Strategic Business Practices for Building Your Customer Reference Pipeline
Getting a good volume of quality customer references participating in your program takes work. While you may recognize the priceless value of having a customer advocate tell a prospect how great you are on your behalf, sometimes recruiting those advocates into your program requires a bit of strategy.
While you could hire an experienced professional services team to help you with the reference nomination, recruitment and assessment process, not all companies have the ability to do so.
That’s why RO Innovation is honored to bring you a multi-part series on best practices for nominating, recruiting and building your pipeline of customer references. We believe this area is a critically important factor to customer reference program success, yet doesn’t get as much attention as it should.
This first installment presents a few best practice strategies that will enable you to leverage your current business practices to build your pipeline. Next (Part 2: Tactics), get tactical best practices for implementing these strategic practices.
Before we dive in too deep, it is important to understand that customer reference nomination and recruiting are not the same thing, yet at the same time, they go hand-in-hand. While these terms are often unconsciously used interchangeably at many organizations, they are distinctly separate things.
- Nominations are names of customers passed along from your team members that could be potential participants in your program.
- Recruitment is the actual act of converting those nominated customers into active participants in your program.
Having a strategy around building your pool of reference-able customers centers around finding ways to nominate customers for your program, and then engaging with those nominations to recruit them into your program. These are some key factors to consider:
What’s In It for Your Customer?
Me. Me. Me. The reason you have customers is because they believe your company will benefit theirs in some way. It’s no different with your reference program. Before you ever have a conversation with a customer about your reference program, you first must develop and be able to articulate a value proposition to the customer. It’s easier said than done. To start, ask yourself what benefits this reference relationship is going to provide to your customer? Can you offer incentives to the individual (points towards rewards, user event or trade show tickets, $50 Amazon gift card, etc.) or offer benefits to your customer’s company through a strategic relationship (opportunities to network with industry peers, presentation as a thought leader in their industry, access to executives, direct input on the product roadmap, etc.)? Both have their respective place in a value prop, and a recognition program, but they target different audiences and different objectives in the relationship with your reference customer.
Keep Tabs on Your Customer’s Journey
All too often we see companies make the same mistake: A deal closes, the customer goes through onboarding & implementation and then six months later the reference manager picks up the phone and asks the customer if they’ll be a reference. There is a major disconnect in that process. You have not really followed that customer’s journey between the close and the call. As the reference manager, the best practice is to get introduced to the customer at the point of the close and consistently check in along the way to make sure they’re getting the support they need and are realizing the full value of what you sold them. That way, when you get to the “would you be willing to be a reference” conversation, the customer will already know and trust you because you’ve taken the time to build up a familiar relationship, and therefore be much more willing to say “You bet!”
Tie Your Strategy to Other Areas
Mature customer reference programs with robust nomination pipelines can continually be recruiting fresh references into their program. So what do these mature programs know that programs in their infancy don’t? They know it’s essential to tie your reference nomination strategy to other customer engagement encounters.
- Account Management Calls – Often great stories and feedback come out of these calls, but it never gets back to the reference manager. Empower account managers to recruit customers immediately when they hear success stories, or have the reference manager sit in on calls themselves.
- Customer Support Desk – When a customer support tech solves a customer’s problem, a common response is “Thanks for the help, I love you guys!” This department is a hotbed for collecting great customer testimonial quotes and for finding customers who have hit a new level of satisfaction.
- Beta Testing Department – Avoid going into scramble mode when sales says, “I need a customer reference on one of our new products.” Beta testers are perfect candidates to be advocates for your new products, because they’ve experienced them first hand.
- Customer Satisfaction Surveys & Net Promoter Scores – Have your reference team make an immediate connection with customers who score your company very high on their satisfaction surveys to strike while the iron is hot.
- New Sales Wins – The minute you win a new deal, have the salesperson fill out a sales win report and automatically nominate customers into your program. It’s the perfect time to get new customers on your radar to start nurturing their recruitment.
These strategic plans will help you increase the volume of customers in your reference pipeline in no time, and the best part is, they require no additional budget investment. Look for our next installment on this topic covering tactical practices for nomination and recruitment that you can start doing immediately to make an impact on your program.
Have some additional questions about customer reference nomination and recruitment? Contact us today, our experts are always happy to help!