Launching A Customer Reference Program? Fuel Your Take-Off With These Powerful Tips.

By Kirsten Mortensen

Best practices drawn from decades of combined experience will help your customer reference program quickly reach orbit—and deliver results.

Customer references establish credibility, bring your company’s value proposition to life, and help your sales and marketing teams engage with prospective customers.

Building a customer reference program from the ground up is an opportunity to deliver value to your company and colleagues.

Here’s a blueprint to help you plan and launch your program successfully.

Familiarize yourself with key customer reference program elements

Effective customer reference programs require the following elements:

  • Well-defined, repeatable processes
  • Effective tools
  • Stakeholder support
  • Resources—people and budget

By investing time and thought into each of these elements up front, you’ll help your new reference program successfully get off the ground.

Create repeatable processes

Start by defining, documenting, and communicating key workstreams that will form the basis of your customer reference program. Here are the primary processes that you will need to manage:

  • Engaging internal stakeholders and winning their support for the program. How will they benefit from a database of customer reference assets? What value will you deliver to their programs? Communicate “what’s in it for them” to secure their buy-in and support.
  • Recruiting reference candidates. To create customer references, you need customers who are happy with your company’s products or services—and willing to say so. Identifying these customers is therefore fundamental to your customer reference program success.
  • Developing, publishing, and promoting reference collateral. Customer reference programs are about content. You’ll need to line up resources to create reference materials, brand them, publish them, and push them out on your company’s internal and external communications channels, including its website, intranet, and social media platforms.
  • Tracking customer reference collateral. At some point, your customer reference assets will become outdated and will need to be refreshed. There will also be instances when customers who agreed to serve as references change suppliers or withdraw their support. You’ll need a process to periodically review your assets and update or retire them if they are no longer useful or relevant.
  • Tracking and reporting the status of reference projects. Use repeatable processes and workstreams to manage your customer reference projects and communicate status to your managers and program stakeholders.

Select the right tools

You’ll need software to track your reference projects. This tool might be as basic as a spreadsheet, or as sophisticated as a third-party hosted reference management system. Program scope and budget are two considerations you’ll need to weigh as you decide what tool is the best fit for you.

You’ll also need a way to store reference collateral and make it available to your stakeholders. This might be a SharePoint or other internal site, or a third-party hosted platform that supports controlled access to marketing or sales collateral.

Identify critical stakeholders

Successful reference programs require organizational awareness and support. Here are some of the stakeholders you should approach and engage:

  • Executive leadership. Management and executive support is critical to ensuring your program is fully budgeted and resourced—so make sure you are elevating awareness of your program to the highest levels of your company’s organization.
  • Sales leadership and teams. You’ll need help from your company’s account teams to identify reference candidates and assist with reference requests. Sales teams are also one of the primary beneficiaries of reference programs, so raising awareness about the value your program will deliver is also critical to your program’s success.
  • Outbound Marketing organizations. As you generate references, they can be leveraged for a range of other marketing and related activities, including PR, social media, digital communications, events, and analyst programs. Consider how to raise awareness within these teams of your program’s activities and deliverables. Meet with team members to better understand their reference needs.

Line up resources and people

Your customer reference program will need a budget! Here are some factors to consider as you determine what resources you’ll need to make your reference program a success:

  • Scope. As you define processes, consider how much time will be needed to support them. A new program with a limited scope can be managed by a small team; larger programs will require additional staff.
  • Outsource, hire directly, or both? When it’s time to add resources, you can either hire in-house staff, work with a customer reference agency, or leverage a mix of in-house and contract resources.
  • Software. As mentioned above, larger and more mature reference programs may require dedicated customer reference management software.

Give yourself time to do it right

Customer reference programs are based on multiple, interconnected processes. There will be nuances and complications you won’t anticipate when you’re getting started—and it’s likely your organization will be pressuring you to deliver results quickly.

That’s okay.

Take the time you need to lay the foundation of your new customer reference program. Find and engage with supporters and resources who are willing to invest their time into making your program a success. You’ll soon begin seeing results—and showing your organization just how powerful customer references can be.

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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