Customer reference programs are more critical today than they ever have been. Customers today want to see a robust set of information about a product or service before buying it. They want to see reviews, testimonials, interviews, and more. And the quality of this media matters greatly. How many times have you skimmed straight past a review on Amazon because someone simply wrote: “product is good”? In this scenario, “good” is useless information. It’s subjective. What makes something good to you might be different to what makes it good to someone else. By reading that review, you’re no closer to finding out whether that product is a good fit for you. Will it solve your needs? Who knows.
Therefore, testimonials and case studies are much better at spelling out exactly why a product is “good.” They’re more useful for customers. This is even more true for B2B companies where customers will often spend much more money on a single purchase than is expected in the consumer market. In the consumer market, a customer might be willing to pay $50 on something they are mostly sure will help them, even if they aren’t 100% sure. They might still have some questions about the product, but they are willing to pay $50 to get the product quickly and figure it out for themselves rather than doing lots of additional research. This is much less common in B2B purchasing decisions for several reasons. Firstly, products are typically much more expensive, so people are much less likely to take a risk and hope it pays off. Secondly, employees often have to sign off on the purchase and be held responsible if it is not fit for purpose.
Put simply, having a broad but also in-depth body of customer opinions about your product is critical to your business success. This effect can be felt more greatly for B2B organizations where purchases are less frequent and more costly to customers (both in terms of risk/reward and monetary cost). However, customer reference programs are still a good idea for all businesses. Today we’re going to be looking at how to get started with your customer reference program. Let’s take a look.
A customer reference program (CRP) is a function typically found in large business-to-business (B2B) companies. As part of the program, employees such as CRP managers reach out to customers to ask them to be a reference for the company. This is generally a more active role for the customer, so it’s distinct from simpler forms of customer feedback like writing a short review. They essentially function as a customer spokesperson for your brand.
CRP Managers are responsible for:
A well-coordinated customer reference program can result in the following benefits:
Why do some customers choose to become a customer reference? It’s a simple question, but it’s one you need to answer when you start your customer reference program. Without a good understanding of this question and its answer, you will struggle to attract the right customers for your program.
There are three key reasons that some customers choose to become references:
Remember these reasons because we’ll touch on them again in our eight tips section!
To attract the right type of customers to become your references, you have to be deliberate. You can’t cast a wide net, but instead, use strategies that align with the customer motivations we talked about in the last section.
Customers who have good chemistry with their main point of contact in your business have their own set of motivations for becoming a reference. To attract customers who fall into this category, you need to talk to key customer-facing leaders in your business. The two most prominent examples will be Account Executives and Customer Support Managers. However, you shouldn’t limit your reach to just these employees. As we discussed, this can also apply sales leaders, sales engineers, executives, product managers, and even advisory board members.
For customers who are motivated by the other two reasons (professional association or love of the product), relationships with points of contact are less critical. You can use a direct outreach strategy. For example, you can send a communication to customers who have been buying from your company for a long time (longevity screening) or customers who have engaged with you professionally in the past (e.g., on LinkedIn).
You can tell a lot by how your customers respond when you ask them to participate in your customer reference program. It’s a good idea to track responses because this data can help inform you of how strong your customer relationships are. If you get many negative responses (customers saying no or customers not responding), it could mean that your customers are not as engaged with your product or brand as you think. It’s worth remembering that the only customers who will be asked to participate are customers you have personally chosen as promising candidates for being a customer reference in the first place.
This means that if you select 30 customers in the category of “they love our product,” and yet, they all say no to being a reference, it could mean they don’t love your product. You’ll have some work to do to change this around. Or it could mean the criteria you’re using to find customers who love your product is flawed.
Before you can even begin to launch a customer reference program, you have to ensure you have buy-in from these key groups in your business:
All good business programs need to have a smooth onboarding process. If customers find the process complicated or think it takes up too much of their time or energy, they will abandon the idea. Then your program is dead before it’s even begun. Make the recruitment process slick – Customers should get quick responses and have a dedicated route of communication. Your customer reference program must appear professional from the offset.
You’ll likely need tools for managing your customer references. All customer references will need to provide their personal contact details and availability (or capacity to participate). It’s important to capture as much information about your references as is useful, but no more. You don’t want to make this a chore for your customers, but you also need to know what each reference is comfortable with. For example, some references might be happy to write testimonials but not happy to talk directly to the press. A lot of businesses default to using spreadsheets, but spreadsheets aren’t always the best option. Look for dedicated tools capable of collecting and storing the information you plan to capture.
Many reference programs struggle to lift off because they appear overly serious or bland. The word “reference” can scare off potential participants. To get around this, you can create a personality or brand for your program, so it appears more fun and less serious.
It would be best if you create a high-level document explaining your program. Here are our tips for designing the document:
A significant benefit of this document is that it keeps the information centralized and the narrative coherent. You don’t want to end up in a situation where every business point of contact tells potential participants a different thing.
Remember, they are volunteers who give up their free time to help your business achieve its goals. Never treat your customer references like your employees, demanding their participation, sending them excessive emails, or threatening to remove them from the program. This is a bad look for your company and will harm your potential to attract new customer references.
We’re extremely excited to announce that we have changed our company name to CommBox. It’s still the same company with the same awesome people! just a new name, a fresh look, and a brighter future.Read full story