This is a continuation of a series on the 4 most common reasons that customer reference programs fail, and how to deal with them.

The fourth top reason programs fail is the lack of a purpose-built application that centralizes information and automates key functions. However, we also agree with Sirius Decisions on this topic:

“It’s a tempting thought for b-to-b executives that want to build a best-in-class customer reference program; simply choose a piece of technology and you’re all set.

“Unfortunately, technology alone doesn’t guarantee success; stronger processes, better workflow design, increased resources and skills, top-notch content and a
clean, robust database are all mission critical.”

Technology isn’t by any means a cure all, but without it the program’s potential is severely limited in the following ways:

  1. The program won’t scale
  2. Customer reference knowledge will remain decentralized
  3. The impact of the program will be difficult to quantify
  4. Productivity will suffer for sales and marketing alike

Programs are usually run from spreadsheets in the early stages. Those spreadsheets are often on the network, but with very limited access. They may eventually be placed on a shared drive, but until you have a web app also available on mobile devices, they’re seriously limited in reach and impact. Additionally, self-service for sales users is essential (or prepare to simply add bodies to grow the program). They need to be able to search for content and references in order to move their deals forward.

One Version of the Truth

Until there is a central repository for reference information, individual salespeople, PR, field marketing, etc., will be the keepers and gatekeepers. That means the full potential of each customer reference is impossible to reach as no one in a central role in the organization has insight into all of the customer reference assets. When properly leveraged a customer reference is worth multiples of the annual contract value.

Reference Activity & Revenue

Tracking statistics related to reference activities is very manual and most likely highly incomplete when spreadsheets are the only tools. Ideally the use of any reference assets, related to opportunities, are captured and compiled for quick access by executives as well as the program team. While a program may not immediately be asked to justify it’s existence, that will be a requirement when budgets are scrutinized and/or leadership changes occur.

It’s All About Efficiency

When salespeople rely primarily on email blasts to their colleagues searching for customer references and related proof points there’s a price paid in terms of productivity. Everyone’s inboxes are clogged. The responses, when they occur, take more time to sift through from the requester and her colleagues. The alternative is no one responds in which case the opportunity may stall. This inefficiency has a cost even if it’s largely hidden. Some in leadership just consider it a cost of doing business, which is unfortunate because it can be addressed.

There’s so much to be written about what defines a solid database, or customer reference management system. We could fill several blog least! Features and functionality aside, let me focus on something that is frequently forgotten or ignored. Data quality. The technology is only as good as the data managed within. The data must be complete, accurate and current. When the data quality is high users can find what they’re looking for quickly and move toward closing deals. We have a user adoption white paper related to system adoption that delves into this topic in more detail. Don’t give data short shrift, it will cost you down the road.

With the right level of support from leadership, a capable reference program leader and technology that makes reliable reference data available to all those who depend on references for their jobs, you will overcome the top reasons programs fail.

As with all of our posts, your feedback is most welcome!