CROs – Customer Reference Programs’ New BFs?

As the leader of your reference program, how’s your relationship with your CRO? More and more companies we work with have invested in a relatively new CxO role: the Chief Revenue Officer. While this title has been around for at least five years, it’s becoming more mainstream, and customer reference program managers need to take notice. These execs may be the answer to many of your most nagging challenges to reaching full program potential.

What They Do

The CRO role began as a catch-all for “all things relating to revenue,” but with a lot of variation from one company to another in terms of specific responsibility, scope, and authority. One thing is consistent, and that’s who the CRO typically reports to: that’s the CEO. Because CROs are, in effect, second in command, the individual has a lot of influence. In addition, they are the bridge between Marketing and Sales. A dream goal of any company is perfect alignment between Sales and Marketing. In reality, there’s still friction and misunderstanding when it comes to how these teams interact, their priorities, and their obligations to each other. Years ago, when I was a restaurant manager, and the relationship between the front-of-the-house (dining room) and back-of-the-house (kitchen) had the same issues. In that world, I believe the restaurant manager was essentially the CRO, minus the cool title.

How a Chief Revenue Officer Can Help You

How then does the CRO play a potential role in customer reference management? She plays a sort of overlay role working with Sales, Marketing, and Customer Success to achieve harmony and maximize revenue. It is no longer a matter of the department heads operating on their own islands, sometimes getting along, sometimes not. 

As a customer reference program manager within the marketing team, you know the challenges of getting Sales and perhaps Customer Success to adopt better practices relating to customer references. The CRO can play a role in optimizing processes, implementing productivity tools, and establishing metrics that move all the players in the right direction.

The goals you have are:

  1. Making it easy to find highly relevant customer references and content.
  2. Reducing the inefficiency in securing customer references.
  3. Tracking the use of reference customers so as to avoid overuse.
  4. Demonstrating gratitude to customer references for their assistance.
  5. Quantifying the influence reference customers have on revenue.

The headwinds you encounter are:

  1. Change is hard to achieve in the free wheeling world of Sales. Habit is powerful.
  2. Customer Success more likely incentivized on renewal numbers than account referenceability.
  3. The reference “shadow market” prevents accurate use tracking, measurement and rewards of customers.
  4. Each department head has their own priorities, and customer marketing is #11 on their top 10 lists.
How To Enlist Them

The CRO’s top 10 list must include revenue growth, and we know that customer references fuel wins. That’s why it’s so essential for you to link your program’s efforts to company growth goals. If you are a savvy program manager, you’ll be able to enlist the CRO in addressing those headwinds that are holding you back. It’s implicit that a customer reference program is mainly in place to help Sales, but a CRO will want specifics. If you can demonstrate that, for example, the program’s four main growth goals all support the company’s four main revenue goals, as well as finetuning the reference database, documenting success stories, and collaborating with stakeholders working on the same goals, you’ll be golden.

An effective CRO will knock down obstacles and articulate why the reference program is part of her mission. The CRO will take the lead as a shrewd arbiter, diplomate, and problem solver. They can paint a big picture and make the cross-functional connections that others can’t. It’s worth your effort to allocate some time to cultivate a solid relationship with your CRO and see your program thrive.