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New Forrester Research: The (Important) Role of Reference Programs in B2B Community Marketing

Posted by Bill Lee on June 10, 2009 at 02:02 PM

Customer reference programs have just received a second stamp of approval from venerable Forrester Research. According to Laura Ramos in the just published Forrester report, Effective Customer Reference Management Anchors B2B Community Marketing Efforts, "Customer reference management has moved from the sidelines to the mainstream of corporate marketing activity."

Laura makes several additional and important points about reference programs, social media, and the need to pursue a strategy of "Community Marketing." She keynoted at our last Customer Reference Forum in February. The report is based on the joint study conducted earlier this year by Customer Reference Forum, Forrester, and Point of Reference:

Among the additional points Laura makes:


- Despite the growing prominence of their programs, now is not the time for customer reference managers to rest on their laurels.

- Customer reference professionals need to tune up their Web 2.0 skills and take a more active role in setting social strategy because technology customers are a socially active group. This will be a challenge, since less than 1/2 of survey respondents in the report use social approaches in programs.

Laura's recommendations:

Step 1: Create more opportunity for customers to engage socially, with each other and with your prospects.

Step 2: Help references tell their stories in virtual venues. According to the study, less than 30% of reference managers do so.

Step 3: Use metrics that focus on engagement, not just activity. So far, less than 10% of respondents are creating new leads or enlisting participants through social media tools, making use of such tools hardly worth the efforts.

I'd add a couple of thoughts:

The Forrester theme of Community Marketing fits the approach recommended by former Motorola CIO Patty Morrison: Reference managers should broaden the scope of their offerings to key customers; don't just ask them to become references.

Understand what your customers' needs and aspirations are. Your key customers may want to have an impact on your strategy and product development, to engage with their peers, to develop personally and get recognition professionally. They want you to understand and respond to such needs.

This means working with other internal customer engagement programs such as advisory boards, executive forums, customer communities, executive briefing centers, Net Promoter programs, etc.  As Patty suggests, offer customers the full range of opportunities to engage with you. Then work with these other customer engagement programs, as required, to meet their needs by participating in your marketing programs, events and speaking opportunities, customer communities (online and in person), new product development, strategy formulation, etc.

It's not about technology or tools, social media or otherwise. It's about developing a value proposition that will entice key-customers into more fully engaging with you, your market and your prospects.

See Laura's blog post here:

Access the full report (fee is $795) here:

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