A review of research on B2B customer reference programs over the last six years shows the same problems persist – problems that continue to limit customer reference program effectiveness. One of the biggest challenges? Recruiting new customer references into the program. Nearly 1 in 5 RO Innovation customers say reference recruitment is their #1 challenge. Consistently producing enough high quality customer references to fulfill all the needed activities – live calls, testimonial quotes, speaking opportunities, case studies, the list goes on – across a breadth of industries, products, geographies, and more has ranked a top challenge year over year. Mainstay’s 2015 customer reference benchmark report revealed B2B companies only have between 11% and 20% of their customer base participating in reference programs. While time, skill sets, and resources play a role, additional issues with customer reference recruitment also include:

  • Difficulty accessing top customers
  • Lack of visibility on new customers Sales closes
  • Reference recruitment strategy is lacking to include clearly defined value proposition
  • Customer reference nomination processes and workflows are not formalized

And, yet, as reference managers diligently work to correct these issues, customer reference requests must be fulfilled. Programs must be executed, customer success stories created, and salespeople enabled to close more deals. So, how do you improve customer reference participation to have the program contribute to higher business success while you’re in the midst of the day-to-day tactical stuff?

3 Ways to Hack Customer Reference Nominations

You know attention spans are getting shorter and multi-tasking across devices and channels is the new normal. To get the reference nominations you need to keep a reference program growing healthy and strong, you need to get the attention of people within your organization that touch customers. To get them to give you customer contacts, you have to make them feel confident you aren’t going to “break” their relationship with the customer by recruiting them into the reference program. All with the end goal of making it super quick and providing a painless process for them to do so. It’s a lot to ask, but actually key to getting the nominations you need.

Create an “Easy Button” for Nominations

Asking for a nomination itself can be a very easy process if you do it correctly through a consistent and straightforward workflow.

  • Create call to action buttons for customer reference nominations in places sales, marketing, customer success teams work on a daily basis. For example, putting a simple button on customer contact records in the CRM, like Salesforce, can make it as simple as 1 click for someone to submit a customer nomination.
  • Have a standard form for people to complete. Only ask for the bare minimum information you need to take the next step in your recruitment process. 5 form fields or less is good, 3 is ideal: Name, email, why they’d make a good reference.
  • Reference managers can then review nominations and follow up appropriately. By pulling the relevant information you need on the first-pass, you can eliminate some of the hassle and back-and-forth it would have otherwise required and jump-start your next steps.

Appeal to the Competitive Nature of Salespeople

Why do salespeople love closing a deal? The thrill. The income bonus. The pat on the back from their boss. The “oohs and ahhs” and recognition they get from their peers on the big name they just closed. Put all the above to work for your reference program with a one-two punch strategy.

  • Team up with sales leadership to incentivize customer reference nominations. Maybe everyone who submits 3 different customer accounts this quarter gets an Amazon gift card, but the person who submits the most gets a new Macbook.
  • Then, really appeal to the competitive nature of salespeople by creating and promoting a Nominations Leaderboard. This visual lets people know exactly where they stack up against others on their team that they really want bragging rights they beat, and lets them know how close (or far) they are from that top prize.Sales Wins Customer Reference Nominations Leaderboard

Track Won Deals

If it’s like pulling teeth to get salespeople to nominate existing customers, and incentives aren’t working, look at NEW customers that Sales are adding to the overall customer pool. A good strategy is to maintain visibility on all recent sales deals that have been won. Then, based on the reference program’s needs, the reference manager can determine which new customers to target for pulling into the program. This allows the Reference Team to access program needs by looking at gaps in their program and begin the recruiting process on new customers that fill that gap. One way to have sales help strapped customer marketers do the heavy lifting on this is by asking them to complete a short Sales Wins form as part of their process for marking the Opportunity “won” in Salesforce. Using the same logic as with the Nomination form keeps this as simple as possible to collect the basic information on the customer. This allows you to start priming the reference pipeline, while offering equally important tribal knowledge to sales management and sales peers on how and why the deal was won. In a fully developed Sales Win program, like one available in the RO Innovation platform, the arduous requests for nominations from Sales can disappear and closed opportunities can become the new engine that feeds the reference pipeline.

In Conclusion

Customer reference recruitment doesn’t have to be taxing or stressful. There are many ways to leverage others in the organization to hack customer reference nomination to eliminate one of your biggest challenges in customer reference program effectiveness. The ideas presented above will get you started. Each of them will streamline your efforts, but also ensure customers being nominated are also useful, relevant and valuable for the activities they’ll be used for.

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Todd Wertz
Project Manager at RO Innovation
Todd Wertz is a Project Manager at RO Innovation. Having worked with a variety of customer reference programs in companies large and small for over a decade, Todd's breadth of experience makes him one of the foremost go-to advisors on customer reference management best practices and program optimization.