In the last post I listed what we believe to be the 4 most common reasons that customer reference programs fail. Arguably, there are many other nuanced reasons that programs don’t get sufficient support to launch, or once launched, to grow to a level that produces measurable benefits for the organization.

But distilled down to the root causes, the elements most often lacking are:

  • Executive Support
  • Sales Leadership Support
  • Program Leadership
  • A Robust/Reliable Reference Database

Here’s our advice for overcoming the first of these obstacles:  Lack of Executive Support

It can’t be over emphasized how critical executive sponsorship is to a reference program. Simply put, executive-backed initiatives come with funding and are less likely to be slowed by interdepartmental politics, lack of urgency or apathy.

Gaining Support
If your executives are highly skeptical of a reference program than the first thing to do is find supporting evidence to gain their buy-in. The sources most likely to get attention for your case are:  1) executive peers, and 2) analysts.

Peer Influence
Through the customer reference professional community you will find examples of programs with full VP and CxO support. Network your VPs and CxOs with peers who have already made an investment and are seeing results. Peer-to-peer networking is nothing new to someone with an appreciation for customer reference programs, but sometimes the obvious is overlooked.

Many executives rely on analysts for guidance and direction. The customer reference space is relatively niche, and therefore hasn’t received a lot of coverage. However, there are some statistics from Gartner and Sirius Decisions that can help build a foundation for a business case.

As a vendor we’re often asked for supporting studies, results and ROI calculators. We have some great resources, but it seems executives still favor peer and analyst perspectives as they are perceived to be un- (or at least less) biased.

Maintaining Support
Once you have initial executive support the emphasis should be on a) correlating program goals to marketing and sales executive annual goals, and b) establishing a reporting cadence that keeps the program’s impact front and center.

Support CxO Objectives
When budgets are squeezed those programs and personnel deemed nonessential are first to go. We often see that reference programs’ contributions to organizational goals aren’t clearly articulated and fall onto the nonessential list. For example, if the brand is being repositioned, the program should find ways to leverage customers to communicate the new messaging. If Sales has targeted growth in a specific product or market segment make sure your reference efforts address those needs head on.

Report Like Clockwork
Ensure there is a regular cadence of metrics quantifying the program’s impact. Knowing the executive team’s primary objectives will help you zero in on what’s important to report. Don’t neglect to use testimonials for the program from Sales. If the sales force is talking about the program’s impact on their deals, amplify this feedback. Be sure to deliver metrics in a format that is easily absorbed, which typically means keeping it concise and graphical.

That’s our prescription for gaining and maintaining executive support. Do you have additional thoughts?

We recommend the Institute of Certified Customer Advocacy Professionals (ICCAP) for training and certification.
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