Securing Customer Approvals
Securing customer approvals can be one of the biggest “gotchas” of a customer reference program. Here are several tips to help make the approval process easier and more successful for you.
Preparation pays off
• After the customer agrees in principle to participate, outline the complete approval process – what needs to be signed and by whom.
• Send the legal release in advance of the interview and before you develop any content so the customer can see what they’ll be asked to sign.
• Discuss who will need to approve content: the customer contact’s boss, legal, PR, marketing, other executives? This is not the stage to gloss over the approval process as that can come back to bite you later.
• Often sales can insert language into a contract that the customer agrees to participate in the customer reference program. This can be somewhat helpful, but understand that this often becomes a discussion point and can be removed during negotiations.
• Offer to talk with the customer’s PR and/or legal department(s) in advance of the interview to discuss the legal release and cover any guidelines or concerns they might have.
Steps in the process
• As soon as the content has been reviewed and okayed by the customer, send the legal release with the edited content. Your quick turnaround and follow up helps encourage a timely turnaround by the customer.
• Be diligent in your follow up to obtain the signed legal release. It might take multiple emails and voicemails. Try to be persistent without annoying the customer at this stage. That can be an art!
• If applicable, create some urgency (within reason) to get the signed release. Indicate a specific date that you’d like to get the signed legal release. This applies if you need the finished piece for an event, website revamp deadline, etc.
• Once you receive the signed legal release, review it carefully to ensure you have the signatures your company requires. For example, some companies require signatures from director level or higher.
When you can’t get legal approval
• If all else fails and you can’t get the signed release, ask for permission to use the content for your internal use only. Depending on your company’s legal requirements, an email approval might suffice in this case.
• When it’s difficult to obtain approvals on your piece, another approach that works for some firms is to pursue incremental approvals. For example, you might seek approval on a quote – something modest at first. Then when you ask for approval on another component, it might not be a big deal for the customer to approve it.
• Another approach if you are unable to get a signed release: Remove references such as the company name, executives’ names and anything else specific and turn the document into a generic piece. This results in a far less compelling piece, but it’s better than nothing.
And last but definitely not least, after you receive the signed release from the customer, follow up with a thank you and possibly a small token of appreciation such as a logoed item.