Every customer advocate program (CAP) measures its success in a variety of ways. There are metrics related to building out the database so that stakeholders find what they need when they need it. That’s super important because if amassing a quality database is not happening, there really isn’t a program so much as a suspect collection of potentially happy customers. This does not inspire confidence or trust.

Fast forward, you’ve built a stellar collection of references that align with your company’s growth goals. Then the questions are, do stakeholders know about this resource? Do they know how to find it? Do they know how to use it? All of these questions get to the heart of user adoption. Low or no awareness of or education on customer reference program use results in low or no user adoption.

We’ve traced every useful measurement back to one essential metric, the seed if you will, of all long-range outcome goals:

  • increased win rates
  • sales cycle acceleration
  • boosted productivity
  • and ultimately, revenue influenced

That metric is the percentage of opportunities leveraging reference resources. If we were starting a program tomorrow, we’d need a baseline, which would be the percent of opportunities currently using some form of a reference to ultimately close a deal. It’s not a perfect science, but surveying salespeople will get you close. The question to ask?

“On average, what percentage of your opportunities require customer references in order to buy?”

Notice that “customer references” is not specific. That’s because customer content such as videos, case studies, webinar recordings, and reviews, along with reference calls/forums and site visits all leverage a reference. At the core is a customer reference/advocate.

If asked, “What percentage should we be shooting for?,”  we’d answer, “there is no universal percentage. It depends on the nature of your solution or service.” How much social evidence is needed for that particular solution? If you own your space, probably not as much. If you’re blazing a new trail or a recent entrant into a crowded market, or maybe breaking into a new industry, probably a lot more.

Let’s say that your survey results show that, on average, 20% of opportunities leverage references. As a customer advocate believer, you know that the more frequently references are employed, the better the chances your sales team wins. We know it intuitively, but there are plenty of studies that support that presumption. Here’s a sample:

  • One-to-one peer recommendations, original research, and product reviews are the most influential content in affecting purchase decisions (Content Marketing Institute and SmartBrief, 2017)
  • 67% of B2B buyers rank peer reviews as very important when making a purchase decision (Demand Gen Report, 2017)
  • Data from the Sirius Decisions Command Center shows a correlation between the volume of advocates and an organization’s ability to demonstrate an impact on more than 50% of new and cross-sell or up-sell revenue.
  • 35% sought input from peers and existing users in the community  within the first month of the purchase process (2019 B2B Buyers Survey Report)
  • Resources buyers were using to learn more about vendors and their offerings (2019 B2B Buyers Survey Report):
    – Peers and colleagues (33%)
    – Prior experience with the vendor (32%)
    – Industry experts, analysts, and influencers (28%)
    – Review websites (27%)

Now, what can you do to increase the use of customer references by your sales team to 30%, 50%, or more?

  • First, determine the segment of sales you’re influencing:  new vs. renewals, the segment(s) that are most important to company growth (industry, product, geo, and whatever else makes sense), etc. That segment is your focus for trend analysis.
  • Understand how your company’s salespeople are trained in the use of references. Do they receive any training, or is it just assumed they know best when and how to insert references into their process? A lousy assumption, by the way.
  • Do you have sales technology that prescribes activities at each stage of an opportunity? These are often referred to as Sales playbooks. Do those prescriptions include why and how to use references and in what form (webinars, videos, reviews, calls, case studies, etc.)?
  • Are the available reference resources covered—sufficiently—in Sales onboarding? Including where to find them, and when and why to use them so that they inform the buyer’s journey at each stage, not just in the 11th hour. Sales representatives should be taught to provide references proactively not reactively.

Perhaps you have thought of your role as more marketing than sales. But as you can see, to have an impact on this essential metric—the percentage of opportunities leveraging reference resources—you’ll need to put on your sales enablement/effectiveness hat and partner with that team. Improving this metric should be a shared goal. It’s awfully difficult to argue with this logic if the end goal is to win more deals.