Many marketers find that despite their best efforts, they’re somehow not achieving the results they’d hoped for with their customer marketing programs. Common challenges include sourcing an adequate number of possible reference targets (especially references for new or strategic products) and effectively using reference assets once they’re acquired.

Because sales is a primary consumer of marketing’s advocacy work, it’s easy to see why marketers take a “help me help you” approach to reaching out to sales for support of reference programs. But our research suggests that while advocacy assets are almost universally seen as highly valuable to supporting the sales process, there is a surprisingly low level of formalized sales involvement in customer reference activities. Marketers would be well served by looking through the sales lens when seeking greater engagement from sales. Here are a few ways to increase their participation:

  • Financial incentives. Best-in-class reference programs offer financial incentives for employee participation in reference sourcing activities. Obviously, this typically applies most directly to the sales organization, but it can be expanded to include other customer-facing departments. If it’s commonly acknowledged that references play a vital role in the sales process, assigning incentives to the sourcing of these assets sends a powerful message to the organization. Consider a tiered reference compensation model based on the value of the advocacy asset sourced. For example, a much-needed reference for a relatively new product might command a higher incentive payout than an additional reference for an existing, established product.
  • Recognition. Equally valuable – especially to sales reps – can be recognition for their involvement in customer reference activities. Look for ways to publicly recognize individual employees (e.g. executive acknowledgement, quarterly business review recognition, or a feature in the company newsletter).
  • Performance clubs. Successful customer reference programs use advocacy participation as a criterion for sales club inclusion. Listing customer reference support alongside other financial sales targets indicates how the organization values these activities.
  • Securing involvement from sales in customer reference activities may seem like an obvious and necessary requirement. Yet too many organizations struggle to lock in a high level of engagement from sales. Whether the problems stem from a reliance on old, rogue reference management techniques or an unwillingness to participate in the current process, sales must be sold on the value of a new approach. Reference team owners need to educate sales about the long-term value of their engagement in the process by implementing programs that designed for the mindset of a sales rep. Only then will sales see a customer reference program as an essential tool in their bag.