Customer testimonials typically shorten sales cycles. Then why can it be so difficult to get salespeople to help generate case study leads? Just like the sales process itself, customer reference programs need a pipeline—and our experience shows that only 1 out of every 10 case study leads actually becomes a published case study. So, you’re going to need more customer reference leads. The more story leads you generate, the more case studies you’ll create.

And it’s critical that you do get sales folks to help. Some customers will decline to participate outright, while others tend drop out along the way for a variety of reasons. But salespeople are usually closest to customers and can best navigate the geopolitical customer landscape. They are in a prime position to know exactly whom to contact about a customer case study, and when. Your colleagues in sales are an invaluable resource for growing the case study program, and our six tips below can help you enlist them.

1. Get it in writing.
Yes, it is possible to establish contractual language that requires participation in customer references. This may seem elementary, but many organizations fail to include boilerplate terms about customer reference participation into standard contracts. This is especially important for case study leads because it’s harder to get permission later. Of course, deal negotiations sometimes result in this clause being removed, but other times it flies through unscathed. That’s why it should be in the boilerplate contract. Assume every customer will be a reference until they tell you otherwise.

2. Regularly update sales staff about case study goals, progress made, and what you need from them.
From a sales perspective, marketing has one job: make sales easy. One way of garnering support is setting and sharing goals for how many case studies you plan on publishing over the course of a month, quarter, or year, and determining how many story leads you need to make that happen.

Make sure you let salespeople know the plan—if they don’t know, they can’t help you. Include program updates in whatever field communications are most effective. Some organizations share updates through sales team conference calls, others use internal e-mail newsletters, and still others post to the sales intranet. And ask this key question: What communications channel does the VP of sales or CEO use to get a strategic message to the field? Whatever the answer, that’s the channel you want to use for your program updates.

3. Share the love: Make sure sales incentives align with the customer reference program.
Sales professionals, as a rule, want to know what’s in it for them. Because their income depends on performance, good salespeople focus their time, attention, and efforts on their quotas. You can use a similar incentive to enlist support for your reference program. Establish the number of leads you need and the number of stories you want to publish, and then set reasonable expectations. Work with your sales compensation architects to see if it’s possible to reward those whose actions support program results.

4. Provide comprehensive program management support.
While salespeople have great insight into potential case study leads, their priority is closing new deals. Your team needs to allay the fear of distractions. Make it easy for salespeople to help with case study leads, and make sure your interactions with customers are always courteous, professional, and even fun for the customer.

5. Track and share performance data.
Consider putting up a leaderboard that ranks salespeople and/or departments with a point system for story leads and completed case studies. These metrics can be posted on sales intranets, on posters in sales break rooms, or other public areas. When they see how their efforts compare against their peers, salespeople’s competitive natures will help motivate them to get involved.

6. Use expert assistance to juice up your organization’s case study program.
Most enterprises have more case study prospects than they realize. With help from an outside organization that specializes in working with people in the field who best know customers, reference programs can take off—and marketing can beat goals and expectations.

In survey after survey, salespeople invariably say they want more case studies. Why? Prospects find real-world examples of product and service benefits relevant, credible, and compelling. Make sure your sales colleagues understand how the customer reference process works, so you can do your part in boosting revenue. And if you’d like more details about how TDA manages effective B2B case study programs, contact us.