Customer references can be a powerful sales tool for B2B and B2C alike. We know this because we face an ever increasing stack of requests for “someone like me who’s used your solution”.  If your organization uses customer references in its sales process, but doesn’t have a formal program, have you ever considered launching one? If you are in the early stages of starting a program, or are thinking about creating one in your company, here are a few tips to help you get going.

Define Your Reference Program. The first thing you need to do is define your reference program. Knowing what your program goal is, the role it plays in your marketing/sales program and the metrics it is aimed to achieve are critical. Having this foundation is important in order to define the value a formal program will bring to the organization. It also helps in getting management buy-in and stakeholder support for the use of your program if you can clearly articulate the benefits gained by a formal program. Ask yourself: What is its purpose in your company? How will you control the reference request workflow, manage reference relationships and measure the ROI for the program?

Get Management Buy-In. After you define your program, this is your #1 priority! Without executive support, you won’t get very far. You will need support to get the program going, to build momentum, get necessary funds, and ultimately get the program used. It is ideal to have this buy-in from the very top and have it trickle down, but you also will need it at the lower levels as well to drive the benefits of a formalized program. Because they will be the primary users, getting the buy-in from the sales reps and their managers is key to your success.

Persuade With the Expected Value. Present the business case for the value a formal program will bring and the value of having a reference database in place. Will having a formal customer reference program increase sales revenue? Will it make someone’s job easier? Will it free up time to focus on more important things? Will it be easier to track activity because everything is under one roof and make ROI calculations easier? Business always comes down to the question of time and money. If you can show that having a program will create more of one or both of those, you’ll have an easier time securing buy-in and high utilization.

Find Sales Champions. You need to have champions willing to work with you and support you from within sales. Secure the support of a handful of key reps, perhaps those with the highest demand for customer references, that will really stand behind getting a customer reference program going. They will not only help give you the impetus you need, they will most likely be the biggest users of your program and can help you build your library of references (especially from the larger accounts) at the beginning.

Decide to Build It or Buy It. In theory, customer references databases can be managed by things as easy and simple to use as spreadsheets or CRM databases with additional query fields. IT departments can also build a homegrown solution to help you manage references. Then again, you could pour your own foundation for a new home too. Of course, you can also buy and implement a third party software platform. Evaluating the way you are currently providing references and deliverables to the sales organization in this step will help you decide what the best solution is. Perhaps ask yourself the following: do you have the correct resources and bandwidth to build and manage an internal platform yourself? What is your reference request fulfillment process, and how could it be managed and streamlined with a technology solution? Could you benefit from a centralized process and single, searchable repository of references accessible by multiple functional teams without burning out your best customers? Can you realistically build and maintain one? Would the program be used more if it integrated with current sales platforms, like your existing CRM?

RO Innovation has worked with organizations with reference programs in all shapes and sizes. We’d love to chat with you about your program’s goals and how we might be able to help you achieve them.

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.