There is no question that over the past decade the customer reference management space has matured steadily and gained momentum in many organizations across the U.S. I recently teamed up with my colleague, Joy Milkowski, to discuss and predict what we think are going to be the biggest customer reference trends for SMBs heading into 2011. The following is just a quick summary of some of the highlights:

Purpose-Built External Technology Solutions
Besides the obvious high cost of building their own systems from scratch, the key reason we predict many mid-sized companies will decide to implement external customer reference management platforms is the ability to leverage the expertise and experience third party specialists can offer. Established technology solution providers have already incorporated best practices into the design and function of their solution, and often offer their professional services for ongoing support and optimization as a part of the SLA – giving the biggest bang for their buck.

Increased Sales Adoption
Customer reference managers are great at getting customer content produced, managing requests and reference nominations and tracking customer reference usage.  A common problem is once the customer reference content is produced, sales doesn’t always use it, causing a gap in effectiveness. Reference management technology platforms are becoming the solution of choice for overcoming this sales adoption challenge. Platforms are streamlining reference request fulfillment workflow, creating a centralized place to store and find references, and incorporate references more completely in ready-made templates for “grab-and-go” functionality.

Integration with Social Media Strategies
More and more B2B buyers are actively participating in social media for their research and are using social media platforms as a preferred way to connect with vendors. With the adoption of these platforms becoming an integral part of many customer’s daily routines, businesses are finding these online communities as great ways to showcase references, reach out to customers in and informative  and authentic way, and create conversations on a more personal level. As such, we expect to see the inclusion of these online social forums in customer reference management strategies to increase significantly. There are reference management technology platforms that offer features that allow sales and marketing personnel to invite customers and prospects to view content and relevant conversations via popular social media platforms.

Integration with Mobile
Another trend in customer reference management taking the business world by storm is the adoption of mobile technology in everyday business practices. With regard to enterprise customer reference programs, a major challenge today is the difficulty of equipping sales professionals with authentic customer testimonials to use with prospects – especially when they are constantly on-the-go. The RO Innovation app keeps the latest reference testimonials and marketing assets at the fingertips of sales forces to help persuade prospects to close deals, spark meaningful conversations, and increase efficiency and effectiveness when they have the best chance of influencing prospects – in person!

Greater Visibility into Health of Customer Reference Programs
Even with signs that the economy is starting to improve, many executives still have a very close eye on the ROI of marketing, sales and customer reference activities and initiatives. That is why it is becoming more important than ever to have visibility into the overall health and wellness of your organization’s customer reference program. It is important to establish and track metrics related to the overall health of the program, even if they are only able to be studied a couple times a year to PROVE your program’s ROI. Having the right reference management technology to gain visibility and insight into your program makes it easier to study metrics with greater frequency and adapt/react to data as it is available in real time to stay effective.

Customer Intelligence Tools
Another trend we have been seeing is organizations using their customer reference technologies for double duty – for management and as customer intelligence tools. They are using their customer reference platforms as a central repository to host all sorts of information about customers, creating a one-stop-shop for storing and mining data about current customers that gives their platform more power and a higher ROI. Not to mention, managers stay more efficient, because they only have ONE platform to manage all this information on.

The demand and accessibility of customer references – particularly in enterprise B2B selling situations – is growing and being incorporated as a vital part of the sales process. As the customer reference space continues to mature, it will be imperative for organizations to have a well-defined approach for integrating their sales, marketing, customer experience and customer reference departments and leveraging their cooperation through customer reference management platforms.

Continue the conversation with us and find out how our customer reference technology features can help your organization thrive in 2011 and beyond.

Jim Mooney
Jim Mooney is the Founder & CEO of RO Innovation. His passion for helping salespeople excel in all aspects of B2B selling, especially where customer references are involved, was the reason he started the company. His desire for helping others succeed flows through in the expert thought leadership he provides the industry, his customers and his employees.
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