Whether you’re trying to build a successful company—or a successful career—much of that success will ultimately hinge the time you invest during the hiring process.

Brilliant people apply for jobs every day. They present their unique value proposition, build a strong business case for why they should get the job, and convince the hiring manager that they are the best person to fill the role.

The hiring manager is blown away and wants to hire the candidate immediately. So, what is the next step? The manager asks for two or three references. While they are convinced this person is the game changer they have been waiting for, the correct procedure must be followed and, as part of that, references must be called.

If you’ve ever been on either side of one of those calls, you know the scenario: if you are the hiring manager, you are asking your questions to a perfectly hand-picked former colleague, who’s been prepped ahead of time and encouraged to say that their friend is nothing short of outstanding. If you’ve been the reference, you know the feeling of having a stranger essentially nudging you to rat out a friend.

The exercise of the job reference is mostly futile and we all know it, yet it continues to be a key part of most hiring processes.

The same sad truth exists for traditional reference calls in a sales process. They are an essential part of a buyer’s process and yet very little value exists for anyone in the transaction. The buyer is asking questions to a prepped reference, the reference is spending time talking to someone who is already mostly convinced, and the seller is burning goodwill with the current customer without providing much value outside of a check in the box for their soon-to-be new customer.

In a sales environment where up to 75% of the buying process is happening before a prospect contacts sales, social proof is becoming more and more important. Waiting until your customer asks for a reference is no longer good enough.

Instead, we must surround sell potential customers using social proof and peer validation as early as possible. With the shift towards digital, many brands know they must have webinars, video case studies and testimonials online to groom potential clients. However, genuine reviews on 3rd party websites, discussions in forums, blog comments and social media chatter have more legitimacy than anything your brand can create on its own. Encouraging happy customers to talk about their experience with your product online will add value to all stages of the sales process, including your prospect’s initial discovery.

Anyone who has ever spent time cold-calling customers looking for someone who will take a reference call may wonder if it’s possible to get customers to engage on your behalf in additional ways. According to Advisor Impact’s The Economics of Loyalty report, 83% of satisfied customers are more than willing to refer your company to friends, colleagues and industry peers, yet only an average of 29% of customers do. The sad truth is most companies don’t have effective methods to encourage this behavior. To create and mobilize advocates, you must engage the customers who begrudgingly take reference calls in more meaningful ways.

As an example, Ceridian, a global Human Capital Management software provider, started an advocate marketing program, CeridianXOXO, that connected other HCM professionals in community discussions and asked users to participate in advocacy activities that rewarded them with badges, status and points (which could be used to redeem gift cards and swag). This fun—and slightly competitive—program became a thought-leadership hub for HCM pros. As a result, Ceridian secured over 260 customer references in the first few months of the program and shortened their sales cycle. More importantly, the brand asked these references for case studies and video testimonials, which could help influence the buying decisions of other HCM pros early on. Since these types of activities boost the professional profile of your reference customer, this approach is a win for buyer, seller, and—most importantly—the advocate who is willing to help you sell.

Traditional customer reference programs are dying. At Influitive, we are helping some of the world’s best companies rethink their approach to engaging with customers and finding the best references.

ReferenceBookCoverGrow Your Customer Base. Cut Your Reference Program.

Traditional customer reference programs are self-serving, biased and come way too late in the buying process. The worst part is: buyers know it.

Find out how other customer success, marketing and sales professionals are transforming the way their companies harness relationships with loyal customers in the age of advocacy.

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