Customer Reference Program: From Pivot Tables to Performance

7 minute read

Upland Admin

There is a critically strategic asset in B2B sales and marketing cycles these days. It goes by many names: the voice of the customer, peer testimonials, customer advocacy, customer references, peer to peer selling. No matter how you want to refer to it, there’s no question that proof of customer success – directly from the source – is a powerful influencer in today’s purchase decisions.

Data from top analysts, best practices from customer marketing experts, and research studies of B2B buyers have demonstrated the effectiveness of customer advocacy in today’s business environment.

It’s one thing for an analyst report to document it. but it is far more compelling to your executives to demonstrate success using your own data.

Surviving vs Thriving: 4 Success Secrets from ‘The Best’ Programs Out There

RO Innovation has been fortunate to have a role in some of the best customer advocacy programs in the world over the past couple of decades. We find when it comes to reporting the effectiveness of customer advocacy programs, and getting support at the executive level, the best ones all have a few things in common:

  1. They establish multiple benchmarks for measuring the success of a customer advocacy program.
  2. There is a common definition of success (with associated metrics) not only with the program’s direct management, but all internal stakeholders and champions.
  3. They develop and analyze reports on a regular basis and utilize proactive communications methods to share progress with key individuals within the organization.
  4. Tight alignment amongst executives and stakeholders expectations and performance goals which enables incorporation new KPI’s over time.

Asset and Activity Inventory and Utilization Reports

Traditionally, reference managers have measured the quantity of each asset type in the program.   Regular inventories of content, customers and contacts should be conducted to establish a baseline quantitative measurement of the program by asset types, location, product lines, marketing messages, customer segmentation and contact persona.   After these baselines are established, growth trends can be compared appropriately against sales and marketing goals. But for those that are looking to evolve their programs and provide additional value, here are a few metrics we also suggest reporting against:

  1. Content Consumption: Are there any variances in the consumption of reference collateral by your buyers versus your internal users? Identifying any differences may provide you with key information for sales managers that can help them coach their reps about your buyers’ interest and how sales can provide specific content to meet their needs.
  2. Segmented Asset Consumption: Do your prospects consume collateral differently by geo, persona, sales stage or vertical? Microsoft, among other RO customer thought leaders, has uncovered distinct evidence consumption differences with just GEO as a filter.
  3. Asset Request Patterns: Are particular assets used/activities requested consistently at the same sales stage? Understanding these patterns may enable you to more accurately provide proactive recommendations to your sales field about what content they can provide at each stage, that has proven to be effective in accelerating a sales cycle OR you may find that you can reduce the burden on your ‘live’ assets by making reference customer video clips or quotes available to your field.

Customer Reference Pipeline Reports

Recruitment of new advocates and references is always one of the top three benchmarks that should be measured.   Having a healthy total number of participants is a sign of success, but so is developing a diverse group of titles, activities and mapping your available and desired ‘voices’ against buyer personas.   Particularly as buying committees in the B2B high tech and software industries have expanded; an average of 6.8 people are now involved in the decision-making process.

Having a ‘bench strength’ of contacts in each of your customer reference profiles and setting recruiting goals against the particular technical, financial, implementation or other personas identified as stakeholders in your organization’s sales cycles is something that can be more granularly measured.  Some tips about how to do this:

  1. Sales Wins – Look for nominations from different areas of your organization. Capturing a potential future reference customer at the point of a sales win is a great place to start, but the contacts secured during a sales cycle may not be the same as those that your customer support, success or account management teams develop over the relationship with your customer.  As your buyers are interested in more than just what compelled a customer to consider your solution and make the decision to purchase, you should recruit participants who can speak to ongoing support, ROI, reasons for RENEWAL and other post contract topics.
  2. Trend Reports – Consider capturing contact persona information in your reference request process and look for trends by vertical, product, etc.
  3. Set milestones, at least annually, for your reference recruiting goals and adjust against any changes identified by your sales management, using feedback about your reports and from your reference request completion process.
  4. Utilize a combination of your marketing automation and reference solution reports to identify changes in your buyers’ behavior, personas, and interactions with what your sales reps are providing as reference activities and assets throughout the sales cycle and recruit to fill any gaps that you find.

Revenue Impact Reports

Measuring and reporting a reference program’s impact on bottom line revenue is arguably the most important metric to provide regularly to management and executive leadership. Providing analysis of ‘voice of the customer’ impact by territory, solution category, prospect audience or similar criteria will help demonstrate the impact that advocacy and references have on quality leads, accelerated sales funnels, and on closed business.   Not only do top reference programs share these metrics proactively, they also marry revenue impact reports with asset gap analysis and reference recruitment pipeline reports to demonstrate how the reference program is answering sales and marketing challenges.

Once you have these reports in place, begin to consider some of the following additional measurement and research that your reference solution can help you do:

  1. Reference Influence Reports: We often focus on the ‘Nascar’ Logos in our Sales WINS and don’t shine the spotlight on customer reference program participants who may represent less annual revenue but actually influence more of our bottom line than you might suspect absent reports.  Many RO clients have found that smaller reference companies actually have more influence on more sales cycles as they often have more time to participate in a variety of reference and advocacy activities on your behalf.
  2. Reference/Advocacy Activity Participation and Customer Health and Renewals: Carlos Gonzalez, the VP of Customer Success at Ceridian, an RO Customer, talks about the Return on Advocacy metric that the XOXO program has seen.  Across the board, Carlos and team are finding that XOXO program participation is reaping revenue and satisfaction benefits for Ceridian that are phenomenal.
  3. Sales Rep Efficiency: Although not direct revenue measurements, returning time to your sales field via improved reference request workflows and helping address the issue of account executive attrition and the high costs of sales training are all additional supporting proof points for your program.  What is 20% of an Enterprise sales rep time worth to your organization? If you can report out regularly, as does Ceridian, that your program has increased sales cycle efficiency to that extent, that is certainly a valuable metric to provide.

I hope that this post has given you a few new ideas to consider as you look for ways to continue to validate and more importantly, grow and evolve a reference program.   Although every organization’s reporting needs are unique, over the years RO has found that areas of measurement focus at a topic level are very similar, so we have continued to introduce features and power to our Reports Module that allow you to create customized and regularized output for your stakeholders and management.   As always, we are committed to listening to YOUR VOICE, as we develop our solutions and are always available for consultation on best practices in the industry as well as introducing our customers to each other in both formal and informal ways in order to leverage the thought leadership of all of you.

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