I’ll admit it up front. As a customer reference management solution provider, we clearly have a bias on this topic and believe a proactive approach is the way to go.  Yet, so many companies out there continue to struggle with the reactive approach to customer reference management.  Waiting for reference requests to come in before seeking out customers to speak with works occasionally.  However, we are certain that in almost all cases a proactive approach yields better results.  Let’s take a look at both scenarios:

Reactive approach to customer reference management

In this scenario the function of customer reference management generally falls under a marketing group or perhaps sales operations, but often it is just one small subset of the group’s responsibilities.  As a result, it often falls low on the list of priorities and may even be inconsequential when it comes to performance reviews.  When a reference request comes in, it is handled by using whatever tools are at the individual’s disposal to find and coordinate an appropriate reference.  Often times, those tools are a tricked-out Excel spreadsheet or some pieced-together code added to the sales CRM. This typically ad hoc approach is disorganized and time consuming and results in a subpar match.

“In our Excel spreadsheet we were tracking basics such as who requested a reference and who took a call, but we weren’t using each reference contact as well as we should,” says Spencer Duncan, North American Reference Coordinator at Ceridian. “For example, I might get a request for a reference for a cattle ranch, and I’d end up connecting them with a customer in the banking industry. The reference isn’t very applicable to the prospect’s situation, nor does it provide the customer experience our XOXO program promises. The banker and the cattle rancher aren’t in the same industry. They don’t even speak the same language.”

Proactive approach to customer reference management

In this scenario there is typically a customer reference manager who has specific responsibilities pertaining to the success of this function.  He or she has a vested interest in ensuring that a healthy selection of customer references are quickly available when needed.  This approach encourages regular and proactive development of new customer references in order to grow the pool of testimonials.  When reference requests come in, they are directed to the proper individual who can coordinate the best customer for the prospect to speak with.  That individual is armed with the most current information available.  The result is a fast response with fresh customers standing by to participate.

“I came from a company that didn’t have a formal reference program. Every request was a Hail Mary pass, and I used to dread getting them,” says Spencer Duncan, North American Reference Coordinator at Ceridian. “RO Innovation has made my life so much easier. I actually look forward to getting requests because I know I can match up the request pretty closely with one of the customers in our XOXO program. And, a process that used to take almost a week can now be done in a matter of a couple of days.”

In addition to being prepared and ready for requests, proactively managing customer references makes quantifying the value of the program possible.  The ability to demonstrate return on investment and the financial value of using and growing customer references will support sales efforts and in the end drive the growth of the business.  We regularly encourage companies to take a good look at the way they approach such a valuable business function and consider the benefits and consequences of their strategy.  Changing from a reactive to proactive approach for customer reference management can make all the difference.

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.
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