Episode 4 - Jeff Ernst - The Last Competitive Advantage for B2B Firms

In this episode, we talk about why customer stories are the one thing your competitors can’t copy or replicate, plus why customer stories are better for building trust than case studies and how to build long-lasting relationships with your customers.

[00:00:00] **Jeff:**
Every other form of competitive advantage that you have can be quickly duplicated in this digital age. If you have a product feature advantage, a competitor can copy it. If you have a service advantage, a competitor can hire a few people and deliver a similar service. What they can’t replicate are your customer success stories—the successes in the first place—as well as customers telling those stories for other people to hear.

How do you copy that?

[00:00:32] **Sam:**
Welcome to another episode of the State of Customer Storytelling podcast.

My guest today is Jeff Ernst. Jeff is the co-founder and CEO at SlapFive, which is the first customer marketing software platform. He started SlapFive because of his belief that customer stories are really the last bastion of real competitive advantage for B2B firms.

He’s also the co-founder of the Customer-Led Movement, which we can get into. He has an extensive background as an executive, a founder, consultant, and an analyst.

He’s previously served in leadership roles at the Buyer Persona Institute, Forrester, Research, Kadient, and many other companies in the software and technology space.

Jeff, welcome to the show.

[00:01:28] **Jeff:**
Thank, you Sam. Glad to be here. Thank you for inviting me on, and congratulations on your podcast. Great to hear that you’re doing this.

[00:01:35] **Sam:**
Absolutely. I’m very excited for the chat today. I’ve learned a lot from you over the years and all of our conversations.

So, let’s dive right in. You mentioned customer stories told in the end-customer’s voice are really the last bastion of competitive advantage, especially, in B2B. Let’s dig into that more. Tell me more about that. What exactly do you mean by that?

[00:02:03] **Jeff:**
If you think about it, every other form of competitive advantage you have can be quickly duplicated in this digital age, If you have a product feature advantage, a competitor can copy it. If you have a service advantage, a competitor can hire a few people and deliver a similar service.

What they can’t replicate are your customer success stories—the successes in the first place—as well as the customers telling those stories for other people to hear.

How do you copy that? You can’t. That’s why I say it’s really the last bastion of competitive advantage, because it’s the one thing that can’t be stolen copied or replicated. In the digital age everything else is just so quickly to be done.

When you think about today’s modern buying cycle, and I did a lot of research on this at Forrester, where I built the buyer persona research methodology. Then, as you mentioned, I’ve worked with the Buyer Persona Institute.

I’ve done thousands of buyer interviews, and the most important thing, the biggest questions, fears, and doubts that buyers have as they go through a buying process at every single stage, every one of them is best told in the voice of your customers.

As much as we love to put out our own product collateral—and we all love our products—what buyers really want is a crystal ball into what life is like as a customer. Any company that’s able to provide that crystal ball is going to have a distinct competitive advantage over those that can’t, because you’re going to earn trust. You’re going to overcome whatever fears or doubts your buyers have, and they’re going to look at you much quicker as that trusted partner.

That’s really what I mean. I’m sure you’re seeing it as well in your business, too. People come to you because they’re also trying to solve that trust gap that exists in the market, and customer voice is the best way to fill that trust gap.

[00:03:55] **Sam:**
So true. And, and I know that you mentioned like, you know, providing that, that crystal ball. I’m curious, like how do you see, you know, customer storytelling kind of evolving or how have you seen the space evolving over the past couple years in terms of that? Is it, You know, firms need the more customer stories to be, competitive then, you know, then maybe, you know, five years ago, you know, maybe more segmented, you know, and more accessible.

But yeah, what are the shifts that you’ve seen as you’ve been very intimately involved in this space for.

[00:04:29] **Jeff:**
Yeah, for sure. And, I like to think that I’ve helped lead some of the shifts. Maybe that’s a little bit of wishful thinking, but, but there’s definitely a shift going on here because the, the traditional mindset, when it comes to customer proof are the things I call, the happy quotes and the, you know, the the classic PDF case study written in the third person by a professional writer after interviewing your customer where it’s lost all that authentic first-person tone of voice, It just happens the traditional case. Studies tend to be all about you. you know, that they make the product, your r product, the star of the story, not the customer.

It just doesn’t answer those biggest questions, fears, and doubts that buyers have. Right. And if you go through and look at, if you do the analysis to really understand what are, what are those questions, fears, and doubts that your buyers have, and then compare that to what are the insights delivered in your customer stories.

You’re going to see a huge gap in. Well, like I said, historically, companies have always relied on these four-page PDFs–challenge solution result format–with a little happy quote in the sidebar, or they do the happy-day scenario stories where, The customer was in a world of hurt.

They came to us we’re the Knight in shining armor and now they’re living happily ever after. that’s the story arc of a typical customer story, but where I see it shifting now, is it, it is aligning more with how buyers buy, because what you really need to do is understand, okay, what are those insights that buyers need in order to make a confident decision and buy from you?

It could be objections they raise. It could be confusion they have it could be misunderstandings. I call this taking a more surgical approach because once. you understand those things, you can then frame the right questions to ask your customers so that you’re sure to be gathering those types of insights.

That’s like the, the subject matter of what you’re capturing. then of course there’s a whole. delivery side of that is the other half of the equation, right? Is that, you know, video today is just so important, but I, I say video and audio today are both really important, but what they both have in advantage of over any kind of text format or written format is that you hear that authentic tone of voice.

That’s how human beings decide whether to trust something is from the tone of voice. When you hear the emotion. When you hear the, you know, the, the anguish the person might’ve been feeling or the joy as they talk about their results. also, when it’s done in a way that it’s not just somebody sounding like there’ve been, they’re reading from a script, what they’ve been told to say, looking off, blah, blah, blah, boom.

But when, when they’re actually sharing their experiences and sounding authentic, I mean, that, that is just so critical today because, because buyers are smart. Right. And, and again, I’m sure. Buyers. And when I say buyer, it could be when you’re going after net new logos, right. Those are buyers when you’re trying to get customers to onboard.

Okay. They’re in buying mode when you’re trying to get existing customers to expand and buy more. Okay. They’re in buying mode and when you want them to renew they’re in buying mode. So, so all of those cases is what I talked about with buyers and in this content needs to be speaking to all of them whatever those questions, fears, and doubts are that they have when they’re in that mode.

[00:07:43] **Sam:**
It’s searcher, like, one, you know, thing we say a lot is like, you don’t get tone through text, you know, it’s just, it’s just that simple. Right. yeah. So one thing I’m also seeing in, I’m curious to get your take on is like, I feel like, you know, speaking of a, kind of contrasting like the old way. with, with, you know, the the future, right. to me, it feels like the, you know, the old way was very much like, customer evidence in, in customer proof is sort of like a checkpoint, you know, mid later down the funnel. Right. That was kind of the, all the way. Okay. Like kick them over the line with, with the customer evidence versus now it seems like, you know, in the data obviously supports, this is, you know, buyers today.

They wanna, they want to self-consume They want to do their own research. And with that in mind and, you know, they’re going to, they want to be able to dig into, customer stories and customer content, at all stages of the customer journey. Now that, that, which that the, that the shape of that the length and the format of that customer content may differ depending on the buyer journey.

Of course, but what do you think about that? And like that sort of like, you know, that, that shift.

[00:08:50] **Jeff:**
Yeah, it is. And, and I think what What falls under that shift you just described is this whole idea of customer reference programs, for example. we’re all used to having to hoard our customer references till the very end of the sales cycle until it’s the last thing you need in order to get a.

Prospect over the finish line, because, then you’re going to go ask a customer to do a reference because you don’t want to burn them out and use the same customers over and over again. that’s one of the classical ways of thinking that gets in the way. another one is that we can’t tap into our customers and even ask them to do a customer story until they’ve been with us for three years.

They’re totally happy. There’s no upsell going on. There are no renewal discussions going on. There are no issues there. Support issues or open tickets how many customers are ever in that Nirvana state. They’re not. And, and, and so, these are a couple of the areas where I’ve tried to get people to re modernize their thinking because some of the best stories might come.

Customers that are just signed on from you with you, That’s when they’re the happiest, that’s when they can tell you how they went about evaluating and comparing their options in the market why they selected you and why they decided to make a change in the first place, which are amazing insights that customers have right after they sign the dotted line to be a new customer of yours that they might forget later.

On Right. And so, so I work with my customers to help capture stories at that point in time. then every other point in the sales cycle, there are those magic moments that we call SlapFive moments where, you know, they finished onboarding. That’s a great time to capture customer voice. you know, when they, maybe after they’ve been with you for a year, it’s a great time to ask, you know, start to ask about the value they’ve been deriving and get examples in use cases of particular valuable things they’ve done Maybe they filled out a net promoter score survey, and they’ve given you a 9 or 10. That’s a great time to get some feedback from them on why they gave you a 9 or 10 that could contribute to your customer story library. So, so these are just some of the ways that that people need to kind of expand their thinking because it’s no longer about the monolithic case.

Study Or the, the, you know, the, or the happy quotes that, that people love to sprinkle, sprinkle all around their websites. It doesn’t mean there’s not a place for the happy quotes. Right.

But I like to say to a company when, when you just get these happy trait quotes, you know, read them out loud at your company meetings and get your employees jazz.

Cause that’s really what they’re good for. They make every, give everybody goosebumps, but they don’t really serve the needs of a buyer. Who’s trying to overcome their fears and doubts.

[00:11:20] **Sam:**
Absolutely. And to your point about, you know, competitive advantage, like. if you’re a company, you know, has just as happy quotes and then the competitor has, really, what you’re talking about, you know, the real, you know, insights and you know, actually customers sharing, you know, knowledge, experience and advice, you know, enrich media. I mean, who’s going to have the competitive advantage, right. So, super, super good point. I want to hit on like earned advocacy versus paid customer advocacy. And how does it sort of change, you know, if it does, based on like company size, right?

Cause I think some smaller companies. Are, you know, think of that. Okay. It’s all well and good, but I don’t have a customer advocacy program. I I’m a startup and I just need to quickly get some social proof out there. Right. how do you think.

That sort of, relationship between of course earned customer advocacy and paid customer advocacy.

And of course, you know, with the idea being, you know, how, how has, you know, if I’m a marketer listening to this, how can I succeed and do what we all want to do, which is more earned customer advocacy.

[00:12:23] **Jeff:**
Right. Yeah. I’m glad you raised that. And I’m glad you’ve been following that because I, I coined the, those phrases, probably about five years ago, coin earned versus paid advocacy, but it wasn’t totally original because. It was a colleague of mine at Forrester that coined the term earned versus paid versus owned media.

And so I co-opted that and applied it to advocacy because I think everybody knows in media that earned media is like your, your most valuable media, you can pay all you want But, but the, the ROI and the real bang for the buck comes from, from earned media. The same thing with advocacy. and just to describe what I mean by that, this is, I think where advocacy is shifting the reason why it’s so relevant to customer stories is because.

The more You take a more modern view of advocacy, which is earned advocacy, the easier it’s going to be to get customers to step up and want to share their stories, because here’s how we’ve always done it. In the past. We think about customer advocacy as let’s identify the top 3 to 5% of our raving lunatic fan customers, and let’s go after them and beg them to do favors for us.

We’ll bribe them by paying them $500 to do a testimonial video, or we’ll pay them 50 to go write a review on G2 or we’ll pay them 300 every time they do a reference call or something like that. that’s what I call paid advocacy You’re you’re offering a bribe and then the customer waits for the bribe to come, then they do it and then they get their reward.

It’s like training a dog. The problem with that is that it turns your relationship with the customer into a transactional relationship. it, then it becomes one where they’re only going to evaluate whether they do it based on the size and value of the reward. And if that’s not sizeable enough, they’re going to say no.

Also, what it does is it releases the dopamine in the brain, If you’re using gamification and leaderboards and things like that, which is not a long-lasting happiness drug in the brain compared to oxytocin. Right. Which is, again, I don’t want to get too much into brain science, but. A lot.

So earned advocacy is all about creating a two-way exchange of value with your customers. you make them successful. The power of reciprocity is going to turn and make them turn around and want to make you successful. this is how customer advocacy has evolved rapidly too many people are still in the paid advocacy realm.

I’m trying to get more people to realize, to do it this way, but with earned advocacy, you’re running a program where. The customers are given lots of opportunities to showcase their knowledge, experience and advice. they’re able to build their reputation. so there’s a lot of intrinsic value for them, especially to share their customer stories So in, instead of giving them rewards and payments, instead, they’re getting intrinsic benefits by building their career, things they value even more that are going to make them a one, you know, really feel more of a trusted relationship versus a transactional relationship with you.

This is what releases the oxytocin in the brain, the love drug and builds long-term lasting relationships with customers. so again, as it relates to customer stories, you know, the, the, the best way to do customer stories is to be doing it throughout the customer life cycle, not just saving them up until that one point, but in order to be doing that without hindering your customers, you know, you, you need to be engaging them in acts of advocacy.

Where there they’re mutually benefiting so that they’re going to be like, you know, readily and anxiously awaiting the next opportunity you offer them. I can say, I’ve just done like three customer interviews for my clients today with. their Customers and every one of them was so appreciative.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak. thank you for showcasing the work we’ve done. We feel like we’ve done so much great work, but we know we’re still barely scratching the surface. So I’m honored that you want to recognize our, success to date. Right. And because. That’s the power of, of earned advocacy.

Right. so, I don’t know if you’re seeing the same thing, but, but it, you know, a lot of it comes down to the, the incentives I like to use the analogy, Sam, if you think about, if you were to go to TripAdvisor you were to see a review from about a resort, and then you found out that that person was paid a thousand dollars to write that review, how much trust are you going to put in that review?

Or if you’re, if you’re looking to hire somebody and you go to their LinkedIn profile and you see a recommendation from them, but at the bottom it said, my former boss was paid $250 to write this recommendation. how much trust are you going to put in that? So I think that’s the, the real, the real, a huge need for us to get to earned advocacy because buyers again, are there, they’re too smart.

They’re going to see through people that are just out there being paid to shell for you.

[00:17:28] **Sam:**
It’s it’s so true. And to me, it comes also back to like the medium, right. And, and, you know, video and audio, you can tell, you know, you can tell when someone’s just, you know, cares genuinely, you know, or if they’re just, as you said, just kind of being paid to. it’s the same reason why, you know, people do no reference calls before hiring people, right?

You, you, you, you’re not going to conduct that over email, you know, to check someone’s background, you want to talk to the person, see how enthusiastic they really are. I love that point. and you, you brought up a good point about a two way exchange of value and, and that’s so crucial. And I think one of the things that we as As customer marketers and marketing leaders, we think about a lot is like, one of the best ways to do that is like helping, our advocates, build their reputation and career of course.

Right. But sometimes that can be like sort of a nebulous. Thing to aspire to write in, you know, how do you, you know, how do you go about that? How, how how you help people, build their reputation and career? Is it, is it, you know, content and promoting that content you know, yeah. What, what, what can we do to, to do that, to where exchange of value.

[00:18:39] **Jeff:**
Yeah. And so one of the mindset shifts, and I actually wrote a whole ebook about this and, first point of my eight points on how to go about this is, the thing you have to put out of your mind is to go to customers, begging them for.

Testimonials. when they say testimonials I mean, the happy quotes, Not the great testimonial video work you do, so stop asking them for testimonial, quotes, endorsements, or recommendations, because first of all, there’s nothing in it for the customer to give you those things.

Also they oftentimes have handcuffs on, they’re not allowed to do in shell for a vendor, especially in more regulated industries, it’s especially hard, but then the larger the company you asked you, well, how does this vary by size of company, the larger the company you work for? The more you’re prohibited from going on the record of endorsing or recommending a vendor?

However, People are always sharing opinions. People love to share opinions. So what I coach people on how to do this is to say, make the shift from begging customers for their testimonial, videos, endorsements, and recommendations. I’m sorry, testimonial, quotes, endorsements, and recommendations. But instead present them with great opportunities to showcase their knowledge, their experience, and their advice.

If you think about it, everybody loves to share their knowledge because it makes them feel. smart Everybody loves to share their experience because it makes them feel successful. everybody loves to share their advice because it makes them feel heard. And so I think that’s a huge, huge difference, and it’s all in how you present it to the customer.

So if you’re saying to the customer, look, you’ve been with us for two years. You haven’t done anything for us yet. I’m begging, begging, begging. My CEO wants us to do three case studies this quarter. Could you do one for us, please? No, it’s a big burden. you’re asking for a big burden and, and there’s nothing in it for them versus say, Hey customer, you you’ve you’ve you’ve, you’ve done some really impressive things.

I think there should be. We have a great opportunity for you to showcase that. So other people that are behind you in their journey, might want to learn from we’ve got this great opportunity for you to share the success you’ve been experiencing. this is all part of how you craft the story too.

You want to craft the story such that it’s about their success, not about how great the product is or service, and, you want to make them the star of the story. I can tell you that, you know, my, my whole business is built as, is yours on helping our clients, get their customers to feel that way it’s never failed when, when you make that shift, I mean, begging people to do case studies. Fails, but, but when you present it with these opportunities, for them to showcase their knowledge experience and advice, it never feels the only time I ever run into trouble or resistance or places where I might have to soft pedal.

Is where they say. Yeah. But, but I’m still, my company will still not let me go on the record and use my company logo publicly. And then I’m thinking, okay, well, what I say to my clients is, okay, so for that customer, They have some great stories that they’re sharing. What if you tell that customer, and we’re not going to put this on YouTube or CNN or, you know, broadcast and get public for the world to see, but we’ll use this in sales cycles that with highly qualified prospects and in that customer, Covered their butt.

And you’ve now controlled the distribution of that story. but even having a story like that, that you can use in your sales cycles, it’s phenomenally successful because I talked about like the reference overuse and burnout earlier, you, now that your sales team can have this library of customer stories that they can use.

Reduce the need or deflect the need for these live one-on-one reference calls. And they can introduce them earlier in the sales cycle. That’s a home run. And so, so, so there’s also, you know, there’s, there’s how you position it to the customer. That’s number one first and foremost, but then there’s also giving the customer some flexibility in how you use the stories that the capture, not everything has to be made for a prime time TV.

[00:22:44] **Sam:**
It’s true. how do you think about. deciding that. right? Because like, like you said, not everything needs to be, you know, sometimes things, you know, it’s really about the content. Right. And, and you know, rough and ready is is, is more than okay. And then, you know, maybe if it’s like a featuring on the homepage, you know, it does, you know, need to stand up to the, to the quality or the design of the rest of the brand. Yeah. how do you think about that relationship in terms of the quality and. Setting the overall strategy around that. Is it just as simple as like mapping it out and fitting it to the place or, what have you learned there?

[00:23:19] **Jeff:**
Yeah, what I’ve learned there is, and what I coach my clients on too, is also to think about what strategic growth initiatives of your company are you trying to support with the, these customer stories you’re creating, if the strategic growth initiative you’re trying to support is to position your company as a thought leader, creating and a great brand impression about your company, then yes, the highly produced, and I’ve seen some of your work.

It’s amazing. the. Produce work that you do. I mean, that makes an amazing brand impression on somebody. Then I’ll put that on your homepage, showcase that, play that at the beginning of your sessions at your user conference, play it at your company meetings It gives people Goosebumps.

It’s so powerful. some of the, highly produced stuff may not be as credible when you’re using it in place of a reference call. so this is where I see some people making the mistake. They’re trying to take the same vehicle and use it for all channels, because I paid this much money for it.

Let me just fire it everywhere. Where, where that more authentic. non-produced content might be a lot more effective in convincing when, when you’re using your, when you’re trying to use it, because you’ve asked a customer to answer the 10 or 15 most frequently asked questions on your reference calls and you’ve created a recorded reference.

And, and you’re now presenting. all those in those cases, the person’s job is not that they’re not looking to be entertained or for a brand impression, that person is looking to really get that crystal ball into what life as a customer is like. So they’re going to be more concerned about, is this addressing this concern I have, is it addressing this doubt?

If it doesn’t, it’s not going to be as effective in that case, it’s, it’s sort of, the substance is even more important than the style. And so there’s, there’s a place for everything, but, but the, to answer your question, it’s really what is the strategic growth initiative or the challenge in the market you’re facing that you’re trying to overcome with this customer story let that determine the format with how professionally produced it is versus how more authentic it is in and how you distribute it and there’s a need for everything. And as I said earlier, I mean it’s, and you know, too, but the customer voice, it’s, it answers questions and solves doubts at every stage of the buying cycle. From the very first awareness–it helps people kind of get a good feeling that other people have solved this problem, similarly–all the way through evaluation, through purchase, and then through post-sale.

[00:25:50] **Sam:**
So true. And like you said, it’s really like a yes. And not like an either or right. it all comes back to the strategy. I’ve like, you know, for anyone listening. you know, such a salient point is like, you know, just like anything, you know, first it, you know, it pays to get really clear on, you know, what is the strategy and what are the key strategic initiatives.

And understanding where the gaps and where, you know, as you said, customer stories and customer content can fit in there. you mentioned reference calls a couple of times, and I want to dig into that a bit because it’s reference calls. I think. Sort of, interesting, you know, phenomenon where like that references don’t necessarily like to do them buyers, they salespeople, don’t like to give them out, you know, buyer, it’s kind of like inconvenient for everyone, but it’s sometimes, you know, helpful, I mean, in some situations for sure, but like at the same time, you know, I’m curious, just genuinely curious, like, do you guys think, and is it your goal somewhat to kind of. You know, I don’t want to say kill the reference call. That’s a little too dramatic, but like, you know, I, in to some extent, like, is that your goal and, Yeah.

[00:26:59] **Jeff:**
Yeah, well, you never going to kill the reference call, right? Because there’s always going to be a need to either. Procurement requires the buyer to talk to three references, just to check the box or in some cases, there, there might be some serious concern that a buyer has where they need to run that by a few, or maybe it also depends on the state.

Your cup of lifecycle, your company is in right? The earlier stage you’re in the more people in the more innovative the solution you’re bringing to market versus kind of a legacy solution. The more they’re going to want to hear, how other people that have experimented and taken the plunge with something new, you know, again, If you’re selling to a total early adopter, they’re going to buy it without references.

Right. We’re talking to the people that aren’t really early adopters who need to hear the other people’s experiences. So, so, so that, again, you never going to kill the need for references, but you can greatly reduce them because salespeople cringe right. When they get the, when they’re asked for the references, because they know they’re going to lose some control here.

You never know what that customer is actually going to say. Did they have a bad day? Did they have a fight with their spouse last night, a Reno, they got to just be in a bad mood or they’re going to be in a great mood. And if they take two or three weeks off in times to align calendars to get them to take place.

So it’s basically putting a wedge in your. Sales cycle. It’s delaying it. It’s giving competitors an opportunity to get in there and it’s just, it’s making it really hard. And so if you can have this concept, I call it recorded references. but, but if you can find out, and this is one of the things we do with our clients, we find out what are those 10 or 15 most frequently asked questions on customer reference calls and.

Interview a few customers and ask them those 10 or 15 questions and answer them with discreet little video snippets and publish that on a, on something. Put that into the hands of your sales reps, right within Salesforce, where they can, or HubSpot, whichever, whatever CRM you’re using, you know, and allow your sales reps to try to use that now to deflect the need for live reference calls, because it’s going to do a number of things.

It’s going to allow the sales rep to respond right away when they get asked for the references and so that you don’t have that two or three week gap of scheduling. And so it’s going to give the customer some of that satisfaction of hearing. What other customers have to say. As I mentioned earlier, the second thing it’s going to do is it’s going to allow the sales rep to use those early.

In the sales cycle so that they can start to overcome doubts and earn brand preference earlier versus porting things until the end. And then, and then ultimately it’s going to be a better experience for your customers who are giving that reference content, because, and this has been my experience. I don’t know if you have it too, but, Position this as an opportunity to customers to do one of these recorded reference interviews that they’ll oftentimes say, you know, I like talking, I like doing reference calls because I like having conversations with customers.

But what I don’t like is having to answer the same 10 questions over and over and over again. So why don’t you just record me answering the vanilla questions and then I’ll jump on the call and answer those two or three additional questions. Okay. That are special, unique to this prospect because, because some people still like doing the reference calls because they’re expanding their network.

And so, so now you’re giving your customer a better experience because either they don’t have to do reference calls at all, or you, or you use them for other forms of advocacy, or when they do jump on calls to build their network. They’re there, they’re having a much richer, shorter, but richer conversation and more meaty where they’re not just regurgitating the same thing that they say everyday.

And it enough customers, I can’t say their name, but one customer in particular that that’s reduced the need for the live reference calls by 60. but there’s still that 40% there are now either shorter calls or they’re, you know, things that are checking the box or where somebody needs to dig deeper.

Or it might also be the case because somebody that when people ask for references, they always want it to be the same industry, the same company size, the same region, the same, this the same that, you know, same business model. So it has to be really similar. And sometimes you just don’t have that. The, you know, enough of those recorded references.

That fit every single permutation of selling situation that you might be in.

[00:31:15] **Sam:**
Got it. Yeah. That makes complete sense. And so, so reference goals, they’re not going away. However, you know, it sounds like, the best practices and, and the future of customer advocacy is, you know, more of a reliance on evidence and, and relatively less of a need for, for reference. Right. is that, is

[00:31:35] **Jeff:**
Yeah,

Yeah. Less of a need for that live one-on-one reference call because you lose control when you have to set those up. But, but also doing it in such a way that it’s, it’s making it more pleasant and enjoyable for your customers who are, who are participating in your reference program. I mean that that’s, that’s critically important too.

You don’t want to burn them out. You can’t go back to the same customer and have them do 10 reference calls. They’re going to finally say, don’t you have anybody else? I mean, am I the only one that does this? And for a lot of companies, they only have two or three customers that are willing to do reference calls.

I mean, what do you do in that situation? so tough. I mean, it’s, that’s why the, you know, the value of the work that you and I both do. I mean, it’s tremendous in, in helping reduce the need for these.

One-on-one reference calls, reduce it without eliminating it. I call it reference deflection.

Just like you have support deflection in the call center, you try to deflect calls to self service, same thing. You’re deflecting reference calls to self service. that’s my analogy.

[00:32:35] **Sam:**
It’s a perfect analogy. And it’s, I think it’s very, it’s exactly in line with the really like overall macro trends of buyers, as well as which is of course self service. Right. you know, for, for any marketer marketing leaders, you know, customer marketers advocate, marketers, Or who are, listening to this and, and, maybe they’re, they, they love what they’re hearing, but they feel like, you know, men, like we need to get started.

We need to catch up, you know, H how should someone get started? You know, if they’re, they haven’t done a ton of, you know, customer stories, you know, and don’t have a very robust, sort of library, or practice yet of creating. you know, these, these customer stories.

[00:33:22] **Jeff:**
Yep. Got it. Great question. I work with companies that are just starting all the time like that their, their, their, their first, D. Dipping their toe in the water of knowing that they need to do this, knowing that they need customer proof, but where do we start? usually where people do start, unfortunately, is okay, we’re going to follow the traditional mindset, which is to write a case study, you know?

And so, because nobody ever got fired for writing a case study. and, and there’s still so many executives and sales leaders, they still think that that’s The bright, shiny object that that’s still the, best you can do. They they’re probably that they’re not familiar with some of these better ways of doing things.

So a lot of times the marketers or sales enablement people, or even if it’s just very small companies, Did there the one person responsible for the whole go to market strategy. They’re getting this pressure from above to, to just write more case studies. But what I suggest they do is, I mean, I wouldn’t even start there because that’s too hard.

I would start with, you know, first of all, Even just ask around your company, the people that have been dealing with your early customers and find out what, you know, w w w where’s the rub, when we try to sell, what are the objections that frequently get raised? things like that and, and figure out, like, just come up with a list of like five.

Insights that if we could capture this in our customer’s voice, this would knock down this objection and accelerate sales cycles in this situation, or this would make these marketing campaigns that much more effective, or this would overcome this huge mindset, that people have that’s antiquated.

That keeps us from being ready to buy the solution that we offer. Right. If you can really focus in on something like that, and then. you work with a firm like me work with your firm, work with themselves, you know, do it themselves, you know, pick up the phone and call the customer and ask them a couple of questions and record the phone call.

Just get a few audio snippets, right? Because that’s going to allow you to prove to your management team that this stuff works right. Even if you started with recording an audio call. The phone call and gathered a few of these snippets with customers that are, that are sharing these insights that knocked down those biggest obstacles.

You’re you’re then going to see the needle move. And that’s really what you want to do. And by doing that, you’re going to have more confidence that this is the right angle. You’re going to learn more about your market because of the, what you, you know, the insights that you gather from your customers.

And you’re going to get more willingness from the people that own the purse strings for your company’s budget to say let’s let’s, put a little more gas into this, and that’s when they might be, you know, at that point, ready to more formalize the program and, you know, be more ready to work with testimonial hero or SlapFive, right.

When they’re ready to kind of step on the gas and, and do this in a more formalized way, more professional way and more scalable, repeatable. but I still think you can start. I have to say like, like I was just last week I was, I gave up or the week before, I think I gave a presentation at the HubSpot inbound conference on, and it was exactly this to small business owners who are HubSpot users and, And I had 150 emails afterwards from people because, asking like either for an offer that I had on best questions to ask or things, but they all kept saying this was so timely because we’re chartered with doing something in this space.

And we’ve never done anything here before. So, so if you do that, against just start by making sure you’re addressing some of the biggest challenges that you have, or the biggest mindset shifts that you need to make, get, just get some customer voice and start to use it and see how it and be agile about it.

Right. As you try it and learn, test it. if this is ineffective, then that wasn’t the right insight. the other thing that I can tell you is that with all the clients I work with, when they start to. These customer proof points and customer voice snippets into the market. In sales starts to use them.

Sales tends to learn even more what the real objections are or what the real fears and doubts are. And so, so it’s a great way also for you to see what’s working in helping accelerate sales cycles with which at the end of the day, you know, for, for a small company, just getting started is what you’re ultimately looking to do.

Right. You’re looking to bring on more customers faster. And so that’s just a quick way to get started.

[00:37:31] **Sam:**
I love that. So true about smaller companies. They’re very revenue focused. They can’t afford to sometimes play the long game. So, in getting those quick wins with the customer stories, that that’s such a good point. Fantastic.

So, Jeff, where can people get in touch, and learn more about you, and learn more about SlapFive, which I highly recommend checking out. Where can people get in touch if they want to connect and learn more?

[00:38:00] **Jeff:**
You can always find me at jeff@slapfive.com, J E F F, and SlapFive is spelled out, S L A P F I V E. I’m also Jeff Ernst on LinkedIn, if you want to check me out there or SlapFive.com.

If you’re intrigued by any of these ideas and things that I was sharing, or, as I said, I do have and eBook called From the Horse’s Mouth. It’s how to get your customers to share their voice, which is usually the biggest challenge that people have, especially when they’re first starting out. That’s usually the first hurdle. We could do a whole session just on that. Ping me if you want that, or if you want the thing I mentioned that I offered at the HubSpot session, which is The Best Performing Questions To Ask Your Customers, that’s also something I can send you.

If you want a copy of that, just email me a jeff@slapfive.com.

[00:38:59] **Sam:**
Love it. Thanks so much, Jeff. This has been great. We’ll have to do a round two some time, and yeah, have a great rest of your day.

[00:39:06] **Jeff:**
Alright, you too, Sam. Thanks for having me, and continued good luck with your podcast series.

[00:39:11] **Sam:**
Awesome.

Well, folks, that was a fantastic episode with Jeff Ernst, CEO at SlapFive. So many notes there.

Taking a more surgical approach to your customer stories. Mapping out the questions, fears, and doubts. Thinking about those frequently asked questions buyers have. The value of authenticity and tone of voice, and audio and video. The fact of customer stories being one of those last true competitive advantages. And of course, the two-way exchange of value. Earned customer advocacy versus paid customer advocacy.

Fantastic episode. We’ll have links in the show notes.

This is the State of Customer Storytelling podcast, where we dive in and explore how you can make customer stories your competitive advantage.

If you have any guests that you want to see on the future episodes, just shoot me an email. My email is Sam@TestimonialHero.com.

Thanks so much, and we will see you in the next episode.

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