Reference Point
  a newsletter for customer reference professionals
  July 2012


  1. How To Turn a C-level Customer Into a Reference
  2. Update on The Hidden Wealth of Customers
  3. Save the Date for The 2013 Summit on Customer Engagement
  4. Reference manager looking for employment
  5. Links to job openings, other reference meetings


adopted from The Hidden Wealth of Customers (Harvard Business Review Press, 2012)

The question many firms I work with seem to ask is, "How can we find more customer references?" A better question is, "How can we create more customer references?" The answer: "Create a great customer reference value proposition." Here's an approach that will work with even the highest level new customer.

  • The starting point (obvious, but sometimes overlooked): Deliver what you promise and promptly fix what goes wrong.
    These actions are what generate genuine enthusiasm from a customer, and without those, you don't have a real reference. You can't create or enlist a customer advocate or build a customer-based sales force without the solid foundation of an ongoing, responsive relationship.

  • Tie referencing to performance.
    For larger relationship accounts, some firms try putting an agreement to provide references up front in the customer's contract--a major and obvious turnoff. A better, value-based approach is to initiate a quarterly review process that looks more like the following (notice how providing references evolves naturally):

    1. First, review all performance metrics with the customer every three months. Make sure they're being met. If any are not, address the problems swiftly.

    2. Next, identify how your solutions are benefiting the customer and then document it. This is a superb win-win that provides customers with verification, a learning tool, and a basis for building best practices, while providing a case study or success story for you.

    3. At this point (not before!), with everyone feeling good about the relationship, turn to a discussion of your prospects who are facing similar issues. By now your customer will be ready to open up her contact lists and talk to prospects on your behalf.

  • Keep abreast of your customers' problems.
    The most important thing you can bring to a dialogue with any customer, particularly C-level customers, is knowing their challenges. This is essential not only as part of getting the sale, but afterwards too in building relationship. And it's really not that hard. Read her speeches, look at her company's annual report, review (or invest in) your own firm's market research about your key-C-level-customer references.

  • Measure their success their way.
    Savvy companies are growing more sophisticated about making sure they measure their customers' success their way, not yours. For example, if you're selling demand generation software to a CMO, the metric she most values might be qualified leads generated. But an EVP of sales who buys the same product might care more about improvements in sales productivity.

  • Bonus Tip.
    As you work with references and develop success stories, testimonials and other content, keep in mind that the value your sales and account reps think such customers are getting might well be wrong. Reference managers are in an ideal position to suss this out.

  • Remember, you have leverage.
    If your firm is a smaller supplier or brand new, even your C-level customers will want to help you. It's in their interest! They don't want you to fail just when they've started depending on your product or servie. On the other hand, if you're larger and better established, you can help your executive customer reward his team by creating opportunities for them to showcase their work at conferences and present papers--providing them with great career development."

  • Provide your customer references with opportunities for growth.
    Often your most dynamic customer references are eager for personal and professional development. Provide these in the form of speaking opportunities, interviews with the media, and the like, where customers can demonstrate thought leadership.

  • If possible-and it often is-align your PR messaging with your customer's.
    If you want a customer to speak as a public reference for you, start by understanding the message their PR team is trying to get out to the world. And then ask, how might your message tie into theirs? Your CIO customer's company, for example, might have public positions on things like mobility, devices, and security. So, if you're doing business with that firm, ask how can you tie your messaging to theirs? You want her PR person going in to her with you and saying, "Here's the messaging we think benefits both our companies."

  • Offer other customer-engagement possibilities.
    This is particularly important for your higher-level key customers, who may very well want to provide input into product or solutions development, or even your strategic direction. Offer such customers positions on your advisory boards or executive forums. (We will explore this aspect of ROR in depth in later chapters.) Or they may want to engage with your other customers or other peers in community efforts.

  • Succeed!
    A customer who's taken the risk of putting her eggs in your basket wants you to succeed for obvious reasons-if yours is a small company, you're more likely to survive. If you're a large firm, you're more likely to invest research and product development dollars improving the solutions you're providing. And that's true even if your customer is a large or even marquee customer. Don't be intimidated about asking for appropriate reference support.

All the best,

Bill Lee, President
Customer Reference Forum and Customer Strategy Group
Author of The Hidden Wealth of Customers (June 2012, Harvard Business Review Press)

Twitter (follow me)
LinkedIn (connect with me)
LinkedIn Community (connect with other reference professionals)


The Hidden Wealth of Customers: Realizing the Untapped Value of Your Most Important Asset (Harvard Business Press, 2012). Media attention has been strong, with interviews or excerpts published so far in Forbes Online, Fast Company, 1 to 1 Media, Rain Today and others. See:

How to Electrify Your Customer Relationships, Forbes Online

How to Turn Your Customers Into Rock Stars of Influence, Fast Company

11 Best Books for Summer Reading, 2012
B2B Marketing Insider:

A Growth Opportunity Most Companies Ignore, Rain Today, podcast

Leveraging the Power of the Internet:
"Customers can help organizations turn the Web from a threat into an opportunity" 1to1 Media


Couldn't make it to the Summit? Is it time to take your customer reference program to the next level? Having trouble getting there? I can bring Customer Reference Forum's knowledge, research capabilities, and the most extensive network of reference professionals and suppliers in the world, onsite to you.

Learn more.


For practitioners only. Exchange ideas and best practices with peers, get your questions answered quickly, expand your network. We're now up to 380 members. If you're not a member, join us - just reply to this email "sign me up for your LinkedIn community" in the subject line.


We'll be finalizing on date and location in the next few weeks, but you can plan on February or early March, 2013.


To get involved with the recently formed community of customer reference professional in EMEA, contact Claudia Koenig at referencecommunity@googlemail.com.


For the Boston Customer Reference quarterly meetings schedule, please check with Kara Manfredi for updated information, at karaManfredi@deltek.com.

To follow and attend the San Francisco/Silicon Valley Customer References Council, you can go to their new LinkedIn community site (just copy and paste "San Francisco/Silicon Valley Customer Reference Council" into the LinkedIn search engine for "Groups").

For the next Bay Area Reference Group Meeting please send an email (and please include your title) to val.stephen@acxiom.com.


For information on who is hiring and to apply, please click here.

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email: bill@customerreferenceforum.com
web: http://www.customerreferenceforum.com