“We don’t do ‘customer references’ well!”
“We’re losing deals because we can’t produce references quick enough!”
“We waste a lot of time trying to figure out who is a reference, and for what activities!”
If you’re hearing these sorts of comments in your company, the opportunity cost of not having a well-oiled customer reference machine in place, while hidden, is very real. Your sales and marketing teams’ lack of efficiency means they aren’t using their time where it counts. Worse, taking too long to produce “social proof” of the value and efficacy of your company’s products could be losing deals—or at a minimum—resulting in longer cycles and discounting that otherwise wouldn’t have been necessary. That doesn’t even take into account the marketing activities such as webinars, events, press, and social media. Inefficiency in finding advocates to support these activities means fewer leads generated.
Where to begin if you’re the one designated to fix the problem, or you’ve decided you’re going to champion the cause even when it hasn’t been prioritized? Discovery of course: understand the ailment before prescribing the Rx. You have to know how your organization uses reference before you can propose a program that solves a customer reference problem. We recommend to our clients who don’t know much about their company’s customer reference practices, that they begin with a survey to Sales (and potentially Marketing if that team is large enough). Here are the base survey questions we recommend.
The answers to these questions, 9 times out of 10, help build the case for formalizing customer reference practices with staff, processes, and technology. They also provide a benchmark, the “before” picture. Many of the questions make sense to ask again semi-annually or annually to ensure you’re making progress.
For additional tips on building a case for a formal customer reference program, download our business case checklist.
Related to this subject is the subject of how you measure the performance of a program. For more on that topic, read this post.
A program that continually listens and adapts to the needs of its stakeholders will establish a customer reference program advisory board. For more on that topic, read this post.