An emailed reference request like the one above is a familiar scenario for many customer reference managers. Partially because it’s the way the sales team likes to contact the reference manager. Partially because it’s a way to maintain a “track record” for requests and get some visibility on where the request is at during fulfillment. Partially because there hasn’t been a better solution put in place for this process.
The problem with relying on email communications alone for customer reference requests is the reference manager doesn’t always have the full picture before fulfilling a request. Email doesn’t allow for some of the important underlying questions to get answered right away:
- What is the objective of using a customer reference?
- What is the expected outcome?
- What is the priority level?
While emailed requests are the status quo at many companies, it is detrimental for the following reasons:
1. Requests are not centralized
When customer reference requests are not centralized, it creates inefficiencies for the reference manager who has to click in and out of multiple platforms doing due diligence before fulfilling the request. For example, an “email only” strategy often goes like this: Email comes in to the reference manager in Outlook. Reference manager goes to Excel spreadsheet and finds 2 customer references that might work. Then reference manager goes and double checks Salesforce.com to ensure contact info & product details are correct. Reference manager then calls Customer Service and Finance to ensure customer is still in good standing. Reference manager finally emails contact info for customer reference back to rep. See how many steps and programs the reference manager has to go between to fulfill one request?
Another issue with non-centralized systems is when there isn’t just ONE reference manager. Larger enterprises often have several customer reference managers or account managers in charge of approving and fulfilling requests. When emails are going to multiple people, visibility among those involved can suffer. Wires can get crossed, people forget to be CC’d, wrong people might be emailed all together, and the customer relationship suffers.
2. It’s easier for requests to get out of control
When email is the “request mechanism of choice” for sales reps, it’s easy for requests to get out of hand – or in the wrong hands, even! Let’s walk through a common situation we heard from a prospect the other day:
Mr. Sales Rep is nearing the end of the month and needs to meet quota. He wholeheartedly believes a customer reference call with help close the deal. So, doing as he was trained to do, he emails Ms. Reference Manager with his request for a customer reference. However, Ms. Reference Manager was out of the office sick, and doesn’t get around to responding to Mr. Sales Rep until she’s back in the office two days later. In the meantime, Mr. Sales Rep was impatient and upset about no immediate response and forwarded his email request to his own “pocket reference” and CC’s Ms. Reference Manager’s boss. Upon return to the office from her sick day, Ms. Reference Manager receives a lecture from her boss (for no apparent reason) and also gets a call from the customer upset that protocols weren’t followed like he agreed.
3. You are less likely to receive complete info
Since there is no form to complete or standard information a sales rep must include in an email, chances are more likely than not that you will receive inconsistent or incomplete data. Yes, the sales rep may have told you he wanted his prospect to speak to your customer Coca Cola, but he forgot to tell you other pertinent information like: the title/department/management level of the right contact at Coca Cola, the date the reference is needed by, the current sales opportunity the rep is using it for, why the rep thinks Coca Cola would potentially be a good reference, etc.
The missing details mean it’s harder to fulfill a reference request in one foul swoop; which leads to the next point…
4. It creates additional work, resulting in slower fulfillment
As explained above, when the reference manager doesn’t receive all the information needed to complete a request in the initial email, it requires additional calls and emails back and forth between the rep and the reference manager to get all the required details. Had the rep been required from the onset to complete specific data fields, or had them auto-populated for the customer reference manager in one step, fulfilling the request would be easier and the rep would have the completed request much sooner without all the back-and-forth.
5. You can’t track the reference
When requests are tracked through Email and Excel spreadsheets, rather than through an purpose-built system, it can be hard to definitively track pertinent details for maintaining and protecting healthy relationships with your reference customers. For example, can your “email” system track:
- How many times a certain customer has been used on a call
- Technical/product issues causing undue tension between your customer and your company, causing your customer to be a less-than-stellar reference
- Did the reference show up for the activity? Were they good or bad?
- Now that the rep has the contact info, is he/she just using that reference over and over and not making formal requests anymore
- Is reference burnt out?
6. Email gets lost, deleted, etc.
Another issue out of your control is unorganized email inboxes. As such requests, and approvals/denials of those requests, can easily get lost in the shuffle and forgotten. Furthermore, accidental deletion or data loss can also become an issue when email is your only way of tracking and monitoring requests.
How do you combat this email problem?
Often tracking references through email is a “beginning step” for many companies. But it’s not a best practice (for many of the reasons outlined above). Thankfully, there are alternative options.
- Use purpose-built tools and technology to manage the request process. There are complete customer reference management technology solutions on the market, like RO Innovation, that are built exactly for the purpose of managing customer reference programs and supporting requests during the sales process. Better yet, they often integrate with other platforms you use on a daily basis, like Salesforce.com, Marketo, Eloqua, TechValidate, Influitive…you can even send stuff through Outlook if you still want, but these platforms make it trackable!
- Set a realistic expectation with your sales & marketing teams that any reference request will be entered in the customer reference system first, and will be fulfilled and managed in a timely manner. Even though you are asking them to change old habits, you are still “cushioning the blow” by guaranteeing their requests won’t be left in the dark, which can make it more likely they’ll participate the way you want them too.
- Be transparent and collaborate with your team. When customer information is missing or needs to be updated in the system, call upon the account managers to help you update information. When you’re seeking to fill the gaps of certain types of reference customers, let your team know and ask them to contribute to the effort. During the request process, make it transparent what approval stage the request is at, so you don’t have nervous/anxious sales & marketing teams wondering when and if their request will be processed.
What if I still get those emails?
Change can be hard. Especially when you’re trying to change other peoples’ engrained habits. Spend some time with your sales users demonstrating how easy it is to submit requests through your system and the diversity of fulfillment that a robust reference platform can provide. Schedule five minute “tips and tricks” sessions on their weekly sales calls. You would be surprised how quickly you get your own internal advocates on board.
If you still repeatedly get the same old “request emails” from the same people, send a response email or set up a 5 minute call reminding them how to make a request in the reference system. At first, there may be some push back. However, after they see the request process is successful, they’ll start doing a better job of requesting through the system instead of through their old go-to emails.
Make Change Happen
Start a conversation today with one of our customer reference experts about your current customer reference strategies and the ways technology solutions may help you improve efficiencies, protect customer relationships and become more successful. Contact us now!