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.