Customer Incentive Programs: Should You Pay Your Customer References?

Julie Persofsky

It’s tempting to offer payment to your customer references through incentive programs.  But it’s the wrong approach.

Why? It calls into question the integrity and objectivity of the reference, which negates the value of the reference. Data shows that the most trusted source of information for B2B buyers is their peers, but that trust evaporates if the glowing reference has been paid for.

But there are nuances in the idea of customer incentive programs. Straight out cash is what taints the well, but a formalized program with clear, public, rewards is more than OK. It’s effective.

Your rewards program should be specific to your customers. Are the majority of your customers gadget geeks?  Are they senior executives who would value discounts? Do they pride themselves on being subject matter experts?  Are they actively looking to create buzz for themselves and their organizations?

Start with the high level rewards. Polycom’s customer reference program is a great example. Just some of the “payments” for customer references are:

  • Participation in beta programs
  • Speaking opportunities
  • Award submissions

Other popular rewards include:

  • Exclusive, regular (and formal) access to executives
  • Sneak Peeks at new products
  • Invitations to elite networking events
  • Featured roles at user conferences
  • Reduced registration fees for user conferences
  • Swag, swag, swag

We recommend making the rewards even more enticing by socializing your references’ activities. You can feature them on your blog (which can also be a way to earn points), promote their stories via Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.  Include them in a “featured customer” video.

Lastly, there’s one other aspect of payment to consider. Many organizations – particularly branches of government – cannot accept payment from vendors. If you were to offer them any of the above-mentioned-rewards, they would have to be of a value less than $25.

In these cases, many companies choose to offer donations to the charity of the reference’s choice.

We’re curious – how do you “pay” your references?

8 Responses to Customer Incentive Programs: Should You Pay Your Customer References?

  1. Brad says:

    No question, this is a best practice. I would say “reward” rather than “pay”, however.

    • Interesting, and something to consider. What makes the distinction important for you?

      • Lindsay Rothman says:

        The distinction comes into sharp focus if you’re looking to foster a relationship with customers willing to do references for you. You want to say “thank you” in a genuine way. Providing monetary compensation just feels too transactional.

  2. Ray says:

    Good references have to come off as authentic to be most effective. If they are coerced in any manner their objectivity can suffer and that might get noticed. Granted, sometimes all a prospect wants to hear is for someone to validate the decision they’ve already made in their heart, but listening to a reference gush about a product/service doesn’t usually help. I would think that recognition of top references (the ones who get results) is best.

    • Recognizing the top references is always an excellent practice; however, you never know when a newer or less active reference will bring something amazing to the table and really surprise you.

  3. So a donation in a customer’s name would not be considered a monetary incentive or “payment?” I really like the idea of having donations as a potential reward, but am worried about potential legal complications (same with swag).

  4. Marina Guy says:

    Do you have the link to Polycom’s reference program? The hyperlink in the post is linked to ‘Portland Beer Week’.

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