Quick! Can you can define a customer reference?


In simple terms, we define a customer reference as a positive story your customer tells about a successful delivery of products or services that can be shared. The goal of customer reference management is to amplify that story in ways that can create market and selling impact.

Below are some frequently asked questions about defining customer references:

How is the positive story told?

That positive story can be told a number of different ways, depending on to whom you are talking. Salespeople think about using content either early in the sales cycle or for request to speak 1:1 with a customer that often comes in from a prospect near the end of the cycle. Marketing folks, particularly if they aren’t closely involved with sales support, may think about a written document – like a case study or success story or testimonial quote – that confirms their value propositions.The PR team may be thinking of a request from a reporter or analyst looking to speak with a customer or a speaking slot they’d like to fill at an industry event. Then, in the world of social media, conversations about the brand happen at all times on their own.

From our perspective, it doesn’t matter if that story is told in print, as part of a speaking opportunity, or in a personal conversation. The goal of customer customer reference management remains the same: to amplify and share the story in ways that can help create market impact.


Can your customers collaborate on a reference?

A customer reference could consist of several people within a single company acting as advocates. The key is to group these based on the “story” rather than the specific solution. This allows each story to be shared to its maximum potential, and since one product may be used by different people to solve completely different problems, it doesn’t make much sense to group them together.


What is the most important aspect of customer references?

The success of your customer reference program relies on building an army of highly satisfied customer evangelists. These evangelists are passionate persuaders for your products and services and help to guide that positive sentiment where it can have the biggest impact. Exceptionally loyal and motivated evangelists will be your top advocates and will enthusiastically help drive others to your business.


Are customer advocates and customer references the same thing?

The term customer advocacy is separate from customer reference or evangelist or referral. While we, for many years, treated the four terms as one and the same, some clarification is now beneficial.

  • A reference customer is typically reactive in their actions (i.e. they respond to requests to take a call or write a case study).
  • A customer advocate (or evangelist) is proactive in their promotion and defense of your brand. An advocate will autonomously engage in a community or at an event. Your challenge then is to turn fans into advocates and then advocates into ready and willing references.


How does your company define a customer reference?

We’d love to hear your view on this and how your customer reference program is structured. Contact us today to start the conversation.


Nichole Auston
Director, Content Marketing at RO Innovation
Nichole Auston is the Director of Content Marketing at RO Innovation. With a background in digital marketing and nearly a decade of experience managing marketing programs for a variety of SaaS companies, she’s passionate about sharing insights, best practices and stories about sales enablement and customer reference management, and the people and technology that power it.