Few marketing programs match the effectiveness of comprehensive customer reference programs. Third-party endorsements are just instantly credible—whether they’re found in case studies, quotes, press releases, podcasts, videos, or webinars. Still, many marketers struggle to make their customer reference programs work. And that’s a pity, because the six time-tested tips below would save them a lot of grief.

Tip #1: Understand the 1 in 10 rule

You know how salespeople expect the majority of leads to go nowhere? Well, the same thinking applies to customer references. Typically, only 1 in 10 customer story leads results in a published success story. That’s why many new story leads need to be qualified to fuel even a modest success program.

Customers fall out of these programs for a variety of reasons:

  • Product or service problems may put a temporary hold on participation
  • Organizational changes result in the original contacts moving on
  • No one checked with the approvers before committing to the story; approvers can include the management chain above your contact as well as the PR, marketing, and legal departments
  • An acquisition or merger may change your relationship with the customer

Once you understand your lead pipeline (like salespeople do), you’ll have a better idea of what you should do to feed your customer success program.

Tip #2: Understand where success story leads come from

Candidates for potential customer success stories come from a variety of sources. The “recent win” report from sales is the place to start, but additional lead generation is usually needed. If your company has a customer advisory board or a pre-existing list of showcase accounts, you can proactively tap into those customers for stories. For a particular segment that is underserved, you can also use targeted social and email marketing to generate more story leads from specific geographies, partners, or industries.

As these leads arrive, the customer reference program should qualify each one to assess the potential value of the story. This qualification step should answer a number of important questions, including: Does the story fit the program’s coverage need for geography, product or service, industry, or company size? Does the customer have a recognizable brand? Is the customer willing to be published? Besides a success story, would the customer be suitable for a video? Is the story so compelling that it could become the basis of a great ad or campaign?

Tip #3: Get it in writing

Getting approval before investing in the success story development process is critical to running a cost-effective reference program. The attrition rate in these programs can often be limited by asking candidates to sign a written consent form before the interviews begin. The formality of written consent gives the customer a reason to check with those people who will ultimately approve the completed content.

Some companies include a clause in their sales contracts that obligates the customer to participate in the reference program once the deployment is complete. This is useful for getting the sales rep and customer thinking about the success story up front. It also helps to explain to the customer how your content will promote their company.

Tip #4: Plan on creating multiple assets from each customer reference

When a customer reference program is thoroughly planned and run well, your company can efficiently build and maintain a library of customer-centric content: case studies, blogs, quotes, press releases, podcasts, video testimonials, webinars, and more. That way, you can present several examples of customer success to prospects in the pipeline, and new prospects can learn about the success of others.

Tip #5: Set the right metrics for success

Customer reference programs should have built-in measurements to capture how their materials generate leads and shorten sales cycles. Techniques used to gather this data include reports from sales force automation systems, surveys of field salespeople, and web tracking mechanisms.

Useful metrics include:

  • Coverage of key industries and product categories
  • Use of customer reference materials in marketing deliverables
  • Materials used by salespeople to gain leads and close sales
  • Number of downloads of materials
  • Number of social shares
  • Press and analyst coverage resulting from customer successes

Tip #6: Consider working with success story experts

Outsourcing the legwork involved in customer reference programs allows marketing departments to concentrate on strategy and direction instead of spending resources to develop tactics.

The partner you choose must understand your broader marketing objectives and business goals, and operate the customer reference program in lockstep with your priorities and strategy. So what should you look for in an outsourced customer reference management service?

  • A track record of success with high-tech clients
  • An understanding of your business
  • Credibility in providing strategic direction, spotting repurposing opportunities, and infusing best practices
  • End-to-end services, such as lead generation, qualification, and complete content production
  • Examples of compelling writing and engaging design
  • Ongoing status reporting
  • An understanding of the importance of measuring results

If all of these elements are in place, then you may well be ready to get the most sales mileage from one of your company’s most important assets: your satisfied customers.

Find out how TDA can turn your customer reference program into a well-oiled machine. Let’s talk.