How to Measure Your Customer Reference Program’s ROI

8 minute read

Team Upland

While every customer reference manager dreams of a customer reference program that’s “set it and forget it,” years of (sometimes harsh) reality have proven that sustained success takes commitment and resources. When it comes time to talk dollars with the higher-ups, ironclad results are your key to holding onto—or even expanding—your customer reference program budget.

It’s cool that your team coordinated ten case studies, twenty reference calls, and four customer round tables, but those metrics alone tell only a tiny portion of the story. Proving your customer reference program’s return on investment (ROI) by making the connection to deals accelerated and revenue influenced is also compelling. But don’t stop there.

Customer reference program key performance indicators (KPIs) differ by company and industry, and there’s no mix of metrics that are guaranteed to work for you. But our experts compiled a list of nine potential customer reference KPIs to get you thinking about how you can best shine a light on your reference program’s progress and value.

1. Revenue Influenced by Customer References

Revenue influenced is the Holy Grail of measuring your customer reference program’s business impact. If you can demonstrate your reference team helps bring in more revenue than it costs to operate, you can rest assured that your program won’t be on the chopping block when budgets get tight. It’s truly that simple.

The best way to prove customer references’ value is to integrate your CRM (e.g., Salesforce, Microsoft Dynamics, etc.) with a customer reference management software. With this setup, you’ll have the visibility to take credit for helping close every new logo, cross-sell, and upsell opportunity where salespeople use references. You can now start to paint a picture of the revenue gained at least in part because of your customer reference program.

Quality customer reference management software also includes a simple way for salespeople to share sales win stories that summarize how they won their deals. Don’t miss out on customizing the sales win form to ask specific questions about the part references played in winning the deal.

A few compelling anecdotes about how references sealed the deal, combined with your revenue influenced values, will convince even the most skeptical leaders your customer reference program is business-critical.

2.  Reference Program Growth and Usage

If something adds real value, you don’t have to force people to use it, right? If your sales reps and marketing team are scrambling to be more involved, and your employee adoption numbers are off the charts, then your customer reference program’s success speaks for itself. Of course, to know that’s the case, you actually have to create those charts.

Customer reference management software makes tracking this KPI a breeze. At any time, you can see how many people are registered in your reference program and monitor their activity to understand how often they log-in, nominate new references, request references, and download references to share with prospects. This insight is gold.

3. Internal Users by Role and Department

It’s also helpful to understand which types of employees are participating in your customer reference program. Maybe you set up the program thinking sales would be the primary users, but then, come to find out, your top users are from marketing or customer success.

Understanding the roles and departments using your reference program gives you the insight to refine your program and reference content to better support your most engaged participants. You can also get an early warning if groups that should be engaged aren’t taking advantage of your reference program. Perhaps they need a little training or a friendly reminder to jumpstart their participation.

4. Customer Participation Trends

A customer reference program is worthless if it doesn’t include any customers to reference. That’s kind of the whole point of the program. Ideally, you want to demonstrate that the number of customers in your reference program is growing. Worse case, if your customer participants are dwindling, it’s better to catch this fast so you can course correct. Either way, monitoring program membership is essential.

For bonus points, take your tracking a level deeper to monitor the quantity of customer reference program participants by industry, product, and location. This helps you diversify your bank of customer references proactively, so you’re never caught off guard by a reference request.

5. Top Used Customer References and Content

Keep a thumb on the pulse of what customer reference content your program’s participants are using most. Generally, it’s a safe bet to create more of what’s performing well and stop creating content types your team just isn’t using.

It might take your reference team weeks to build an approved two-page case study. If you find your reference program participants haven’t shared a case study in months, think of all the time you could redirect toward creating something more beneficial. Maybe they want shorter-form content? It will take a little more digging to know for sure, but you have a heads up to start investigating.

6. Fulfilled vs. Unfulfilled Reference Requests

This customer reference KPI highlights both the demand and success of your reference program. If employees are requesting references like crazy, but you can only provide a matching reference on deadline 50% of the time, something has to change. On the other hand, if your reference fulfillment rate is 100%, perhaps that’s because you only get five requests a year. Be thorough and look at both percentages and quantity to get a better understanding.

It’s also worth taking a closer look at the time it takes to fulfill reference requests. Just because a sales rep technically doesn’t need a reference for two weeks doesn’t mean that getting it in two days wouldn’t help them close their deal faster. Your team will appreciate everything you do to reduce the time it takes to fulfill reference requests.

7. Reference Nomination Conversion Rate

Unless you continuously add new references, your customer reference program runs the risk of becoming stale. To stay ahead of this, keep a close watch on the number of reference nominations and the percentage of nominations converted to reference program participants.

Breaking up your reference nomination data by source often reveals additional insights. Maybe nominations from sales reps are converting twice as fast as nominations from customer satisfaction surveys. You won’t know until you start tracking, and knowing where to focus can simplify your quest to recruit top performing customer reference candidates.

8. Customer Reference Burnout Rate

There are two sides to every equation. If your customer references are leaving your program faster than you can bring in new references, something’s off. This could mean you’re attracting poor reference candidates, or maybe they don’t understand what they’re signing up for when they join your program.

Worse case, you could be overusing or misusing references. Even your strongest advocate might reconsider participating if your sales team calls them three times a week to participate in reference calls. An increasing burnout rate is a red flag that your reference program could be tracking in a negative direction. Catching this early can help you get back on the right path.

9. Reference Program Satisfaction Ratings

From time to time, survey your internal customer reference program participants to gauge how happy they are with your program. (Consider an anonymous survey if you want to hear what they really think.) Even if only a handful of people reply, you’ll walk away with valuable insight, and your reference program participants will walk away knowing you’re doing everything you can to align your program with their needs.

Similarly, you’ll want to survey your current customer reference base periodically to ensure they’re still finding value in your program. Is there anything else you can do to help them have a stellar experience and make them want to continue being a reference for years to come? Do you need to offer different incentives or more frequent communication? All this feedback—both quantitative and qualitative—helps you make data-driven decisions to tweak to your customer reference program to support long term success.

Now is the Time to Get Serious About Customer Reference KPIs

When it comes to proving the ROI of your customer reference program to participants, stakeholders, and executive management, identifying and capturing the right data is critical. And there’s no better time to get started than now. You don’t have to go all-in right away. Instead, start with a KPI or two that matter most in your organization, and then expand over time.

If you’re serious about connecting your customer reference activity to deals accelerated and revenue influenced, take a look at Upland RO Innovation. RO Innovation is a customer reference and advocacy management software designed to help you build a sustainable customer reference pipeline and share trusted peer voices those close deals. All RO Innovation customers get access to a collection of the most requested customer reference program analytics reports and dashboards and a drag and drop report builder for creating custom reports.

For a demo and to find out more about how you can scale your customer reference program and reach new levels of success, contact RO Innovation.

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