When I began building my first customer reference program, a friend in sales pulled me aside and said “you know we’re all coin-operated, right? If you want us to nominate references, you’re going to have to fork up some dough.”
I was naïve. I came from PR, so what did I know about sales people? I bought into this idea like so many others, and headed down the path toward failure.
Here’s why relying on any kind of incentive program as a primary means to entice sales personnel to recruit customer references simply doesn’t work.
This is not to say that spiff programs never work. They just don’t work in a vacuum.
So what does work?
The path to reference program success includes buy-in and support from sales leadership, and a willingness to partner with marketing leadership.
This doesn’t just mean a “sure that’s a good idea, go ahead and do that” vote of confidence. It means sales and executive leadership exhibit an expectation of reference recruitment.
When there is an expectation that sales will actively engage in reference recruitment, periodic incentive programs can be used more successfully to bolster the reference database. For example, occasional spiff programs can rally the team to fill gaps in use cases, verticals or geographies.
Some organizations go one step further, incorporating metrics such as percentage of referenceable accounts into MBOs for individual account managers and sales leadership.
Too often, though, the reference program is seen as a marketing initiative along, and given only lip service by sales leadership. The reality is that when it comes to creating an effective customer reference program, the best indicator of success is the alignment of marketing and sales. In no other practice area is this more crucial.