This is a question that should be answered early in the life cycle of a customer reference program because it drives one of the most fundamental functions: attracting members. It’s never too late to assess your environment if this question wasn’t answered earlier, or if the dynamics of your customer relationships have changed recently (significant sales turnover, executive turnover, mergers/acquisitions, etc.).
The companies that are most successful at building a solid customer reference base have strong customer relationships.
There are 3 basic relationship reasons customers choose to be a reference
- Service excellence from their main point(s) of contact
- Love of/for the product/solution
- Desire to be professionally associated with the brand (makes them look cutting edge)
When a recruiting approach/model is developed these 3 drivers should be considered. For instance, if service excellence is a hallmark of your customer relationships then the people closest to the account are in the best position to identify and even ask the customer to join the reference program.
Don’t limit your thinking to only leveraging the account managers. Strong relationships may exist between customers and:
- Customer success/Account management
- Sales leadership
- Product management
- Professional services
- Sales engineers
The account managers ought to be able to identify who will likely have the greatest goodwill accrued with the customer.
Love of the product/solution and perceived value of brand association elevate the customer’s loyalty to the company, transcending the individuals closest to the account. Recruiting campaigns (i.e., direct outreach) from the reference program are more likely to be successful in these situations. Not to discount the relationships, but the recruiting process is faster and more prolific if one:one recruiting conversations don’t need to be coordinated across multiple departments and people.
So consider how each program prospect relates to your organization before deciding on the best approach for customer recruiting. It’ll save you trial and error time, and get you to your ultimate goal more efficiently. The goal being an ample, qualified and relevant reference database.
In an upcoming post I’ll propose some recruiting ideas for those situations where pure altruism isn’t enough of a motivator for those customers you really want in your program.