To Grow Your Customer References, Get Support from Those That Know Them Best


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Many customer reference experts today are gathering evidence, often using a concept known as the Net Promoter®, to demonstrate what we’ve suspected all along: companies with the most customer evangelists have the highest revenue growth rates. Loyal and happy customers are your most valuable asset in influencing new sales.

Developing a proactive program for customer reference management can channel this positive influence back into marketing and the selling process. The end result is the ability to facilitate the positive customer to prospect interactions that will help close new business more quickly.

Gaining the help of those that already have a trust relationship with customers is a critical part of customer reference efforts.

One of the first steps building an effective customer reference program is to start identifying and recruiting customers to participate. The often overlooked question is how do you assemble your own customer references and make sure that you have enough to so that they can be used effectively.

While there are many methods to recruit new customer references, it is difficult to do without a nomination from those in your company that already hold a trusted relationship with the customer. The following points discuss how to get the support you need and build a community of referenceable customers.

Be Strategic

First, it is important to understand what’s in your current customer reference portfolio. Consider coverage by industry, geography, products and other dimensions important to your company’s current strategic direction. Armed with this knowledge, you will know who to go to for support and customer nominations. There’s no sense wasting time and resources in less important areas.

One major security software company elevated its approach by creating a strategic plan, including targets it wanted to reach, plans for making the appropriate connections and a proposal for joint marketing that could be together. While best suited for a subset of VIP customers, this method was very successful in meeting recruiting goals.

Coordinate Efforts

Bring together individuals that most often use and rely on customers (i.e. PR, Advertising, Product Management) to build an integrated approach that elevates the importance of the request. Hold a meeting to discuss the importance and need for growing your references and let them know how they must support the effort together. Going solo risks overlapping with others and makes it more difficult to maintain executive support.

Make it Part of the Job

While the sales person’s job is growing revenue, more sales managers are recognizing that seeding the customer reference process is an important key to that revenue. Once they do, work with the executive team to make sure that nominations are a measured part of the sales job. Create a communication campaign to build that kind of recognition if it isn’t already established. And in the process, don’t forget the importance of using executive-level sponsors in helping to make this a priority.

While most use positive motivations, there was one major hardware vendor that set a period in which each account manager was responsible for contributing two of their customers to the program. Those that failed to meet this goal were not permitted to request references. Eventually this strict policy was lifted, however failure to meet goals and objectives were negatively considered at performance review. Ultimately ownership of the policy by sales management is the key and often the best way to achieve this is to defer to those executives judgment about how to make it part of the job.

Rank & Recognize

By nature, sales people are competitive. One idea to incent their participation is to broadcast a ranking of those that nominate customer references. Highlighting the top and bottom of your list will help spark the competition. Quid pro quo rewards for nominations often can’t motivate an already highly compensated salesperson, so instead, secure executive recognition for them in the form of a letter or email and make sure to publicize it appropriately to the entire team.

Accomplishing this can be as simple distributing reports showing program contributors, but some companies have carried it into full blown internal marketing programs with reward levels on multiple dimension.

Look Beyond

Don’t forget other organizations like customer support. You should already be tied to a support escalations team to ensure you don’t interfere with critical situations. Look there for nominations as well, because customers who have recently overcome challenges often have great stories to tell.

One global, technology company conducted a fun, high energy meeting with the customer support team to get everyone involved and excited about the benefits this would bring. This type of inclusiveness is frequently missed.

Don’t Overload Yourself

While having too many nominations isn’t a common problem, well-executed campaigns have been known to bring in more nominations than can be quickly handled, leading to disappointment on all sides.

By combining several of the strategies discussed, it is quite possible to be too successful. When an East Coast project management firm set sales team goals and had management support, they found that receiving just a few customers from each account manager during a single month became too much to handle. Stay ahead of the curve with a continuous, rolling outreach program—even if that means breaking a large sales team (i.e. by last name starting A through F) by month. If you receive a large number of nominations at once, make sure to note the date of the nomination so that if some time has passed, you can go back and check again on the status before enrolling them in the program.

Gaining the help of those that already have a trust relationship with customers is a critical part of customer reference efforts. Make it happen with an organized approach and you will be amply rewarded. Encouraging and enabling customers to participate in customer reference calls with interested parties, case studies and contributed endorsement quotes can make all the difference when it comes to landing new customers and advancing your business.

Take Advantage of Technology

The approaches above involve being able to collect and coordinate information, track activities and measure progress. While this can be done using readily available tools, such email and spreadsheets, their limitations quickly become an obstacle to achieving the necessary results even in simple organizations. The alternative is to apply tools specialized for customer reference management, typically in the form of a database application designed with survey forms, workflow and specific functionality that automate many of the manual steps and help drive behaviors based on best practices.

Joshua Horwitz
Boulder Logic
Joshua Horwitz is president and a founder at Boulder Logic, a company specializing in customer reference management. Companies with complex products and selling cycles rely on Boulder Logic for an easy-to-deploy, highly customizable enterprise solution to accelerate sales and marketing using their existing customers. Blog:



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