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I just got off the phone with a marketing person who wanted help defining the term “customer reference” for his company. 

One aspect of confusion comes from who you are talking to. Sales people are usually thinking about those late in the deal requests that come in from prospects. Marketing folks, particularly if they aren’t closely involved with sales support, are typically thinking about a written document like a success story or case study. The PR team may be thinking of a request from a reporter looking to speak with a customer. We’ve seen this a lot. 

From our perspective the above are either activities or content, but a customer reference is really the “story of a successful delivery of products or services” that can be shared. It doesn’t matter if that story is told in print, as part of a speaking opportunity or in a personal conversation. The goal of customer reference management is to amplify and repeat the telling of that story in ways that can help create market impact.

Defined this way, a customer reference could consist of multiple products or services, having several people within a single company acting as advocates. The key is grouping these based on the “story” rather than the specific solution. This allows each story to be shared to its maximum  potential, and since one product may be used by different people to solve completely different problems it doesn’t make much sense to group them together.

I’d be interested to know how your company defines a customer reference.

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: http://referencesuccess.com


  1. Great question. I work in the Cisco and WebEx reference program and in fact am responsible for references for all of the WebEx offerings.

    I would change your word ‘Delivery’ to ‘successful use’ of products or services and, yes, it has to be sharable. My definition: “story of a successful use of products or services – hopefully with measurable results”

    Sharable assets can be written, audio podcast, or video – we develop and use all three formats. Sharable assets can be used for launches, for leadgen activities, or to help close sales transactions. Press articles also qualify.

    Additionally, reference programs can include internal lists of ‘happy customers’ who are willing to talk with your prospects about their experience and use of your products or services. This is a different type of activity since it does not require a ‘sharable asset’ be created but it is certainly vital to many companies.

  2. Thanks for your comment Diane. Delivery does sound like it got to the door, but isn’t crystal clear that it was used. Your version with “successful use” makes good sense.


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