When customer reference management is part of your daily responsibilities, your job becomes doubly difficult. Not only do you need to recruit and manage customer relationships that satisfy the needs of your sales prospects during their buying cycle, but you also have you find and support references that fill the requirements of your sales team during their various B2B sales cycles too.

While these two priorities may be complimentary in some ways, kept in mind they aren’t the same.  To shed some light on the separate sides of the same coin, you need to be clear on the separate motivations and messages your prospects are seeking from references and how those are different from what your sales reps need from those same references. I recently covered the “prospect view” of your customer references (and if you haven’t read that, I highly suggest it before reading this post). Today, I’m covering part two, or the “sales rep” point of view, so you can be set up for the most success in your reference management role.

B2B peer whispering secretSo, when your sales reps are in their sales cycles and need a customer reference, what are they really seeking? Ultimately, a peer resource that will ease anxieties and develop trust with the prospect by talking about your company in their own words and move the sale further to closed. But when evaluating the right reference that can do that, these are typically the main things sales reps are looking for:

Someone who considered the competition, but chose you instead

Salespeople love competition, but the one thing they love more is winning.  If your organization has a main competitor, particularly for the specific product the prospect is interested in, sales reps want to see a reference that can speak to that competition – and more importantly why you’re the better choice.  Specifically the sales rep wants a reference customer who:

  1. Is happy with your offering
  2. Considered your main competitor during their buying process
  3. Is willing to say why they went with you instead

The main obstacle that salespeople are looking to overcome is the buyer’s anxiety  that they might be making the wrong decision.  This only increases as a decision gets closer to being made as a final decision means surrendering all alternatives.  As a result, speaking to a reference who has considered at least some of those alternatives, preferably the main one, will go a long way to easing the prospect’s anxieties and help smooth out the rest of the purchasing process.

Someone who speaks candidly about your competitive differentiators

While it’s always nice to for your prospect to hear why your organization’s offerings are superior to your main competitor, your salespeople are going to want to have the prospect hear why your organization is superior all on its own.  To that end, it’s ideal if the reference customer can speak to the prospect on what differentiates your organization from all the others, not just your main competitor.

As an example, let’s say your organization sells a commodity.  While your brand strength may go a long way in a commodity market, most likely the prime differentiator is your price.  As such, your sales rep is going to want to bring a reference into the discussion that can speak to that:  How your offering is the cheapest but high on value, how there aren’t any hidden fees, etc.

Competitive differentiators don’t necessarily need to be all about affirming the positive elements of your offering, though.  If a reference can help eliminate reasons that the prospect isn’t wanting to do business with you, that’s nearly as good.  For instance, if it’s a common practice in your industry to “lock in” clients through some kind of proprietary system or contract modeling, it might  (understandably) make the prospect nervous.  Finding a customer who can testify to the prospect that your organization doesn’t rely on such tactics will be as just as likely to move the purchase process forward.

Someone that eases your prospect’s buying anxiety

The third element your sales reps need in a reference customer is someone who can speak to what I refer to as the onerous phase.  Regardless of your industry, there’s usually some part of onboarding the new customer that is particularly difficult.  Whether it’s transporting goods or installing a new system, there is something that must occur after the sale that your prospect dreads.

If you have a customer reference that is capable of speaking to the prospect in a manner that will ease their anxiety about this, that’s someone your sales rep wants to bring to the table.  Ideally, it should be telling the prospect that your organization has a better way of doing it than anyone else.  Failing that, if your organization uses industry established methodologies, then you’ll want the reference to say how your team performs better than anyone else.


For your organization, each of the above items listed is most likely multi-faceted  and more complex than the simple examples provided.  As such, one of the main challenges of a reference manager will be determining how these attributes drill down and how to tag your customers with them so you can find them when your salespeople need them.  If you have more than a handful of references, at some point you’ll need a formal system of some kind.  Call me biased, but I’d take a look at the offerings of ROInnovation to manage it in a way that doesn’t make you want to pull your hair out.

If you have any questions about this post, or other customer reference subjects, feel free to email sales@roinnovation.com.

Matthew McLean
Matthew McLean is a Program Manager at RO Innovation. He has a passion for helping organizations and individuals increase sales and market share through the design and application of software. With over 15 years of experience in customer relationship management, project management, and product management with companies ranging from startups to Fortune 500 in a variety of industry verticals, McLean can help your company grow via sales and marketing best practices.