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Why Your Customer Won't Be Publicly Referenced

Proving customer traction is something that most vendors really struggle with. As one reader noted, "so many start-ups [in particular] have drunk their own Kool-Aid and will not accept anything less than the type of PR results they have enjoyed around a launch or something else of magnitude." But the only way to make that happen is to get other 3rd parties (read: customers) singing your praises.

So why do so many vendors have difficulty making their customers referenceable (available in press opportunities, case studies, et al)?:

  • The main contact doesn't want to stick his / her head on the chopping block - For complex IT products and similar, there is a reasonably high incidence of products failing, budgets running over, etc. Publicly praising a product seems like a sure-fire way to get canned if something goes wrong.
  • They are still on the fence re. whether they actually like the product - It's simply too soon for the customer to testify to the value of the product.
  • They view the product as part of a competitive advantage - The product is part of a greater infrastructure / operations approach that distinguishes them from their competitor. Why would they open the kimono on something like that, just to help a third party vendor?
  • It is a corporate policy - Sorry, our hands are tied. We're not "allowed" to participate in any publicity opportunities with vendors.
  • They struck the publicity clause from the contract, and the salesperson obliged without a whimper - My experience has been that almost every vendor has some sort of publicity clause (obligating customers to serve as references). It's almost always a point of objection with the customer, and the individual sales rep concedes that point (i.e., strikes the publicity clause) almost every time (why would they jeopardize a sure sale just to satisfy some wimpy PR "nice to have"?)