I just had a great talk with Jim Mooney of References Online (thanks go to Denis Pombriant for the introduction). References Online is essentially a service that crates online (of course) video and audio customer references for companies.
The idea is simple, but a very good one. During the sales cycle in many industries, prospects inevitably wish to talk with an existing customer. But over time, continually asking your customers (who are making themselves available to talk about YOUR COMPANY for very little in return) to field phone calls and a barrage of questions strains the relationship. But a well presented, easy to digest video or audio file about that prospects can easily experience can soften the intrusion factor.
References Online also has some other cool offerings, including a reference collateral database and a tool for smaller businesses which is essentially a SaaS-based testimonials repository for smaller businesses.
The fact that a company like this is thriving tells me a number of things. One, the web continues to shrink sales cycles and the cost of sales. With in-depth, online archives of references, sales agents can easily push references out to prospects – anytime, anywhere – instead of having to email or call customers and hope they have time to take a prospects call.
Secondly, the fact that companies are trusting third parties to manage their references, as well as allowing them to create open, honest testimonial lists, shows me that more companies understand that in the 2.0 world, the customer really is in charge.
I think there is a lot of potential in this concept, especially linked deeply with CRM systems to empower sales people. But I think more open and cloud-based access and distribution tactics could help as well. Think about it, wouldn’t it be great to have your customers talking about how you are benefitting them on YouTube and Facebook etc.? These are deeply meaningful, engaging advertisements for your brand, and cost very little to create and manage.