Reference Success: Customer Marketing Strategies and other topics

Quick…define a customer reference

I just got off the phone with a marketing person who wanted help defining the term “customer reference” for his company.

One aspect of confusion comes from who you are talking to. Sales people are usually thinking about those late in the deal requests that come in from prospects. Marketing folks, particularly if they aren’t closely involved with sales support, are typically thinking about a written document like a success story or case study. The PR team may be thinking of a request from a reporter looking to speak with a customer. We’ve seen this a lot.

From our perspective the above are either activities or content, but a customer reference is really the “story of a successful delivery of products or services” that can be shared. It doesn’t matter if that story is told in print, as part of a speaking opportunity or in a personal conversation. The goal of customer customer reference management is to amplify and repeat the telling of that story in ways that can help create market impact.

Defined this way, a customer reference could consist of multiple products or services, having several people within a single company acting as advocates. The key is grouping these based on the “story” rather than the specific solution. This allows each story to be shared to its maximum  potential, and since one product may be used by different people to solve completely different problems it doesn’t make much sense to group them together.

I’d be interested to know how your company defines a customer reference.


  • Maeve Naughton on said:

    We define a customer reference as "an advocate for our products and services". It doesn't matter how the story is told as long as it's being told. As you mentioned, each group within the company has different needs and different ways of telling their story. It's the job of the reference professional to meet the needs of those groups whether it be via a press release, customer call, case study, video testimonial, quote or any other form.

  • robin hamilton on said:

    oooh, tricky but here goes... A customer reference is some packaged & approved words (irrespective of format) from a Reference Customer. A Reference Customer is someone prepared to remark (in lots of different ways we hope) about something remarkable achieved by working with your company :o)

  • Joshua Horwitz on said:

    Thanks Maeve and Robin. Your comments help highlight the differences in definition. - At Maeve's organization, a Customer Reference is a *person* who is an advocate. - At Robin's, a Customer Reference is *words* in some published format. There is no wrong answer, but the bottom line is that it is probably worth the effort for program managers to communicate their definition so all stakeholders have a common understanding.

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