Nearly everyone understands the value of using customers as advocates. But few understand what’s involved in doing customer references right. More often than not, a handful of key customers gets overused and burned out, and no one follows up to see if that journalist interview resulted in a positive story or checks to see that a much-loved customer quote is still up-to-date.
A well-thought-out customer reference program is worth its weight in gold—but takes effort to set up and administer. Here are a few ideas to keep yours on track:
Figure out what your sales team needs. Talk to the people on the front lines of winning new deals—your sales force—and find out where they are coming up empty-handed on proof points. Do they have anything for social media startups? Midsize healthcare companies? Hosting providers in Asia? It doesn’t do a salesperson any good—and can even set her back—to hand a prospect a case study about a company in a completely different industry. Or, they may need references from customers using certain features of your product or using your product in conjunction with someone else’s product.
Create a segment-based plan. Once you’ve figured out what you’re after, create a plan for getting it. Segment references based on industry, vertical, geo, job title, or whatever your sales force needs. Set goals, but be realistic about how many reference customers you can actually get based on your existing customer base and the resources you have to maintain the pool of available customer references.
Create a team. Assign resources who will manage the program, from working with sales to approaching customers, working with writers to produce case studies, video teams to produce video testimonials, journalists to fill press requests, project managers to create reports and track progress, and so forth. There are a lot of moving pieces in a customer reference program; make sure you have the right talent on hand.
Define metrics. While you’re setting up the program, define how you’re going to measure its success. By number of case studies produced? By number of case studies viewed, shared, or mentioned? By number of press interviews set up? Be as rigorous with your customer reference program as with every other part of your marketing effort. It’s expensive, so make sure the cost is generating a return.
Get a good customer reference tool. You need a place to track your customer reference program Maybe your CRM system is up to the job. Even a spreadsheet will do. It’s important that you be able to tag individual reference items, such as case studies, conference calls, and customer participation in industry events, so you can reconstruct which of them contributed to closed sales. Your tracking system also needs to be searchable, and you should be able to produce reports easily. The system should allow you to tell management how many customers were referenced each month, which customers and which evidence pieces were used in the sales cycle, and what the ROI of your customer reference program is.
Recruit customer references. Develop a recruitment strategy to identify customers who are willing to serve as references. Check with the account manager first!
Keep talking to sales. Your customer reference team should be joined at the hip with your sales team. The salespeople are the ones using your customer evidence to close deals and contributing new customers to the reference program. Make sure they have bought into the program and understand how it benefits them. Create customer-ready program overviews that the sales team can use to introduce customers to the reference program. Recognize salespeople for nominating new reference customers.
Keep customers happy. Your best customers will likely be references for you multiple times. Which is all well and good, but don’t wear out your welcome. Stay in close touch with reference customers to make sure your requests aren’t becoming onerous and that they feel they’re getting what they need from the relationship.
This is an excerpt from The Modern Guide to B2B Marketing. Download it now to get our recommendations for how to create, manage, and measure every aspect of your customer engagement program.