How do I get customers to engage in reference activities?

This is a question customer marketers frequently ask each other when seeking out tips, tricks and best practices. Unfortunately, there isn’t a simple answer to this question. What works best varies between customers and depends on your company’s size and policy on customer references.

However, we recommend these three best practices to get your customers to agree to participate in your customer reference program: set expectations up front, cultivate a true partnership, and expand the relationship.


1. Set Expectations Up Front

Negotiating customer reference activities upfront is usually worthwhile and can save you time and energy down the road. There are several ways to do this appropriately.

Requiring customer reference work in the sales contract is not a good idea. Customers are usually put off by this aggressive approach. Instead, include language that allows use of the company name and logo. Add verbiage to show you are flexible and will only use the name and logo with explicit approval. This approach starts the conversation about joining a customer reference program, gives enough wiggle room for it to be accepted in a contract negotiation, and reduces the objections when the request is made.

Get a seat at the table for the project kickoff meeting (or ask if your project management team will make the request for you). When project success criteria is being defined, ask the customer if they would be willing to serve as a customer reference in the future if you meet all of the success metrics. By negotiating this at the beginning of the project, we find that it’s much easier to ask the customer to take a reference call after the project is over. Note that this is an informal agreement with the individual that will take the call.

Never offer a discount first in return for customer reference activities. That said, if a client ASKS for a discount, you could agree with the caveat that they participate as a customer reference. In other words, wait for them to ask first because then you have the leverage. Instead of, “We will give you a discount if you do customer reference work for us”, it becomes, “You are asking for a discount, and we’d be willing to consider that if you will agree to participate as a customer reference.”


2. Cultivate a Partnership

Some customers are better candidates than others for high-impact customer reference activities – media or analyst interviews, speaking engagements, and events. The customers that are usually best suited for this high-impact activity are the ones with whom you have cultivated a true partnership. To plant the seeds for this relationship, your team will need to go the extra mile to gain the customer’s trust. By positioning the engagement as a partnership rather than as a vendor relationship, your customers are more likely to be a customer reference for you.

Similarly, you can obtain high-impact customer reference engagement by introducing a joint strategic marketing plan. This involves having your PR/brand execs sit down with those of your customer. Then, you can come up with a mutually agreeable set of activities and investments.


3. Expand the Relationship

Some prospects want to talk to a technical person to understand how the your product works, while others want to talk to a business person to understand the level of service and whether you will live up to your commitments. It is important for the customer reference team to develop relationships with both technical people and business people. That way, you will not put your customer reference in a tough situation – where they want to say “yes” to the request but cannot speak to the right topics.

Once you have made progress with one customer contact, attempt to expand into other departments. Having a diverse set of participants across your customer’s company will increase your chances of matching the right prospect with the right customer and will mean more customers will say yes to customer reference requests.


Getting a customer to agree to be a customer reference is a skill refined over time. You need to adjust your approach according to the uniqueness of each situation. What works for some customers may not work for all. Try these best practices, and let us know how it goes!


This blog post was originally posted on Boulder Logic. RO Innovation acquired Boulder Logic in 2015. The joining of the two companies created a new, robust platform offering with more value and greater opportunities to leverage the voice of the customer in your sales and marketing cycles.


Nichole Auston
Customer Marketing Director at RO Innovation
Nichole Auston is the Customer Marketing Director 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.