4 Steps To Keep Your Customer Reference Program in Top Shape

Avoid panic by keeping your customer reference program active. Let’s take a look at the state of managing your customer reference program, and how to avoid your reference program becoming a last-minute scramble:

There’s plenty of consensus on the value of customer reference programs.  Bill Lee’s Customer Reference Forum points out, “Salesforce.com’s CEO Marc Benioff was right: customer references are a powerful marketing weapon – but most companies execute them poorly.”

And SiriusDecisions has empirical data that shows “the most trusted source of information for B2B buyers is their peers.”

There’s no need to convince anyone of the value.  It’s the set up, maintenance and “care and feeding” of the programs that become troublesome.

Extremely large B2B companies will have entire groups of marketers dedicated to customer references. Slightly smaller organizations may have one person focused on securing references.  But most mid-sized B2B companies don’t have a dedicated resource.  Most have a marketing department where one person has the customer reference program (if it’s a program at all) as part of their job.  Along with a lot of other responsibilities.

The result?  Getting a reference becomes a last-minute scramble.  It’s usually triggered by a few predictable events:

  • The end of the quarter is looming and your sale teams need references to help close deals
  • You have a new product announcement and you need a customer to provide a quote
  • You have an opportunity for press coverage, if you can provide a customer to speak with the reporter.  Oh, and the customer needs to be “new” – no existing case study or press coverage allowed
In Edelman Trust Barometer’s annual global study of credible spokespeople shown below, you’ll notice a huge shift in who’s perceived as credible within an industry.
build trust through advocacy marketiing




The solution to customer reference panic mode is to plan out your program ahead of time.  Here are the steps we recommend:

  1. Identify the goals of your advocate marketing program.  Do you need customer references to accelerate sales? Is it part of a larger effort to generate buzz?
  2. Target specific types of customers.  You have many customers.  But do your existing customers look like your prospects? Do you know which industries, titles and sizes of companies you want to target?  What can you do to have your references map to your prospects?
  3. Analyze which types of reference activities have the largest impact.  Old school sales people will simply want a written case study.  But do the case studies on your website drive a lot of traffic and downloads?  Or are you seeing better traction from more interactive formats – audio and video?  What types of customer references drive the most leads?  What types help close the most sales?
  4. Give your customers a reason to participate.  Many B2B companies fail with their customer reference programs because they take the approach of “asking for a favor.”  That doesn’t give the customer much incentive to participate.  What would your customer want in exchange for a case study, a speaking slot, an award submission?  What are the unique things you – and only you – can offer them.  Things they would actually want.

Once you have the answers to these four questions, you have the foundation for designing your customer reference and advocate marketing program.

Do you have any “secret tips” for running customer reference programs? Comment below – we’d love to hear about them.


5 Responses to 4 Steps To Keep Your Customer Reference Program in Top Shape

  1. mslizpedro says:

    Great post Jim! Few tips – Make sure you hire the right person to manage your program and make sure to put a plan in place to find your advocates!

    • Jim Williams says:

      I couldn’t agree more, Liz! There are so many departments and functions in the modern enterprise where you can find references – you just gotta know where to look. I’d love to hear your thoughts about the ideal candidate for running a reference program… perhaps a guest post? 🙂

  2. Jamie Diamond says:

    As a PR guy managing customer references, maybe I’m cheating, but the tasty benefit that I offer and deliver to customers (for #4 above) is FREE PRESS. Customers see the value in being quoted as the feature of a trade or business article – we end up being a free extension of their own PR team. I’d imagine that any customer reference program can greatly increase their results if they include their PR team at the program planning stage so the company targets the right customers for news but also empowers the customer reference team to offer the free news benefits to the customers they work with.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *