One of the biggest hurdles in launching a customer reference program is changing behavior, particularly when that program includes using new technology and instituting different processes. After all, most sales and marketing people aren’t technology wonks or process geeks. Many of our customers have achieved awe-inspiring results by leveraging our best practices combined with their own creativity. Their secret formulas include innovative promotion, just-in-time training, highly visible executive support, and fun incentives. Here are some ideas you can put into action.

Road Shows

To launch their new application and incentive program, several of our customers conduct training roadshows to introduce both the reference program and the application. This approach helps all sales and marketing personnel understand the product, the program, and the purpose. Plus it puts a face on the program, which is most useful long-term.

Program Ambassadors

Developing in-house champions is a best practice. Once initial training is complete, having embedded “program ambassadors” in place provides the immediate support and encouragement needed to support salespeople in the field when needed. In fact, a recent report from Hubspot confirmed that salespeople prefer peer-to-peer conversations over formal corporate training when learning new skills, and that goes for technology as well.

Program Branding

Give your customer reference  program some character. This is useful in communicating with both your peers (stakeholders), and customers. There are many different ways to find the right brand, but our advice is to name if from the customer’s perspective rather than your company’s. If you can communicate “what’s in it for me” through the name, all the better.

Executive Bully Pulpit

Visible and vocal support by the CRO, CMO, and even the CEO has a dramatic effect on awareness and willingness to change. Calling on top executives to communicate the program’s mission and link job performance to use of automation is essential. Whether it’s at the “all hands” meeting or the “all sales” meeting executive endorsement makes your job a lot easier. Read more

Advisory Boards

Launching a customer reference program is just the beginning. After a program is implemented, it’s crucial to garner feedback on everything from application tweaks to rewards. Engaging the users in the process and acting on their input generates buy-in. This engagement can be accomplished through a combination of program advisory board input, user surveys, and one-on-one conversations. Advisory boards are cross-functional teams that help define program needs both before and after launch acting as eyes and ears in the field where it matters. Advisory board members also champion the program to their colleagues and extend the reach of the reference program staff.


Companies establish innovative, incentive-based programs to build awareness of their reference initiatives and spur participation by sales and marketing staff. The sales and account managers earn points based on their customers’ participation in various advocacy activities. The points are based on the relative value and commitment level of each activity. All reference activities are recorded automatically in ReferenceEdge and accrued to the sales representative responsible for the account. As sales representatives stockpile points, they gain access to different prize levels from Apple AirPods and Bose headphones to court-side seats at pro basketball games, and even company stock. Additionally, the points are visible to all the sales team to spur competition.

In fact, we’ve found that competing for a prize itself is more motivating than the actual prize. One of our clients uses electronic stickers or badges for recognition by various departments throughout the organization. These badges are displayed on their login page so everyone in the company can see who is being a good corporate citizen. The competition to accumulate stickers has also increased participation and cross-functional support for the reference program throughout the company. It’s the stickers, rather than the prizes for earning the sticker, that is a point of pride.

Public Recognition

Another customer with an employee incentive program uses its annual sales meeting to publicly award top sales participants. The goal is to recognize top performers very publicly when it comes to customer advocacy. Seeing a colleague earn a Rolex watch in the “all hands” meeting ignited participation across the entire company.

Advocates for the Customer Reference Program

Ultimately, nothing speaks like results. If salespeople experience direct benefits, they will embrace the program, process, and product that delivers those results. When our customers’ salespeople derive success in the form of higher close percentages or faster closes, they become evangelists. Instead of asking people to use the program, the salespeople themselves became proponents of the system. Read more about advisory boards.

However you approach your launch, know that the hard work begins after the launch energy fades. That’s when you need a strong promotion and ongoing training plan ready to activate. It takes time to change old behaviors, but the upside is so well worth it!