No matter how seasoned you are as a customer marketing professional, it’s always smart to surround yourself with other pros. The good news is, there are plenty of customer reference managers out there willing to share their advice if you ask. The bad news, of course, is that it’s not always easy to distinguish between the true gurus and the wannabes.

That’s where this list comes into play. The customer advocacy experts that I follow below have met at least the following criteria:
1. They get results for their programs.
2. They’ve been around longer than a year or two. No fly-by-night reference managers on this list.
3. They contribute to the reference industry by consistently offering advice and new ideas for other advocacy professionals.
4. They’re trusted and respected by other top customer advocacy marketing experts.
5. They contribute something unique to the customer marketing industry. Each of the experts below are customer reference management innovators in some small (or big) way.

Ready to expand your network and up your customer reference knowledge? The following 10 experts won’t steer you wrong.

Liz Pedro, Director of Customer Advocacy, Five9

“Since I started my career, customer advocacy has become more of a differentiator for many organizations. When I started my career, people would say ‘my company or my product is best because of X, Y or Z.’ But, it seems a lot of products aren’t so differentiated anymore. The one clear differentiator that remains is the customer experience, and customer advocacy is now what allows you to turn that difference into an advantage.”

Abby Atkinson, Sr Manager Customer Reference Program, FireEye

“When you’re just seen as a ‘back office operation,’ then you’re a cost center. You have to change the way everyone views your program [so that they see it] as more of a value center. My job is to balance the tactical aspect of it. That’s my role, and I’ve talked to my CMO about it, and she loves that this is what I live and breathe.” 

Spencer Duncan, North America Reference Coordinator, Ceridian

“Knowing I need to find the right happy client to ensure that prospective customer has a good conversation with them so they’ll sign on the dotted line is just as much pressure for me as it is for the seller. But then when you do it right and get to hear the deal closed because of the reference, that is especially gratifying and such a good feeling because you know you helped make a difference.”

Rae Harrison, Manager Global Customer Reference Programs, Palo Alto Networks

“The voice of the customer has become so important. People are ‘on’ to marketing’s agenda. They see it coming and read straight through marketing fluff,” says Rae. “Bottom line is this: people buy from people they like. People they trust. They’d rather hear the unbiased, unfiltered story directly from their peer’s perspective because they know it doesn’t have marketing’s spin. That’s the content buyers want now.”

Mary Ketter, Global Customer Reference Manager, JDA Software

“Everything is constantly changing in business. The beauty of this role is the flexibility it allows in being able to change with and adhere to new demands, especially as our internal customers (sales and marketing) transform and evolve.”

Brian Piper, Customer Reference Specialist, Rapid7

“By getting customers involved in producing case studies and webcasts and involved in conversations in user groups and podcasts, we’ve found that having some of that content can supplement the reference calls over time.”

Becky Leung, Customer Marketing Manager, Jive Software

“I would like to emphasize that I’m not a walking encyclopedia about our customers. I definitely do the best I can, but it can be hard to keep all of our customers’ stories straight with great details. That’s why I’m so glad I have a system like RO to help me out to easily get information about our customers and quickly grab any assets and information about them.”

Eric Andre, Sr Reference Program Manager, ServiceMax

“Nothing can take the place of hearing from another customer who can talk openly and honestly about their journey from where they to where they are today. We love it when customers can say, ‘Yes, there were hiccups along the way but it’s been worth it.’”

Shawn Dukes, Customer Reference Manager, Blackbaud

“We would get constant questions from Sales about whether we had actually talked to the references. We learned the sales team had received some bad references in the past, which had them up in arms. They had to start trusting our new information and process. We began providing them with these rock star references and they learned that they were great references and couldn’t wait to connect them with the prospect. They began believing the quality of the references we were providing them and started coming back.”

Sandi Montour, Customer Engagement Program Manager, ShoreTel

“Time and again, I’ve seen firsthand how valuable customer reference programs can be – both for the customers and the organization. Sales can more efficiently find the right customer to speak with a prospect and the company’s claims to the market are validated with customer testimonials. This positively affects the bottom line and is extra gratifying since the customers also benefit from the added awareness and appreciation.”

Denise Taylor
Denise Taylor is the Marketing Operations Manager at RO Innovation.