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The Top 5 Hurdles to Overcome on Your Road to Building a Customer Reference Program with Revenue Impact

The Top 5 Hurdles to Overcome on Your Road to Building a Customer Reference Program with Revenue Impact

As Customer Marketing evolves from a primarily advocacy-driven to a business-driven practice, References are taking center stage. Some of the biggest challenges we hear about from the practitioner community are reference related. For some, it’s about creating a pipeline of referenceable content that can help drive demand among prospects and adoption for customers, for others, it’s the challenge of creating a cross-team flow that flows between Sales and Customer Marketing.

For most Customer Marketers tasked with creating (or reviving as is often the case), a Reference program, the biggest challenge will be to redefine the way we work with teams across the company. Because References, like many Customer-Led Growth programs, require teams to align around shared business goals and it requires new levels of collaboration for it to be effective.

We looked at 5 major obstacles that Reference managers need to overcome on the road to delivering on the promise of an effective Reference program. When approached correctly, References have the power to unlock imperative growth avenues, even and especially when times are tough:

  • Higher pipeline efficiency
  • Increased Adoption
  • Increased Retention

These are 5 challenges to consider in designing your program:

  1. Know where to place your efforts: What type of references am I looking for? In most cases, it’s not about quantity, it’s about quality. One thing that helped me make sense of References, was thinking of the reference journey as moving towards 2 destinations or use cases: referenceable content, and sales references. The only way to set up an effective reference program – the only place to start – is with collaboration. Sit down with your Sales team, your CS, and possibly your Marketing and/or Product teams to ensure you are not working in a silo. Establish what your teams are striving to achieve and how your program can work to help them close the loop on their KPIs.
  2. Identify your sales references: How do I know when a customer is ready to provide a Sales reference? Companies are choosing to identify their reference candidates based on what they see as the best indicator, from NPS to an in-house model for assessing advocacy maturity, to scoring advocates based on completed acts of advocacy. This will vary from company to company, and it should, because references must reflect the company’s KPIs. Working on procuring references for a use case or profile that doesn’t present top value is counterproductive. In all things Customer Marketing, but in Reference program management particularly, be consistently driven by the business. There are automation technologies that will give you a flag when someone reaches a certain strategic point in their journey, alerting you that it’s time for an ASK. But the journey, the flags, and the flow are never one-size-fits-all.
  3. Maintaining Relationships with References: How do we keep our references engaged? Once a customer has agreed to provide a reference, it is important to keep track of their experiences over time, so you can approach them at the right time, via the right channel, referring to the right experience. The fourth and most important R of customer marketing (following Reviews, References, and Referrals), is the essential Reward to your references for their contribution to your success. Highlight their successes, give them a stage for their expertise, and elevate their experiences. Give them gifts they value in exchange for the time and partnership they have given you. If you can, try to diversify the references your customers can contribute to, so you can maximize your outcomes.
  4. Avoiding Reference Burn-out: How do I avoid over-asking my references? This is probably the mother of all challenges here because once you have a happy, willing customer reference, it’s very easy to fall into the trap of calling upon your lowest-hanging fruit. Here too, maintaining a single source of truth that enables everyone to view the bigger picture will help you determine how often you turn to your reference for input. The not-so-simple answer to this? Have an active pipeline of references that can be accessed for various purposes. Much easier said than done but make avoiding your reference pool from becoming stagnant a priority. Be active in recruiting every quarter, update your cross-functional goals, and diversify. This brings us to the next challenge…
  5. Measure your impact: How do I demonstrate influence to gain buy-in to grow my program? It can be challenging to measure the impact of customer references on sales and marketing efforts, which can make it difficult to justify the resources invested in managing them. But instilling your program with measurable goals is a critical foundation for its success. Your teams and budget allocators need to hear this tree falling! So, not only do you need to make sure you are measuring the impact of your references from ASK to revenue, but you also have to make sure you tell the world about this impact so you can gain buy-in for your program and expand when you are ready. References are a crucial program today more than ever and your position as leader of this program depends on your ability to demonstrate impact.

Regardless of the size of your team (we all start small), remember your reference program has the potential to be a game changer for your company in a time of financial uncertainty. Efficiency is the new name of the game. Approaching its design strategically is your key to building the foundations for its success and eventual growth. So, whether you’re working from a spreadsheet or ready to scale with a dedicated software solution, your ability to evolve to a cross-functional mindset will be the make or break of your program.

If you had one solid piece of advice to give a reference manager setting out on this journey, what would it be?