By Amir Hartman, Co-Founder, Mainstay
How effective is your customer reference program? Believe it or not, most companies don’t know the answer to that question. That was one of the surprising findings of the new survey of customer reference programs sponsored by the Customer Reference Forum’s Metrics Special Interest Group and Mainstay. Specifically, less than 17% of programs were able to say they knew the impact of referencing activities on revenue.
One piece of good news from the survey is that corporate reference programs have made significant strides in operational efficiency and responsiveness to requests from company stakeholders. This year, despite flat to declining budgets, programs again delivered impressive volumes of reference collateral and orchestrated a busy schedule of reference activities.
But as important as these efficiencies are, we believe reference programs – if they are to stay relevant -- have to move beyond their current role as mere fulfillers of requests and evolve into a proactive, value-creating organization focused on the success of the business and its customers. This will become more urgent as more B2B companies embrace subscription-based business services that make it easy for customers to defect and switch to competing services.
From this research, and our recent book Ruthless Execution, Mainstay has developed a road map to describe this evolution. In this road map, early-stage reference programs are labeled "value inhibitors" because they are pre-occupied with "filling orders" and are all but invisible to senior management.
As they mature, programs often transition to "value neutral" -- recognized by the business as efficient service providers, but still lack the proactive, strategic perspective and mechanisms needed to move the needle in terms of business performance.
Best-in-class customer reference programs are those we call "value creators." Frequently reporting to senior business leaders, these programs focus on enabling customer success and have created systems for measuring performance against strategic business goals. Proactive by design, these programs drive innovative customer-engagement and value-realization initiatives.
Download the full report: Making References Matter: Annual Customer Reference Program Benchmark Report, January 2015.