Customer reference program

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Customer Reference Program (CRP, also referred to as a Customer Reference Programme outside of the USA) is a business function frequently found in large business-to-business organizations. Customer Reference Program managers are responsible for gathering and fulfilling requests for references to help Sales people obtain new clients and provide proof of customer success stories for Industry Analysts and the media.


Customer references (testimonials) are important as buyers frequently seek peer advice in purchasing high value products and services in both business to business and consumer environments. A well coordinated Customer Reference Program results in:

•Less time spent by sales representatives searching for suitable customer references.

•Avoiding overusing and under using valuable customer references.

•Gaps being filled for customer references in certain industries/products/geographies.

•Faster customer reference fulfillment time enabling a reduction in sales cycles.

Therefore, it is often essential to establish a dedicated co-ordinator (often called a CRP Manager), organizational processes and often a computer system to manage customer references.

Programs often split into four main activities:

1) Reference recruitment

The first step if any customer reference program is for an organisation to identify to whom it has sold a product, service or solution, and then to actively recruit satisfied customers. In doing so it will normally establish in which types of customer reference activities a customer (who will then become a reference customer) will participate.

2) Materials creation

After a customer has bought a product, service or solution and it is up and working (implemented) they may well wish to share their (hopefully positive) experience with others. A common way to achieve this is through the creation of a customer success story or case study (note: normally these terms are interchangeable however it is normally considered that a case study contains slightly more detail than a success story). There are many types of materials however, from a single sentence quote to a document containing many tens of pages back up with spreadsheets of financial calculations. As well as written materials the customer might participate in the creation of audio, video or hybrid (a combination of written, audio or video) materials.

3) Reference request management

Having identified who the reference customers are, in which activities they might participate and having also created some reference materials, the next stage is to manage requests for references, from Sales and Marketing teams. This can be a time consuming process and some organisations might manage simply post the names of reference customers on an internal site, manage these with a dedicated team member, outsource this service to a specialist customer reference agency, use a reference management application, or use a combination of these techniques.

4) Measurement

As with all marketing disciplines, the need to be able to measure effectiveness applies to CRPs. Reference programmes are often in a great position to measure effectiveness as often they supply references directly to Sales teams in order to help to close specific deals. by tracking these deals and the reference customers or materials that were used to help to close them, the CRP can often track large percentages of an organisation's turnover that were enabled, in part by the CRP. In addition, with a little investigation the CRP Manager will be able to establish how often specific reference customers are used and therefore will be able to calculate their influence value.

Typical types of customer reference activity:

  • Name drop
  • Logo use
  • Quote
  • RFP text
  • Success story
  • Case study
  • ROI case study
  • Sales call
  • PR, reactive or proactive
  • Analyst interview
  • Video testimonial
  • Customer site visit

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