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

Here’s our prescription for overcoming the second of these obstacles: Lack of Sales Leadership Support

Earlier I wrote about gaining and maintaining executive leadership. It is certainly number 1 or 2—depending on your environment—in the critical success factors for program success. It might surprise you when I say that it’s entirely possible to have passive support from the executive team and little or no support from Sales leadership. The operative word is passive, which translates to executives having little appetite for mandating and enforcing the use of a reference program. Lip service isn’t going to change behaviors unless you have a very committed leader in the top Sales post.

We’ve seen these Sales leader champions, but they aren’t the majority. Why is that?

There are many factors involved in a decision to buy your solution. There’s brand, there are features, there’s pricing, there is peer influence and about 50 other possible things, some that are intangible like sales rep to prospect chemistry. At the end of the day Sales leadership is focused on hitting the numbers, making quota. This involves basic blocking and tackling (sales methodologies), initiatives to grow the channel or penetrate/grow verticals or territories, and being responsive to changing market conditions.

A lot of Sales leaders, and I’m referring to managers, directors, and VPs, have been out of the role of Sales rep for just long enough to forget the hassle of handling reference requests. When it comes up the finger points to marketing and what marketing is doing about references, then in the blink of an eye, it’s off to other Sales activities. No one stops to consider how much time reference wrangling is taking away from higher value Sales activities. The impact of not having a timely reference, or worse, the affect that a poor reference (i.e., not pre-qualified) has on the final decision on a sale. It’s lost until there’s a critical customer reference event that brings it to the front burner again.

What can be done to change this unproductive cycle?


First, layout the business case and show how the lack of a well-support program is slowing deals and perhaps losing them. Additionally, survey the Sales team to get some aggregate data on how they’re finding references, how long it’s taking them, and how often a poorly qualified reference has hurt a deal. What about overuse? How often has a reference said “no” to speaking with a prospect because they’ve been asked too many times recently? How much time is the average rep losing doing the reference logistics the old-fashioned way: email blasts or pleas via internal channels like Chatter?


Second, assuming this case is well laid out and gets some attention, show how the program can be a factor in not only influencing deals, but in helping to meet primary Sales goals and objectives. For example:

  • New product launch
    – generate references during the beta testing
  • Entry into new segment
    – get a reference toehold through current customers in the segment
  • Growing a targeted sales segment
    – focus on growing the database around this segment
  • Launching or expanding a partner channel
    – research and learn what’s needed and set goals in support

That’s our Rx for getting sales leadership attention and support. What’s your take?