Hard Numbers Back Customer Reference Programs

B2B sales and marketing professionals expect to serve up—proactively or reactively—customer advocates to prospective buyers. It is an accepted part of any B2B sales transaction for good reason: compelling references seal deals. That’s where customer reference programs come in.

“References have an 80-85% likelihood of influencing a B2B purchasing decision. The most highly rated of any marketing activity.”

– Gartner reported by Harvard Business Review

Yet, a surprising number of organizations don’t have a dedicated program to support this critical activity. Is it because the benefits of these programs are more marketing lore than empirical data as few organizations track ROI or revenue influenced?

What’s more, with the heightened emphasis on developing and supplying targeted customer content, establishing a dedicated function seems obvious and proven.

“Formal advocate marketing programs show quantifiable positive impact on business success.”

– Forrester B2B Advocate Marketing report

The Need for Proof

What you need is some quantitative ammunition to bolster your bid for more budget or to corral a C-suite champion,  and we’ve curated data that substantiates the value of these programs and running them as a strategic initiative.

Key data points to inconsistency between sentiments and actions.

  • 64% of CMOs have either an informal or no process to manage their marketing automation.
  • Only 33% of companies who use both CRM and marketing automation said the two integrated well according to a study from The Experts Bench.
  • 55 percent of US Executives plan to invest in sales enablement technology that improves sales productivity.
  • Just 35 percent of b-to-b companies have a formal process to identify and recruit top customer advocates according to SiriusDecision.
  • 83 percent said references are “critical” or “valuable” to sales cycle in a SiriusDecision study…yet the majority still allocate less than 10 percent of marketing program dollars to customer advocacy and engagement.

Process Disruption for Sellers

First things first. To evaluate the significance of references, we must acknowledge that the B2B purchasing journey has fundamentally changed how prospective customers investigate both products and purveyors. Until companies appreciate this paradigm shift, they won’t recognize why a customer reference function is more essential than ever. Long before an organization becomes a customer its buyers are forming an impression of potential vendors. Rather than early engagement with the sales organization followed by a linear progression through a sales funnel, buyers are enjoying the ubiquity of information derived from a multitude of channels to educate themselves and make decisions.

  • B2B prospects are concluding 65-90% of their purchase decision before formally contacting the vendor’s Sales department. (Forrester)
  • A 2015 Gartner study of 700 enterprise buyers found 66% of the buyer’s journey is devoted to in-house evaluation, advice from peers, and industry experts’ guidance. (Gartner)
  • 53% of B2B purchasers rely heavily on peer recommendations (Demand Gen Report)
  • 95% of B2B professionals surveyed in March 2015 trusted peers and colleagues, and trust in independent content, at 86%, wasn’t far behind. (IDC)

Just in Time is Too Late

By the time a prospect is in conversation with your sales team, they’ve researched solutions, narrowed down the possibilities, and have a very good idea of what they want. In fact, a new survey suggests that savvy shoppers are using social media, such as LinkedIn, to find your customers and reach out to them on their own, even before making contact with your company. Organizations including Forrester Research, the Gartner Group, International Data Corporation (IDC), and Sirius Decisions have documented this important evolution. Customer reference strategies must adjust to these realities:

  • 61% of B2B decision-makers rank peer and business partner input above contact with a sale representative in product selection. (Avanade)
  • According to CEB, on average, B2B organizations have already completed 57% of the decision-making journey prior to contacting a vendor’s sales team.

The Changing Role of Sales

The official sales process is now concentrated into the final stages of the buyer’s journey, and acting as a consultant, including connecting buyers with appropriate customer references is now a more significant component of the Sales function. At the same time, sales people are spending less time interacting with prospects, making it essential that they provide value in the time available.

  • Sirius Decision reports that only 54% of B2B sales reps are making quota.
  • Only 39% of the a B2B salesperson’s time is spend engaged in selling activities according to a McKinsey Global Institute Report.
  • 59% of B2B sales representative’s time is spent on non-revenue generating tasks. (SCO Insights)

The Call to Action

It is imperative that companies do everything in their power to minimize the time sales representatives spend not selling including providing easily accessible and accurate customer reference information. A dedicated customer advocate program can increase pipeline flow, shorten sales cycles, improve sales force efficiency, foster corporate unity, and strengthen customer loyalty. We hope this avalanche of supporting data leads to the establishment of a program in your organization, which at least provides competitive parity. If you’re ready to build a kick-ass program and don’t have time to waste, we’re here to help.

>Get the INFOGRAPHIC that summarizes the report findings in this post<
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