Video testimonials, case studies, customer quotes, and logo slides all start with the same simple action: asking a customer if they’ll be a reference. There aren’t any quick tricks or hacks to build a self-sustaining reference funnel. There’s no replacement for defining and executing a customer reference program strategy with the support of quality customer reference management software.
That said, our experts have been working in customer reference management for decades, and we’ve learned a thing or two about maximizing reference fulfillment and converting nominated reference customers into full reference program contributors.
Here are our top eight tips to get more customer references and testimonials from your customer reference program.
1. Ask for customer references more often
In some ways, getting great customer references is a numbers game. The more customers you ask to join your reference program, the more customers say yes. Don’t badger the same contacts or dedicate all your time to trying to get that one big logo customer to go on record. Instead, keep asking for references in the back of your mind every time you work with customers (or employees who interact with customers) and start as many conversations as you can about your customer reference program.
Salespeople are often hesitant to “bother” their accounts by asking for a customer reference. The crazy thing is, asking for a quote or testimonial can strengthen customer relationships. Happy customers are frequently excited to boost their thought-leader status by sharing their success with others and appreciate the time in the spotlight. Additionally, asking a customer to share a story, quote, or logo is reaffirming you’re committed to supporting their long-term success. After all, you don’t want to have to pull down that testimonial video you invested in creating because the account doesn’t renew, right?
2. Start with easier customer references to build momentum
The first few customers to endorse your company publicly are going out on a limb. Generally, it’s easier to get your customer reference program off the ground by working with your oldest accounts—the ones you’ve cultivated deeper relationships with over time. At first, it doesn’t necessarily matter what industry your reference customers are in or how specifically they’re using your offerings, as long as they’re happy and eager to participate in your reference program.
Once you have ten or so of these easier to get references under your belt, shift your approach to seek out more prominent brands and narrow your focus to recruiting only customer references that align closely with your strategic verticals, geographies, and use cases. These higher-value references will be more apt to join your customer reference program after you can show them a list of satisfied customers who are already participating.
3. Research and tailor your customer reference outreach
Sending an impersonal email blast to every contact in your CRM is not the way to scale up your customer reference program. A targeted, personal approach takes more time and resources up-front but leads to higher-quality customer references—and usually more of them—in the long run. To find customers who might be open to joining your reference program, look at contacts that rated you favorably in satisfaction and NPS surveys and review your most active users. Also, check around online to see if any of your customers have already rated your company positively on public review websites.
Whenever possible, get an introduction before contacting a potential customer reference program participant for the first time. Usually, their customer success manager (CSM) or account owner is happy to help out—as long as you respect their time. Create a starter email explaining what your customer reference program is all about and what you hope to accomplish. CSMs and account owners can tailor this email and then send it to their contacts to open the door to scheduling reference conversations.
4. Ask multiple people at the same organization to be references
Especially if you’re working with large organizations with several groups, offices, and teams, start cultivating relationships with multiple contacts. Having various quotes and testimonials from people in different functions and roles at the same company makes it easier to match your customer references with your target buyer personas down the line.
Additionally, you don’t want to get caught off guard if your only reference contact for an account leaves their company or retires. Instead of potentially losing a high-value reference account, this will only be a minor setback if you already have a relationship with multiple other reference contacts at the company. This flexibility is also helpful if your primary reference contact has to back out of a pre-scheduled reference activity on short notice, like a live webinar, event, or reference call. You might be able to save the day by asking one of your other reference contacts at the organization to cover.
5. Be sincere and express gratitude
It’s easy to get lost in the excitement of publishing a new customer testimonial video or fresh case study. Still, you cannot forget to share the launch with the reference contacts that participated and thank them again for their support. After all, your success is their success too. Taking a minute to celebrate together shows you appreciate their contributions and will leave your reference contacts eager to get started on the next activity.
Similarly, don’t reach out to your customer references only when you need something from them. They’ll quickly see the relationship as one-sided and superficial. Before you know it, they’ll suddenly be unavailable when you need them or even stop answering your calls and emails. Without going over the top, check-in with your reference contacts periodically just to keep in touch. Maybe share the latest number of views on their customer success story video or a link to a story about a topic they mentioned when you talked last.
6. Don’t be (too) afraid to ask references for more
If you keep going back to your same reference contacts week after week with new requests, eventually, they’ll probably drop out of your customer reference program. Customer reference burnout is a real concern, but if you’re tracking how often you engage references and honoring their preferences, it’s not something to live in fear of. Under-using customer reference contacts because you’re afraid to ask them to participate in more activities puts an artificial limit on your customer reference program’s potential.
No two references are the same. One reference contact might be trying to build a personal brand and eager to talk at every speaking opportunity you send her way. Another reference contact may only be open to providing a quote every eighteen months. It really can differ that dramatically. Having a casual conversation is the best way to figure out your reference contacts’ preferences. When the time is right, show your reference contacts everything they could be doing in your reference program—without implying any obligations—and then ask what catches their attention and how often they want to participate.
7. Remember to use your customer reference content
It can take weeks or even months to create high-quality customer reference content. Once finalized, case studies, quotes, customer videos, and testimonials all have a shelf life. Make sure your company gets the most value from its reference content before it becomes outdated.
Awareness is critical. Every time you publish a new reference asset, announce it to your organization. Then, remind sales, customer success, marketing, and other teams as you interact with them throughout the week in meetings and conversations. If you hear a team is working on a new presentation, ebook, or datasheet, don’t hesitate to proactively suggest a few good quotes or customer success metrics to include.
Having one go-to location for all your approved reference content is critical for making it easy for everyone in your company to find the most relevant customer reference content on-demand. Also, be sure to coordinate with the right players to feature the best customer reference content on your company website and in company social media accounts.
8. Don’t stop attracting new customers to your reference program
Don’t miss an opportunity to mention your customer reference program when talking with customers. Additionally, everything from putting a banner image in your email signature to including blurbs about your reference program in customer-facing newsletters and communities helps get the word out.
Sometimes it’s even appropriate to use existing customer references to help bring new customers into your reference program. For example, you could invite a few current reference program participants to a customer webinar to discuss their experience with your program and the benefits they’ve seen.