Reference requests are where the rubber meets the road for a customer marketing program.


  • spent tons of time and energy identifying the kinds of accounts and contacts needed to support your stakeholders
  • developed a sophisticated rewards program for participants (internal and external)
  • run recruiting and/or nomination campaigns to start building your database
  • onboarded and educated customers about the program
  • tagged your advocates for product, industry, use case, persona and more for search

Now you’ve got a Ferrari sitting in the garage, ready to go. If you don’t get the next part right, then you’re simply holding on to the company’s best-kept secret. It’s not doing anyone any good unless they know about it, and you have a smooth process for requesting the use of that amazing asset.


The most unsophisticated model of reference requests is the DM to All CSMs or All Sales. This is the shotgun approach. Throwing spaghetti against the wall, hoping something sticks. It’s massively inefficient. It’s a free-for-all and there’s little tracking to prevent overuse, or to identify your biggest fans and express your gratitude. This is pre-2000 reference requesting.


What if there was an individual or team that all requests funneled to, and they did the reference posting to the community, chasing down internally, or better, searching a decent database they maintain. This is certainly a preferable experience for the requester, provided the function is sufficiently staffed. The downside is that this model does not scale well unless leadership sees fit to keep adding people to the reference help desk ad infinitum. That’s rare, especially during bear economies.


Simply put, this is a form of self-service. We’ve all gotten used to it. Without working through an intermediary, we book trips, pay bills, buy tickets to shows, initiate a service appointment (hello Tesla owners), and so many other things. It was nice when there were more people interactions, but those interactions could be uneven and often felt slower than using an app.

A request that is sent directly to a co-worker who manages that customer relationship is targeted. The relationship owner is accountable. And while the database says the account is a reference, they know who at the account is best suited for the need, and have information (new support case just entered) about advocate’s sentiment that day.

Seems pretty straightforward so far. What we’ve learned over the past decade+ is that the particulars of reference requests can be surprisingly complex. Here are some questions to ask as you decide on your reference request strategy and consider what’s possible with the tools you’ve got.

  • When is it too early in the sales cycle to allow a reference request?
  • Should requests for marketing needs (event speakers, press releases, social media) be handled differently than, for instance, sales reference calls?
  • Can a request for the use of an account always go to a specific relationship owner, or is there a good chance there’s an “it depends” type scenario?
  • Are there situations when you want to be in the middle of a request? Maybe it’s a very large opportunity, or it’s webinar presenter that warrants more “white glove” care?
  • How do you prevent overuse of an advocate, bearing in mind advocates are not all the same? Some are happy to be part of a few activities a month, or a quarter, or a year.
  • Each type of reference need is a little different when choosing the best advocate. What are the considerations related to an event speaker? Audience? Size of audience? Location? Speaking experience?
  • Requests can come in last minute. Depending on the type of request it could take days or weeks to connect with and secure an advocate. How do you set expectations with requesters?
  • When a reference is provided, it is assumed that the use will occur. How do you know if, in fact, it took place? This is important to preventing overuse. It’s also important to express gratitude in some form…if it happened.
  • In the case of sales requests, how do you connect the fact that a reference was used and an opportunity closed? This is an important KPI, one that leadership can appreciate.

On the surface, reference requests aren’t a particularly sexy part of customer marketing. They’re called what they are, no reason to hang some other moniker on them. They may seem rather tactical, unlike the strategic planning that goes into building and maintaining a kick-ass advocate database that aligns with the C-Suite.

That’s all true. And yet, without activating or mobilizing that Ferrari you have in the garage, the rest is pointless. An exercise in futility. Anyone you know in leadership who’d want to fund that?