How to set up a customer reference program
Is your company doing everything it can to generate customer
referrals and positive word-of-mouth?
If you suspect the answer is ďno,Ē then you should consider setting
up a formal customer reference program.
Customer reference programs-an increasingly important constituent of
corporate sales and marketing plans-groom customers for customer
reference activities. These customers then can help your company with:
* Case studies for publication on your Website, distribution by sales
reps to prospects, or for use as collateral at trade shows.
* Video testimonials.
* Press interviews.
* Quotes for press releases.
*Testimonials for use in brochures, trade show back walls,
advertisements, or other marketing collateral.
* Giving talks or presentations, or sitting on panels at trade shows
* Hosting on-site visits from prospects or agreeing to serve as
direct references by phone or user conference meetings.
Does your company currently ask customers to participate in these
kinds of activities? Whether you already do or are thinking about it,
keep in mind that a formal customer reference program ensures you donít
inadvertently inundate customers with reference requests.
By centrally tracking customer touches, you coordinate all reference
activities. Each line of business, as well as your sales, marketing, and
PR organizations, will know which customers youíve approached and how
theyíve responded. Youíll protect the goodwill happy customers feel
about your company. And your company will be able to use customer
references strategically. Here are some guidelines to consider if you
decide to establish a customer reference program for your company.
Scope is everything.
To maximize the effectiveness of your reference program, engage all
stakeholders who can contribute to or benefit from the program. Itís
likely-especially as your program becomes established-that both sales
and marketing will want to leverage the program. Sales will want access
to the customers to help them gain inroads into new accounts and close
deals. Marketing will want your customers to provide quotes or take
Itís, therefore, important to include leadership from both
organizations in the planning and management of your reference program.
Equally important: Define responsibilities. Will ownership of the
program be shared? Who will fund it? Who will contribute resources to
management of the program? Another issue to address is how the two
organizations will provide and share data.
Establish your reference program on an enterprise-wide basis. If your
company spans multiple lines of business, track reference activities
across those organizations. Then you will have a comprehensive record of
each customerís relationship with your company. You eliminate the risk
of the customer fielding reference requests from multiple lines of
business concurrently. And youíll be more readily able to identify
opportunities to strategically leverage customers.
In-house or outsourced
There are several potential benefits to outsourcing your customer
reference program, including the ability to ramp up more quickly and
leverage established experts. But if your company has the resources and
is willing to commit long-term to managing the program in-house, it
might make sense to handle it internally. Or you might want to outsource
only a portion of your program such as request fulfilment.
The foundation of any customer reference program is a database of
customer information. Depending on your companyís size and the scope of
your reference program, you can track this information using something
as simple as a spreadsheet. Larger companies might want to create a
custom database; this might be integrated with corporate ERP systems.
There are also off-the-shelf software applications available. As you
evaluate options, consider how large the database needs to be. Good
searchability is important, as is security. If the application resides
on a network or corporate intranet, you need to make sure safeguards are
in place to protect its integrity and the privacy of your customers.
Minimally, you will want to track basic information about each
customer: contact information, status of the relationship, what products
or services the customer purchased, account manager, etc.
You also should note what reference activities each customer has
agreed to support and how often you tap them for participation. This
helps ensure you donít under- or over-use particular customers.
What resources will you need?
There are several categories of tasks that are associated with
managing a customer reference program. These include administrative
functions such as data entry, and higher skill tasks such as approaching
account teams and their customers to gauge their willingness to serve as
You need to allocate resources for each of these responsibilities.
You also should prepare for growth, because once the program is
established and its value recognized, demand for it is likely to grow.
To be continued