As almost all tech providers can attest, customer references are critical for multiple needs:
- Can help to influence a decision in the final solution selection process
- Serve as due diligence prior to a buyer pulling the trigger on a purchase
- Validate the providers story and value to market influencers (including analysts & press)
So, it’s not surprising that it customer reference programs have come up fairly frequently lately.
- Hank Barnes and I recently explored customer references as part of larger advocacy efforts in our research “Tech Go-to-Market: Use Community Programs to Encourage and Expand Customer Advocacy”.
- Been briefed by a customer reference program solution provider (Point of Reference).
- Taken some inquiry calls asking how to run successful customer reference programs.
Beyond all the components that make a good customer reference program – from identification through management – it made me wonder “how good a job do most tech providers do at ‘briefing’ a customer reference prior to asking them to take a call?”
As someone who previously managed the AR function, I now recognize that I often was more cavalier with prepping a customer reference for an analyst interview than I was preparing a company executive for that same purpose. For the latter, I would provide as much context as possible to increase the probability of a successful exchange, including:
- The analyst bio
- Coverage area
- Most recent and/or pertinent research
- Topics of interest
- Existing perceptions (plusses and minuses)
- Points where we’re in agreement on the market
- Points where we diverge – and how to address
Oddly enough, I didn’t take the same tact with customers being using for analyst references. Perhaps for fear of “tainting” the conversation, I never provided that same level of information.
I now recognize that’s a mistake. Knowing the context – the good, the bad, and the ugly – is always helpful. Whether the recipient takes advantage of it, and uses it effectively, is something that is beyond your control. But, you need to make the effort.
For sales reference situations, I have seen efforts by account executives to provide context. However, that typically happened only when the AE managed both the reference account and the prospect. In those cases, she would know the details about the prospective buyer and have the relationship with the existing customer. It was easy (and comfortable) to share the information at an appropriate depth. Otherwise, I’m not sure that the same level of thought or effort goes into references. In most cases, it resembles more of a toss it over the wall approach. That is a missed opportunity.
If you’re going to take the time, effort, and resources to build a customer reference program, think through exactly (and to what level) you will provide the customer reference with the necessary context for a request. It’s not putting words into their mouths, but instead providing an appropriate level of information for them to be effective in talking about their experiences.
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