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Rhetoric in customer referencing: Fortifying sales arguments in two start-up companies

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)188-202
JournalIndustrial Marketing Management
Early online date2015
Publication statusPublished - 2016
Publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


Abstract This study investigates how start-up companies can strengthen their argumentation power and the persuasiveness of their scarce customer references by applying the principles of rhetoric in the business-to-business (B2B) context. We demonstrate how to fortify the qualitative information embedded in a start-up's single customer reference. By conducting a constructive study with two longitudinal cases, we develop a construction for qualitative reference information with the help of the literature on start-ups, value creation, customer references, and rhetoric. This construction of qualitative reference information for a start-up comprises (1) basic reference data, (2) the reference customer's long-term orientation, (3) the reference customer's value-in-use experiences comprising both direct benefits (i.e., monetary benefits) and (4) indirect benefits (e.g., new competencies), (5) the start-up supplier's demonstrated and improved competencies, and (6) the customer's current and future-oriented commitments to conducting business with the start-up. This study also associates each information element to aspects of rhetoric and accordingly develops propositions regarding the persuasive effects. In addition, it demonstrates the procedure for capturing information to highlight divergent customer perspectives with the assistance of the single reference customer. The key contributions of this study are the developed construction for qualitative reference information and understanding how the rhetorical approach improves sales argumentation by improving logos (rational aspect), pathos (emotional aspect), and ethos (source credibility), as well identification in B2B marketing. The construct also serves as a managerial tool for building and developing single customer references effectively. The results of this study, and particularly the developed propositions, build avenues for further research on start-up and customer reference marketing.


  • Start-up, Customer reference, Value creation, Value-in-use, sAles, Argumentation, Rhetoric, Persuasion, Constructive case study

Publication forum classification

Field of science, Statistics Finland