Why Customer Reference Programs Are (or Should Be) Critical to Customer Advocacy
Customer reference programs can play a critical role in customer advocacy marketing. That’s because reference managers are most skilled at 1) building relationships with customer advocates, 2) understanding and communicating the value such customers receive from your firm, and 3) cultivating the very best, or ‘rock star,’ customer advocates. Our research has identified several critical factors that set successful customer reference programs apart from the also-rans. These include:
Expand your horizons. Despite their huge potential, many customer reference programs run the risk of irrelevance when they subsume references into traditional marketing efforts—such as being just a concierge service for salespeople looking to close deals. Today’s savvy firms—like those of the three presenters announced today—position their reference programs at the center of all customer advocacy efforts, such as co-marketing, customer communities, advisory boards and forums, MVP programs and social media programs. Customer advocacy is where the most dynamic innovation and impact are in marketing today.
Make the business case. Customer advocacy trumps traditional marketing in terms of the measurable impact that customer references and advocacy can make on sales efficiency, referral business, lead generation, market awareness, brand building—indeed, on your entire growth engine.
Build your program around customer preferences, not marketing directives. Reference programs that approach customers only when they need a reference create one thing: reference burnout. It’s a symptom of allowing marketing objectives to guide reference relationships. Smart reference managers build a powerful reference value proposition around customers’ desire—which can be huge—to tout their mutual success with you, often in a wide variety of ways.
Disrupt. Customer reference and advocacy efforts are the most innovative areas in marketing and sales today—indeed, they’re reinventing these processes. Embracing this requires smart, passionate and forceful senior executive support. Reference managers who have this thrive.
Always be selling - both internally and to potential new customer references. Internal stakeholders like marketing, sales and social media—who are often bogged down in traditional marketing thinking—need reminding of the powerful impact customer advocates have on sales, lead generation and market awareness. Potential customers need reminding of the tremendous mutual value they can gain from co-marketing.
Create high-value data. Reference managers learn exceptionally valuable things about customers that is otherwise lost, such as how customers actually use a product or service, and what value they actually get from it (both of which are invariably different from what R&D or sales expect). Smart reference managers capture such high-value knowledge and make sure it’s acted upon.