Not sure what your Customer Reference Program stakeholders think about your program? Ask!

The whole raison d’etre for a customer reference program is helping Marketing, Sales, and Customer Success find advocates in short order and using them effectively and often. But if there’s a misalignment between your “product” and their need, the program has no relevance.

There are two primary ways to get feedback:

  1. customer reference program advisory board meetings
  2. stakeholder surveys

Advisory boards provide a forum for discussion and an opportunity to dive a bit deeper into various subjects. But it is a sample data set of the entire population. As a result, the feedback may be a bit skewed. Keep this in mind when making consequential decisions based on the input. Surveys provide a way to gain a broader perspective but not obtain nuanced feedback without building what is probably an unreasonably long survey. That makes the formulation of the survey critical so that it doesn’t generate more questions than answers.

Surveys are, in our opinion, the best way to understand stakeholder behavior or lack thereof. When the response to/participation in the program doesn’t meet your expectations (i.e., low user adoption), don’t just wring your hands or despair: ask questions that get to the “why?” If you meet resistance to running a survey, you must clearly communicate that your program’s success (maybe even the survival) depends on getting answers. How can an argument be made for squandering an investment in people (you and others involved) and technology?

The Questions

If you aren’t getting customer advocate candidates from Sales, Customer Success, or other customer relationship owners, you should ask:

Have you nominated any of your customers as advocates?

    • Yes
    • No

If not, why not?

    • I don’t know how
    • I have no happy customers
    • I’m concerned about how and how often they’ll be contacted
    • I don’t know what’s in it for my customers
    • I’m not sure what makes a good candidate
    • I haven’t had time
    • Other

If there’s an indication that stakeholders aren’t finding the advocates they need (i.e., going somewhere other than your database), you should ask:

When you search for a reference, you find what you need:

    • Always
    • Some of the time
    • None of the time
    • Other

When you don’t find what you need, is there a combination of criteria that’s consistent?

Here you’d offer an open text box because you want to allow maximum flexibility and specificity. It could, for instance, be product A+B, financial services, and Central America.

Tips for Survey Success
  • These are just a few of the questions you may have, of course. Do a complete inventory of the questions you have, and be specific. Provide a list of plausible answers to a given question when possible. You may jog memories and get more helpful information.
  • You’ll notice the “Other” choice in all questions. This is important because customer reference practices simply aren’t black and white—which is always the case when people and relationships are involved. There are nuances to understand before making decisions that impact your program and your stakeholders.
  • Be judicious on the survey length. There’s no hard and fast rule, but try to get as close to 5 questions as possible.
  • Run the survey past a few stakeholders you know well and get their reactions before letting it fly. Doing these things in a vacuum is never a good idea.

In summary, when in doubt, ask. And to ensure you get a sufficient response from your very busy and distracted stakeholders, enlist the managers of the stakeholders to communicate the importance of their timely participation. You can’t help them if they don’t help you. Again, how can an argument be made for squandering an investment in people (you and others involved) and technology?