Building Sales Reference Program

JustBrash Member Posts: 7 Navigator
Name Dropper First Comment Photogenic
I've recently accepted a position with an amazing company who has hired me to establish a solid Sales Reference Program under the umbrella of the Customer Success Department. Currently, the CSMs, sales account managers, and marketing department have been sort of haphazardly handling this. But the concern, of course, is that their clients are getting burned up. This leads to the account managers not really wanting to trust anyone else with their clients. My job will be to funnel all of those requests to me so I can reach out and establish our current clients as a reference for our prospective clients.

I'd love to hear some feedback from those who have walked into a similar situation. Any advice on how to build that bridge with sales and marketing? Obviously, it will take time and action to win their trust, but I'd appreciate any tidbits you can offer. Thank you! 


  • Sruthi Ramachandran
    Sruthi Ramachandran Member Posts: 4 Navigator
    First Anniversary First Comment
    At our organisation, we run a customer satisfaction survey every quarter. One of the questions on the survey is if we can use the customer as a reference in future. The data is populated on Salesforce for Sales folks to access and reach out. This has really helped streamline the process for us. 
  • Harsh Shah
    Harsh Shah Member Posts: 40 Expert
    Name Dropper First Comment
    Hi @JustBrash

    This is a great initiative and I would start by setting up the vision and mission of this particular activity among different teams. This is a great way to clearly establish their roles and responsibility to not misuse this opportunity.

    Here are some things we have tried in the past to streamline this process:

    1. We have started by creating a database of our customers by segmenting them at different levels like industry, region, users, etc. You can further segment it based on your requirement.
    2. We have started reaching out to key stakeholders of each account to ask for their approval and the benefits of such an activity to their business. There should be some incentives or appreciation for customers as well.
    3. If you're getting too many requests from your sales or marketing side then I would suggest setting up a limit to refer any particular client for a particular time.
    4. Accept requests based on the maximum impact on your business and business relevancy. For other requests, you can even create reference materials (case studies, testimonials, etc.) or even a video library.
    5. See how it impacts your current customer relationships and if it is creating a negative impact on your most successful customers then you should revisit your strategy. 
    6. Set some program goals or targets to further prove the value and importance of this referral program. 
    7. For referrals don't always choose the key stakeholders but sometimes choose the other members who are more passionate about your products and solutions. They can also share the best practices and the actual impact of your solution in their daily life. 
    8. Most importantly, make the whole process easy and quick for them so they don't feel it is an overburden without getting any value in return.
    I hope this would help you to launch an impactful reference program.

    Best Regards,

    Harsh Shah

    Customer Success Manager, Woliba



  • MaxDore
    MaxDore Member Posts: 2 Navigator
    Name Dropper Photogenic First Comment
    Love the response from Tyee Dugan about having a program of case studies that are ready to use for the sales team. That said, sometimes a customer simply must speak to someone - as a CSM, I get requests from Sales teams all the time to speak to customers. So these two thoughts are from the CSM perspective: 

    1) Have a sales-accessible database of referenceable customers, with specifics that may be pertinent to the sales cycle - sector, title of potential references, ARR, etc. 
    2) Ensure there is a system in place for the Sales team work with Success managers in reaching out to these references. We still want to be kept in the loop, and need to control when a customer is being over-used and may have fatigue from reference calls. 
  • Ross Reitman
    Ross Reitman Member Posts: 14 Thought Leader
    Name Dropper First Comment First Anniversary
    MaxDore has some great thoughts on this as well with Tyee Dugan. Another 2 steps that can be done to get customers ready for this ask is to:

    1 - Add this to the customer facing customer journey and discuss why this is important to both the company and themselves
    2 - Bring this up either after a positive comment (e.g. NPS/CSAT) or when the champion at the company has just proven out significant ROI / found a new use case for the product.
  • JustBrash
    JustBrash Member Posts: 7 Navigator
    Name Dropper First Comment Photogenic
    Thank you everyone! I had no idea I was getting comments on my post as I had no notifications coming through. I really appreciate all of your suggestions. I'm going to spend some time digging into these. I'm five months in now but there's so much to learn. Now that I can come up for air, I'll be hanging out here a lot more learning from all of the great contributors!
  • Brian O'Keeffe
    Brian O'Keeffe Member Posts: 199 Expert
    First Anniversary Photogenic 5 Insightfuls First Comment
    I suggest evangelizing your reference program with your CSM team. I bucket them into three categories. All customers need to be thought of as potential references and fall into one of these categories.

    • Obvious references? ASK NOW.
    • Possible references: nurture until referenceable. (This is your bank to work on and nurture and can take months, even years to come to fruition!)
    • Not referenceable now, but could be one day.  (This is your bank to work on and turn into references and you may not get a giant % enrolled but you will get some if you make it your mission.)
    If every CSM adopts that strategy they will always be working on finding, growing and nurturing referenceable customers.

    I recently launched an automated ask for all high scoring NPS responses and have watched the program grow by leaps and bounds. There is nothing I love more than strategizing to find and enroll customer into our reference program! 

    Final piece of advice for all CSMs and customer facing team members: NEVER BE AFRAID TO ASK. Once you get a sense they might be a candidate, ask. Often they are not perfect, do not fit a certain immediate requirement, or check only some boxes. BIG MISTAKE to write them off. Often it takes time and the first ask might be "not now" but plan again to review them in six months or a year later. Keep the bank full and always be working on it. Better to have too many references than not enough and having a lot to choose from will make everyone's life easier and SALES CLOSE FASTER. 

  • JustBrash
    JustBrash Member Posts: 7 Navigator
    Name Dropper First Comment Photogenic

    Brian, thanks for your response. Sorry for the delayed reply! These are great suggestions. Can I ask how you automate the ask of high-scoring NPS responses? I've been sending out emails inviting the promoters to join our loyalty program (with the thinking we would then approach them about also being a reference). But haven't seen much success with that. I'm campaigning to get the question inserted into the NPS survey itself, but that hasn't happened yet. Are you asking as a follow-up?

  • Brian O'Keeffe
    Brian O'Keeffe Member Posts: 199 Expert
    First Anniversary Photogenic 5 Insightfuls First Comment

    I use a Totango for NPS and for all messages that follow. All promoter scores get asked to join and each ask has a follow up if they do not respond.

    The key is how you ask and how you structure your program. The ask has to be all about what it does for the potential advocate, not what it does for you. The program should include advocate activities that celebrate, thank them and help them grown professionally. Every outreach cannot be an ask for a reference. All communications should clarify how you value that person for who they are and what they do. We have had tremendous success and grown our program exponentially in a very short period of time.

  • JustBrash
    JustBrash Member Posts: 7 Navigator
    Name Dropper First Comment Photogenic

    Thank you, Brian!