into the asset marketplace, competing against themes that had been there, you know, six, eight months prior to us, we now have the highest rated, depending on when you listened to this, it may change. But as of right now, we have the highest rated, HubSpot theme in the asset marketplace. So that's really cool. And now it's also something that we can use in our positioning, right? Like that is a, it's a tag that we can kind of latch onto and use in our marketing materials as well. And all of those testimonials, the phenomenal ones where people are saying, this is the best theme for B2B SaaS. It's going to help us re platform our entire website in two weeks. Like those are the things that are going on the product page, and they're writing our copy for us.

Stijn:

Congratulations for that, by the way, it's just such an amazing job that you guys did with that theme, in the marketplace. And it made me think one last point on this, before you jump into how you actually do this, it cannot be underestimated, also the value of having these interviews and even if the purpose is doing customer testimonials, how it also helps you develop your product and make your product better.

Mike:

Sure.

Stijn:

It forces you to have these conversations that are really about how the product is creating value and with most of our clients and the people we work with being really still often in seeking MVP, minimum viable product, or getting to product market fit or improving their product market fit. You know, if you're in that stage, there's nothing more powerful than what you experienced with Atlas as well, as these interviews are helping you make the product better. Nailing those really killer features that make people want to tell others about it.

Mike:

That's a great point. Every one of those scenarios, an opportunity for us to put something into the backlog to make the theme better, and then also if we were able to solve the problem for them, to capture a piece of content, something, a review...it's evergreen, it's always going to be there. And it's yeah.

Stijn:

So how did you get those reviews? How did you, of course you build a great product, then how do you kind of nudge people to give you the gift of the review on the feedback?

Mike:

So if I had to guess, I would say that about 50% of the reviews on our listing are from instances where someone reached out with a problem. They said, “Hey, I'm struggling here. This feature is broken, on mobile this is showing up weird.” Whatever it was. We were really diligent in capturing those. And even if we didn't have an answer right away just explaining, you know, setting an expectation for when we would, or, “Hey, this is going into the backlog. Thanks for bringing it up. I appreciate you being a user, part of our community, check back in a week and we'll release an update to the theme.” 

In most cases, we are able to solve people's problems and whenever somebody expressed some kind of gratitude or happiness, that's a perfect time for me to then come in and, just a gentle ask. "Hey, I'm so glad that this worked for you. If you're up for it, a review from you on our marketplace listing would go a long way in supporting us." And in most cases, this is a customer success lesson, I guess, as well. You're building a relationship with that person. And that person is thanking you. If I can capture the right people, when they're happy, I can almost always get them to express that content. So, that's one component. So it was turning problems into praise.

 The other component is actually being active in reaching out to people and asking them if they feel like they're being successful using your product. So there was a campaign that we ran a few months ago. I think we're about due for another one as well, where we actually just, it was a simple email that went out to everybody who had downloaded the theme. And I just asked a couple of questions and I said, "Hey, I'm looking for some examples of really great sites that people have used Atlas to build so that we can promote them as great use cases on our product page. I'd love to see what you've built." And some people sent their websites. Some people responded with more problems that turned into an opportunity for us to solve them. And some people actually responded and said with praise just directly, they just said, "Hey, we haven't used it yet, but we see why this is a great theme. We see a lot of potential here," and the same thing, we use all those opportunities to ask for more reviews.

So that campaign in itself, which was just a simple email that went out to a few hundred people, got us another four reviews, five star reviews. So those were the things that I kind of used to get the reviews for Atlas. And then obviously there were a few that came in just unprompted. It's very rare that someone is sitting around and, just experiencing pure joy from your product and says, "Hey, you know what? I'm going to go write a glowing review for this person on the marketplace." So I think in a lot of cases, you actually have to be active in seeking those out and finding those opportunities. But yeah.

Stijn:

What I love about this topic, Mike, is that it makes the point that although marketing these days is so data driven, and automation, and optimization, and AB testing... None of that matters if you don’t, go to say the psychology and the sociology of marketing, right? Which is, when you ask people for help, they love to help you. People want to be relevant, right? So, it is fantastic, what people will tell you when you are willing to listen, and then you get to the sociology part, right? What is it that really drives people? What are the things that really matter to them? And understanding that. We have a template, right, on how to do customer testimonial interviews. And it's, it's a set of 20 to 30 questions, depends a little bit on which ones are relevant for you to ask, but we do something there.

We ask for, we almost probe for pain and also probe for problems. We ask customers, tell us some things that we could improve on, if we didn't do so well, or is the quality of our engagement on our product, not perfect. And by doing that, you put people into a mode of, and they will share some of those things, you will learn from that, but you put them into a mode to want to almost reciprocate with some praise, right? Okay. I raked you over the coals, or your team, and now I almost feel obligated to also tell you some really great things, right? And that's how you get golden quotes, right, material that you could use in your marketing.

But back to your examples, I think it's fantastic that you, whether it's relatively automated through nurture campaigns, or in the way you train your customer success team and your support professionals, how you turn every opportunity where people are either willing to talk about why this product is important for them. Because when they're running into problems with your product, it's because it's important for them, right. They're trying to use it and how you can turn it into an opportunity to help them. And then they, of course, are helping you.

Another moment is when someone has acquired your product, they bought it, it's like when you buy a car and you drive the car off the lot, you're very likely to be enthusiastic about telling others about it. Right? So there's no better moment than asking your customers after they just acquired your product to tell others about it, ask their opinion. Why did they buy? What do they like about it? Et cetera. There are a couple other moments, right? If someone just upgraded to a new version or they renewed your software subscription, those are also great moments to ask for, "Hey, can you, are you willing to answer a couple of questions on how you're deriving value from the product? Can we have an interview? Can we ask you about those?"

Mike:

Something that I've done with one of my clients in the past was, we were in, so I guess for context, we were as a product in a, and I don't want to say it was saturated, but there were definitely a lot of competitors in the particular niche that we were working in. And one of the challenges was all their competitors showed up on Capterra and G2 Crowd. So they had profiles on those places, but they didn't have any kind of substance to them. They had one or two reviews, four stars, but it was meh, right. So people who are actively doing research are going to those profiles and comparing customer experiences on them. And we didn't have much to show there. So in order to, to kind of, to build the equity within Capterra, we ran a campaign where I went to the customer success team and said, all right, within the product, we know that we asked for NPS scores. So who are the people who are nine or tens that we can comfortably reach out to right now and ask for some kind of review, unprompted.

Then for the others that didn't respond from that campaign, how do we get some kind of volume there? So there are certain tools that you can use. Capterra has a, they call it RAS, reviews as a service, component where you can actually apply to get provided actually like, gift cards. So you get a unique link, you can send that link to your customers and ask them if they'll write a review for you on their marketplace. And if they do, they will get actually like a $50 Amazon gift card. I don't know if the amount has changed or if, the place has changed, but that was one of the techniques that we used. And that was very effective in at least getting 10 reviews up.

Stijn:

And they're getting it from Capterra, not from you. So they're more likely to be objective.

Mike:

Exactly. And that's something that's provided by Capterra because it benefits Capterra too, if more people are using their site. So that's one tactic we've used in the past. If you're trying to kind of build an online presence from nothing.

Stijn:

Do you want to talk a little bit about how you get the interviews scheduled?

Mike:

Let's talk about that, and let's talk about the psychology behind the actual questions that you ask, because I know that you've put a lot of thought into the sequence of the questions and the type of questions over the years that you've been doing this.

Stijn:

Yeah. And yeah, this definitely was probably 20 years in the making with many failed attempts to organize this in a way that this is templated. I think this is very specific for software companies, right. But I also believe some of the approaches probably can lend itself for other industries. So when I start as a marketing leader somewhere, or I coach a new CMO, you have a lot of credits in the bank, typically with your existing customers to ask them, "Hey, we have a new marketing leader. Can we please introduce you to her or him?" This will be an email that comes from the sales team, “because our new marketing leader would love to learn from our customers, how they actually accrue value from our solution.” I've had a hundred percent take rate on those questions, typically. You only need 10 or 15 of those interviews to get a fantastic library of material to work with.

So that's the first part. You tried to get some of those introductions and then get interviews set up, typically 30 to 45 minutes. Zoom call, Google meets, whatever you use to record. And I think you've done a couple of these as well. Right?

So when I get these interviews set up, I turn them into a conversation that is, feels very natural, but it's actually pretty scripted. I have 29 questions, exactly, Mike, that I typically run through. And they're grouped in a couple of themes. The first is the introduction of the call. I always ask “Hey, can I record this?” It's easier for me to focus on the conversation and not on taking notes. I talk a little bit about my own background, just having started as a marketing leader wanting to learn from these customers. I don't say this as the intention of the interview is a testimonial, but I do say if we end up talking about things that I would love to use in marketing materials, I will, of course ask your permission or you have a chance to look at those.

And that often is a very smooth, quick, quick part of the conversation. Then I ask some questions that are about the customer's backgrounds. What's the business they're in, what are their customers looking for? How are they creating value? What's their role within the company? How's the company or organization doing? You know, have they grown lately and I ask them to describe their own clients. So that's the second section of the interview.

Then the third is I ask a couple of questions that are about them using our solution. What are they using it for? How long have they been using it? You know, what are the, I like to ask the question, “what is the job to be done that our product, our service does for you?” Right? If you would describe it, like you would describe an employee, what is their job function, how would you describe that?

“How did you find us? Did you explore any other options?” And then in the end also, “why did you choose us?” So that was the section of how do you sort of use our solution. Then I go into this section of “what is your experience working with our team, our organization, and our product so far?” And these are the questions that also allow them to give us some feedback, improvements that we could make, things we can learn from. You know, how long have they worked with us, who have they worked with in our company, what it's like working with us, describe the work we do for you. Are there things where we could do a better job? You know, where the quality hasn't been ideal. Or “what challenges have you found along the way, working with us?”

And all those things, Mike, set them up to typically give us some productive feedback. And then also, typically they want to say something more positive later. So then I go to the next section of the interview, which is really about outcomes and ROI of our solution, because I want those for the quotes, right? To build a great testimonial or a case study. So now I'm going to ask questions like, “Hey, how has our product or service helped you with specific outcomes? What are the benefits that you've realized? Can you give me some tangible examples, things that you maybe even measure, how you talk to your superiors or the people who signed off on the budget about the outcomes” that the impact that our solution has had. And I really tried to seek tangible things that are measurable. And I also then ask, “Hey, how do you think this product that maybe has even impacted the team's morale or productivity?” 

I like to also dig for stories. Is there a story that you can tell about something that's happened that our product helped with that either prevented something really bad from happening, or it helped something really good to happen. I like to ask what benefits they expect to get from using our product or service in the future. And that sometimes hints at things they're not maybe using yet because they haven't found time or haven't been onboarded. Or things that they would love to see in our product that we don't do today. And that's great impact for our product team.

And then finally, I try to ask a couple of questions to really dig for a couple more quotes that feel repetitive and they are kind of repetitive, but asking those questions in sequence helps you get fantastic material. Bottom line, “what has our solution really done for you?”

“What would you tell others about this solution, if they would ask you for recommendations? Is there anything that we were best at that the only we can do?” And I always tell them, “Hey, I'm going to ask you some self-serving questions,” to prompt them in a way. And if you're not comfortable, prime them a little bit, but, yeah.

And then you let the silence do the work a little bit, right? You ask some of these questions and you just are very patiently listening. And if you drop a couple of seconds of silence, there's always more coming, more better quotes, more greater insights. And so yeah, Mike, that's kind of how I structure these interviews. And then you record it, you send the recording to a transcription service like Rev, for example. And it's really easy to turn them then into a beautiful customer testimonial with a couple of quotes and then share it back with the customer and say, “Hey, I learned a lot from our conversation and I took the liberty to write it up. I will not use any of these materials, of course, without your consent. Take a look.”

I typically send it in an editable document, Google Docs, or Word, so they can provide some comments in the document. And then I typically get approval to use it. Very seldom you get, “oh, I need to run it by my legal team or PR team.” But you don't get those a lot. Far less than you would expect. People love to hear themselves. People love to help you. So yeah, I have a very high success rate for turning these into customer testimonials.

Mike:

And those are really cool because you can do them, you can have long form, right? They can be a true testimonial where it's just a series of quotes that are just pure praise for a product, or a company, or customer success team. You can turn those into a case study if down the road, you have a bunch of success metrics that you can tie back to them. And something that we've been doing a lot recently that have been really, that I really like, is you can chop them up into really small segments, two or three sentences, that tie back to a specific value prop pillar, or a to a specific feature. So if you have a product page and you're talking about how your product does X, Y, Z, you can put a quote that actually is from a customer explaining how they've benefited from that specifically. And it's a really, really cool way to not only just say that your product does something, but really illustrate it through the words of your customer.

So I found those extremely helpful. You can do so many different things with them. And I mean, going back to the original point, that's one of the reasons why I think it's your most important piece of content, so.

Stijn:

Yeah. Well, and when you just said about organizing the quotes and using smaller pieces, makes me think, at Microsoft we had actually a big spreadsheet that had quotes for, we had marketing teams in 87 countries at some point. So imagine, a lot of those have different languages, right, or different cultural angles of how you want to do marketing or different themes that were important. So you almost want to have quotes for not only every product, every value prop pillar of your product, but then even every language, every market, every industry. So you build this big sort of grid. That, I mean, it doesn't have to be as big as we have at Microsoft, but that has a quote for every industry that you're trying to serve every type of persona, maybe every part of your value prop. And then you can also focus future interviews with new customers on the gaps that you have on that map, things where you don't have a quote. “I don't have a quote for the financial services industry, so let me focus on getting some testimonials, interviews with customers in that space” and fill the gaps in my map. Yeah, no, that's great.

Yeah, so to wrap up Mike, if you have only one tactic as a marketing leader to go do, it is go interview some of your customers, right? Write it up as testimonials, use that as the starting point for your email campaigns, your press releases, your product pages, your landing pages, your website materials, your sales collateral, everything.

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