7 Tips: How to Budget for a Customer Reference Program

As we head toward the end of the calendar year, the budget season is upon us. If you’re lobbying for a customer reference program, or already have a preliminary green light to start building one, now is the time to ensure you have the funds and support infrastructure you need to launch and sustain a high-impact program.

It’s important that your organization views this program as a team sport from day one, and not something that will just happen by buying technology and hanging the responsibility for success on a program manager. This is a company resource with beneficiaries throughout the organization; it’s completely reasonable to anticipate—expect really—cross-functional contributions and participation. Only then will outstanding results materialize, and they will if the right conditions exist! Read more on setting healthy expectations.

Without further adieu, we offer these 7 tips to ensure you’re successful at securing the right budget, not just a budget.

Tip #1

Frame the proposal with the correct perspective. Customer Reference Programs grow sales—when executed effectively. Similar to a well-run lead generation program, the resulting sales far exceed the necessary investment. You would be hard-pressed to find an executive that doesn’t, by now, acknowledge the fact that customer advocates help sell your products.  The key is that those advocates can be easily found and leveraged. Read more on program measurement.

One of the most important things you can do to persuade the budget guardians to fund your program is correlate the program’s capabilities to company growth goals. Is your company launching a new offering, expanding geographically, adding new partnerships, acquiring companies, or initiating a new partner program? Your proposal should explain how your customer reference program, through ready-to-use customer advocates and customer content, will support specific growth initiatives. Read this eBook: Capturing & Keeping CxO Engagement.

Tip #2

Tip #3

Include enough salary in the budget for experienced program leadership. Programs do not run themselves. Experience proves that customer reference programs are less likely to be successful with a junior resource at the helm (please don’t even utter the word intern!). There is a broad spectrum of customer advocate programs out there. Some just churn out case studies. Others only provide help desk support for sales references (calls, RFPs). Those are functions, not programs. If you fund a full-time leader with exceptional relationship skills, comfortable working with salespeople, and 10-years in a variety of marketing, sales enablement or customer success roles, expect great things to follow. Read more on our vision for this leader.

Gather support from the stakeholder groups that stand to benefit the most from a program. This list would include not only Sales but PR, IR, AR, social media, events, lead gen, product marketing, and customer success—all the consumers and relationship managers of customer advocates. Meet with department heads and discuss how an organized customer reference program would further their team goals, and incorporate those findings in your business case. Read more on how to build a business case for a customer advocate program.

Tip #4

Tip #5

Don’t forget to budget money for program sustainability. After the initial launch of the program, it must be promoted. Internal promotion activity has to include getting in front of users–even remotely–at company events such as recurring sales meetings, and one-on-one touch-base calls. It is a great way to cultivate relationships, solicit feedback, and gain insight into how your internal customers use the program.

Include budget dollars for fun! Related to sustainability is engagement. Most programs use incentives to a) build the customer advocate database, and b) reinforce program use (including customer reference software). Rewards and games create momentum and yield a more enthusiastic response than mandates and policies alone. So budget money for spiffs, whether that’s cash, prizes, PTO, stock options, or something else people value. Need ideas? Form an advisory board for your program.

Tip #6

Tip #7

We are a smidge biased on this one. You can only keep so many balls in the air managing a program by spreadsheet. Put a line item in your budget request for an application designed to enable EXACTLY what a customer advocate program needs to do: centralize information, automate processes, and measure performance. Your budget should include both one-time start-up costs and ongoing license costs. If you use Salesforce CRM we have a recommendation 🙂

More and more marketing departments have a dedicated content marketing function and budget, so that wasn’t addressed here. But if your company doesn’t have that function, nor a budget that’s another line item for your customer reference program budget request. There are many variables here. If you’d like our help with ballpark customer content costs or any other customer reference program best practices discussed above just call or email us.

Good luck with budgeting season!


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