We’re living in the age of customer marketing, but many companies are still adopting this new model. Executives taking notice of the shifting sands in buyer behavior invest in the customer-centric approach that puts the customers’ stories—experiences and results—at the heart of their enterprise. Why? Because buyers rely on peers to inform their decisions more than ever, and more than any other source of influence.

Among the recently surveyed B2B marketers with experience in marketing to existing customers, 84% said customer influence/advocacy programs are more important today because prospects want more authentic information, not branded messaging.

– Forrester Research’s B2B Customer Influencer Marketing Online Survey

To achieve this goal, a paradigm shift is essential. Companies must evolve “from selling to prospects to building organizations whose customers sell for them,” says Bill Lee, customer marketing expert with the Center for Customer Engagement. At the core of this shift will be a customer reference program.

The C-Suite’s Role

It’s essential that the CEO and executives overseeing sales, marketing, and customer success communicate the need for the program, why it’s important to company success, and how each part of the organization contributes to customer marketing success. Here’s a breakdown of specific executive activities that enable the establishment of a robust customer reference program:

Company Communications
  • Executives’ first order of business is to make sure that all resources necessary for program implementation and ongoing support understand the customer reference program has appropriate priority. If it isn’t a priority, the program is set up for failure, or best case, mediocrity (i.e., low impact).
  • Kick off company messaging with executive emails announcing the customer reference program’s launch (or re-launch). The CEO’s message goes first to a broad audience of stakeholders to prepare employees for messages to follow from various department heads.
  • Department executives send emails to their respective team members explaining how each department relates to the program and what’s expected of them.
  • Reinforcement messaging occur regularly at Sales Kick-Offs, team meetings, “all-hands” meetings, etc. Literally, every meeting opportunity with a relevant audience should include a mention of the customer reference program and related deadlines for 30 days. This is especially important if the program is waiting for information from stakeholders teams (e.g., nominations) in order to launch.
  • The program manager provides executives with customer reference success stories as the program begins to produce results. These “references for the reference program” should be shared with stakeholder teams by their respective executives on a regular cadence (weekly, monthly, etc.). Stories might include important deals that closed because of compelling customer references, high performing campaigns featuring customers, and content profiling successful customers being downloaded in high volumes.
Program Manager Coordination
  • Executives should clearly convey their goals for company growth to the reference program manager. However the company intends to grow (new segments, partner channels, partnerships, geos, etc.), the reference program should be expected to support that goal by having the right advocates qualified and ready to use when needed.
  • Reference program managers should be involved, as early as possible, in planning for product launches or market expansion, to ensure the program has sufficient time to adjust recruiting efforts content development. This requires executives to remember to include the program manager in discussions in which they weren’t previously considered.

Whether developing case studies, video testimonials, engaging customers in online communities, or social media, Marketing organizations can leverage the extraordinary power of their existing customers to fuel business growth. Sales can use customer references and content at nearly every phase of the sales cycle, and the more they do the higher their win rates climb.

Companies that succeed at customer marketing and customer reference programs do so with a holistic approach, crossing traditional departmental boundaries and placing the advocacy management program right at the center.

To learn more about how customer reference program managers can garner executive support, register and download our ebook, Capturing & Keeping CxO Engagement for Customer Reference