When an Outside Perspective Makes All The Difference

The Reference Management Elite - Barbara Thomas

Barbara Thomas, or BT as she is better known in our industry, has a breadth of experience in building successful programs and an enthusiasm about customer advocacy that is contagious. She is a well-known thought leader in the customer advocacy marketing space, and we couldn’t wait to pick her brain about best practices, her favorite career moments thus far, and what she sees on the horizon for 2018.

“It’s the excitement you get when you meet new people and you help them see how great their program or work is. For example, when working on case studies with client references, it’s about shining a spotlight on their work with your product in a way that makes them a hero. I help them identify where they started and realize where they are today. It’s about painting the before picture and after picture that creates that coveted ‘ah-ha’ moment for not only the customer, but for the future customer reading it. I love it!”

–Barbara Thomas, Global Customer Advocacy Team Lead, Microsoft

BT currently works for Yesler in a contracted role at Microsoft as their Global Customer Advocacy Team Lead. BT’s responsibilities include responding to reference requests, reference nominations, and publishing customer stories to Microsoft’s public customer story website. She also coordinates a team of two dozen team members located worldwide in every working time zone that enables 24-hour coverage.

Her Favorite Career Highlights (Thus Far)

Advocate Marketing by Barbara ThomasWith more than 25 years of experience turning organization’s customers into public advocates, BT’s knowledge and expertise causes people to flock to her for advice. In 2015, she decided to write an Advocacy Marketing book to help other advocacy professionals. She sold the manuscript to Pearson and you can purchase a copy for yourself here. Trust us, it’s definitely worth adding to your library!

Another stand-out project in her career was when she created a customer recognition program at a previous company. She explained that her former CMO came to her for help addressing the challenge of wanting more customers to do press releases and case studies. BT created a recognition and reward program that allowed them to jump from single digits to 18 customer stories in a year, 16 of them giving one-off press releases. This recognition and reward program created over 150 stories in a 4-year time period, many of which were used to connect award winners to prospects for deeper 1:1 reference conversations. After 2 years, it helped her company gain Golden Partnerships levels with three different partners. Her program also positioned her company better in an acquisition. The purchasing company heard of the program and were envious of the huge number of customer success stories and great advocates they had. It was noted as part of the due diligence, evaluation and a deciding factor in the purchasing decision. (You can find this story in more detail in Chapter 11 of her book.)

The Rising Tide of Customer Advocacy

BT believes that the sudden increase in awareness and usage of customer advocacy and influencer marketing lies within the purchasing agents and executives of companies. “It’s becoming more of a compliance issue with CFO’s or purchasing departments. Many require speaking to a reference or two as part of basic due diligence for high dollar purchases.”

Companies are also realizing that happy customers are also their best sales reps and can be leveraged as a true competitive advantage. “If you’re not doing it, your competitor is,” BT says. She uses the analogy of hiring for a job to explain the power of this phenomenon.

“Imagine you have one candidate who came recommended by another employee at the company, and one candidate who is not. 9 times out of 10, that recommended person will get the job because they are classified as a ‘known’ entity. The same goes with technology vendors. That’s why customer references are so powerful. It gets you on the inside track.”

Tips & Advice

BT is a wealth of knowledge and has great tips to share based on her decades of experience in the industry. So we picked her brain on a few hot topics and challenges we often hear from her peer group in the reference management industry.

Customer Reference Recruitment

  • Don’t wait for the customer. Be proactive with the customer. Most people will do it if you just ask them.
  • Personalization is key. “Will you be a reference?” is not effective enough to get people excited about your program. Instead, approach it like a nomination. “Will you accept our nomination?” or “Congratulations, someone has nominated you as a reference, will you please accept this honor?” You will be more successful if you make it about them and make it sound like an opportunity. “It sounds more like an ‘honor’ than an ‘ask’ if you do it that way.”

Internal User Adoption

BT suggests approaching user adoption within the internal team in multiple levels. “You’ve got to have the executives driving it, making executive announcements.” BT shares a few other ideas:

  • Use the VP of Sales or CEO to make an announcement like, ‘John Smith got Company A to do a reference for us’ or ‘John Smith won a reference with Company A’.
  • BT’s previous CFO would talk about the different customers who were doing case studies and who they were working with on building stories and press releases with on during his financial calls with the industry. This strategy was also used to attract new opportunities during investor calls.
  • Win/Loss stories shared with sellers of how a reference helped seal the deal.
  • Require references as KPI’s – make sellers have a certain number of nominations.
  • For a new product launch, use the early adopters or beta users as key references. When your salespeople have to sell the latest and greatest, they need references to go with it!

Showcasing Program Value

  • Share key metrics with multiple executives and showcase how the program is helping to influence revenue, because it’s all about money. “If it’s costing more to have a reference program, you’re doing it wrong,” Barbara says!
  • “Show how your program is valuable by the number of departments it can touch and help.” Build content for marketing programs, executive speeches, investor calls, press releases, social media. Leverage the content you already have to build short-form case studies, mini customer soundbite stories, infographics and more. Bring them to every team, because it can help every team…even the CFO in accounting!
  • Like all of us metric-loving customer advocacy enthusiasts, BT has a favorite metric: revenue influenced in the opportunity pipeline closed as a win. “You should also add the reference influenced dollars to your customer’s Lifetime Value calculation. They may spend $500K with you each year but they are influencing $5 Million a year as a reference.  Forgetting to calculate those dollars means you aren’t really seeing the true Life Time Value of your customer.” Seeing this in a dollar amount is her favorite metric.

What is Revolutionizing the Customer Advocacy World?

BT has two different things that she is excited about when it comes to this customer advocacy world we all love: References On-Demand & Voco.

“References on-demand is a trend that should not be a trend, it should be an automatic given,” Barbara says. It ensures a customer can be reused without abusing or overusing them. The tool is secure, available 24/7 and can be controlled if a customer relationship changes. “I love that video and audio can be subtitled in other languages if someone doesn’t understand English or French or Mandarin.”

Adobe’s new video editing software, Voco, is another tool that really has BT jazzed about the future of customer advocacy.

“You can edit what they say even though they never said it. It’s scary and fabulous at the same time.”

She came across Voco and immediately thought of all of the enhancing features you can add for customer testimonials, case studies, and beyond. (All with the customer’s consent). She spoke to us about a YouTube video that she watched that illustrates all of the neat features: here is the link.


Fun Facts About Barbara

  • BT is a licensed Beekeeper. She makes soaps and candles. She has even won some blue county ribbons for her honey and honey-products!
  • “Fly Me to the Moon” is her favorite song; it does not matter who is singing it. She will get up and make her husband dance in a heartbeat.
Barbara Thomas

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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.