Customer Reference Programs: What’s In It For The Customer?

By Kirsten Mortensen

Participating in customer reference programs delivers value to your customers as well as your company. Here’s how—and why it matters.

Whether you are building a new customer reference program or running one that is well-established, there’s a question that may occur to you or your program stakeholders:

Are customer reference relationships entirely one-sided in value?

After all, you’re asking your customer to invest time and attention into creating collateral that benefits your company. But reference programs also benefit the customer—and communicating those benefits equips you with powerful tools for recruiting more customers, managing relationships, and enlisting the support of sales teams for your reference program outreach.

A well-run customer reference program benefits customers, not just your company

Your customer reference program can provide multiple avenues for your customers to advance their careers and amplify their companies’ messaging. Customer reference programs can:

  • Promote your customers’ marketing and social media campaigns. By partnering with your customers to create references, you help them reach more of their own customers with key messaging about their capabilities and industry leadership.
  • Open doors to networking opportunities. Participating in your customer reference program provides additional access to industry peers, analysts, solution experts, and your company’s executive leadership—and showcases your spokespersons as industry luminaries.
  • Strengthen the relationship between your company and your customers. Engaging in customer reference programs elevates awareness within your organization and your customer’s commitment to your products and/or services. This lays the foundation for greater reciprocity and executive attention. It also helps to open the door to insider communications that can help your customer better understand—and possibly even contribute to—your company’s portfolio and strategy.

Positioning customer benefits for more effective reference recruitment

Given that your customers can derive benefits by participating in your reference program, here are some best practices to incorporate into your reference recruitment processes:

  • Educate your sales teams. When you approach account managers to seek references, present the ask in terms of an opportunity you are offering to their customers.
  • Best Practice: Instead of framing your approach to sales as “would any of your customers be willing to act as a reference?” try wording the ask in terms of customer benefits. “We’re looking for companies that want to amplify their industry leadership and/or elevate awareness about the capabilities of their organizations’ luminaries. Do you have any companies who might be interested in that kind of opportunity?”
  • Identify ways that implementing your company’s products or services align with and support your customers’ strategic priorities. Your customers’ marketing teams have strategic objectives. By understanding how your reference collateral can advance those objectives, you can “speak your customers’ language” as you present reference opportunities.
  • Best Practice: Dig into your customers’ websites, annual reports, and press coverage. What messaging is your customer communicating to its market, partners, and/or shareholders? How does its commitment to your company’s products or services support that messaging?
  • Be on the lookout for individuals within your customers’ organizations who “gravitate to the limelight.” Subject matter experts who are comfortable speaking publicly and/or networking are excellent candidates for reference programs. In many cases, they will not only agree to participate; they’ll also help you navigate their organization’s PR, marketing, and legal approval processes.
  • Best Practice: Use internet and LinkedIn searches to identify people within your customers’ organizations who are active on social media or speak at industry events.
  • Make sure your company’s executive teams are aware of which customers have participated in your reference programs. Find ways to facilitate relationships between your company’s executives and individuals who participate in your reference programs.
  • Best Practice: When you send email notifications or other reports to management to update them on current/public references, feature the names, titles, and headshots of individual/s who participated. Encourage management to seek out and thank these individuals during events such as industry conferences or customer site visits.

Ready to adopt customer reference best practices in your organization? Click here to learn how we can help or email us at to schedule a consultation with a Porter Consulting customer reference expert.

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