2023 Reference Resolutions

I’m a fan of Top Lists. Doesn’t matter if it’s top ten, five, whatever…there’s something about distilling your thoughts into a concise list. Pro tip: If you are a writer of any kind, you can use this approach to improve your writing (i.e., if you’re a verbose writer like me, this helps you hone your writing into something less James Joyce and more Ernest Hemmingway). 

But I digress (see what I mean?). Recently I had the privilege of hosting a PeerPerspectives session on all things references. I was joined by David Sroka, CEO at Point of Reference, and Jeff Gabel, Customer Advocacy Lead at ServiceNow. For the record, these are two of the finest minds I know, especially when it comes to customer references. 

The whole point of a PeerPerspectives is to bring together minds interested in a topic and discuss. Novel, right? Essentially nothing is off limits re: the topic at hand and I kick off the conversation with a question for the audience.

This time I asked for Top Three lists. I asked David and Jeff about the top three qualities of an exceptional reference manager/customer advocacy professional. And then I asked the attendees for their top three challenges when it comes to managing customer references. When we put all of our heads together, we came up with the final Top Three.

Top Qualities of a Reference Manager/Customer Advocacy Professional

  • Empathy (an understanding/intuition for internal and external customer perspectives and emotions)
  • Persistence (never comprising; pursuing the best choice, not just the easiest one; fearlessness)
  • Patience (knowledge that relationships take time; promoting customer benefit above your own; excellent respiratory skills – for all those deep breaths)

Top Challenges of a Reference Manager/Customer Advocacy Professional

  • Urgency of Requests (your lack of planning just became my emergency)
  • Bad Data (unreliable data leads to unreliable references and LOTs of legwork)
  • Uneducated Sales/CS Teams (no process adherence; CS won’t share customers; nobody understands customer advocacy)

Naturally, we broke down these challenges and talked about solutions, our experiences, and how to improve. And when I thought about it, I realized those key skills/qualities also applied directly to the ways we would solve the challenges. 

So here we go – the Top Three Reference Resolutions for 2023 (with top three suggestions):

Resolution #1: Apply strategies and tactics that dramatically reduce reference requests with short turn-around times. 

  1. Establish SLAs with requestors: Your job is to put out the welcome mat, but not be a doormat. You deserve time to do your job – other business functions scope a project before starting; you do not have to work differently. Determine what you need to get your job done and then put that expectation in place (e.g., 5 business days for a standard reference request, 10 days if it’s a large strategic enterprise account). 
  2. Build reference requests into sales cycle mapping: This is a great way to get visibility for your role and educate sales (see below), but it also helps you get ahead of potentially labor-intensive reference requests. If reference consideration is built into the stages of the sales cycle, it will keep it top of mind and actually allow for proactive referencing (my favorite) where you can use marketing collateral, static reference content, customer videos, etc., and potentially avoid the fire drill.
  3. Present reference request process at SKO: How many of you have a sales kick off each year? Get yourself a spot on the agenda! You are an integral part of the sales process, and you can use the enthusiasm and momentum of the kick off to showcase your wins from the previous year, introduce yourself, reinforce your process and expectations.

Resolution #2: Find resources, tools, technology, or internal partners that can take my wish list for data improvement to reality. 

  1. Find the BEST internal resource to help understand/manipulate the data: Your best data resource is probably not within sales or customer success. If you don’t already have a great relationship with an operations team, or even your product team, make it happen. They actually really understand the data and are going to be a lot better about helping you get what you need – and ensuring you get it consistently. 
  2. Establish SLAs with sales/customer success: Treat your sales and customer success partners as subject matter experts on customer data; after all, they know the customers best, right? Work with leadership to establish an SLA that owners will review their account data bi-annually, ensuring things like opportunities, products/services, geographic location, health score, etc. are current. 
  3. Automate, automate, automate using existing tools/technologies: Find ways to tie customer data to your advocate accounts/contacts. For example, if you use Gainsight, set automated alerts that notify you when a customer health score changes, if someone just renewed, or churned. Knowing what’s happening with customers real-time is a challenge, but having updates like this can protect the relationships you build.

Resolution #3: Take ownership of educating my internal stakeholders to improve reference process adherence. 

  1. Get on the calendar: If you are not already on standing meetings with each of your sales teams and CS, make it happen. The new year is a great time to start reinforcing those relationships. You need not attend every meeting, but once a quarter make sure you have a spot on the agenda so you can share successes, reinforce best practices/processes, etc. Rinse and repeat delivers results. 
  2. Create a short list of internal champions: You only need 2-3 people on this short list, but choose them carefully. These are sales people that you helped close a huge deal; essentially your work saved their butt and they not only know it, but are appreciative. Or, maybe there’s a CSM who struggled with a renewal and your relationship with that customer nudged it over the finish line. Put these champions on speed dial, or ask them to share their experience via video so that you can leverage it to start what I like to call “the domino effect.” 
  3. Create your own case study: Many of us secure customers for testimonials/stories, are instrumental in coordinating the story, or write the story itself. Either way, we all know what needs to happen to get (and tell) a solid story. So, write your own. Create an advocacy case study – sing your own praises, share it with others, and own your awesome (and value to the organization). 

So there you have it, some insights and suggestions that hopefully help you create some Reference Resolutions for 2023. 

Happy new year!