At 9:00am on 27th September, CRA opened its doors, popped the kettle on and welcomed all its attendees. Once everyone was greeted and seated, the first session of the morning was ready to start.

What makes a reference programme evolve from being ‘nice to have’ into a commercial Imperative?

In the first session given by Claire Grove from Juniper Networks, the highly experienced Customer Reference Manager discussed just that.
There were three main themes to the presentation; ‘Think big,’ ‘Start small,’ and ‘Move fast.’ It is crucial that any reference programme starts with its own strategy, says Claire, shaped around an understanding of the overall business plan and the buyers’ journey. Be clear on your goals and be determined to reach them.

Harmonious strategies and transparency: “Don’t tell them we failed. Tell them we decided to postpone our success.”

Claire’s advice was to create references in support of business objectives with an emphasis on quality not quantity. Build an increased level of transparency into your reference pipeline and aim to have a collaborative approach between sales and marketing. Claire emphasised that it’s good to have big ideas but it’s realistic to start small and work with what you have. Stamp out any vague objectives and focus on Return on Investment. Do a gap analysis, communicate your plans and goals to the company, create a pipeline and set realistic expectations. Internal communication and transparency are essential for success.
After the presentation there was an opportunity to ask questions, much of which focused on how Claire got the company on board with her strategy within one year of joining Juniper. Thankfully for Claire, the business recognised the importance of customer references and was open to her suggestions.

The subject of the questions then turned to the value of a reference programme and how best to promote it within a company. Claire advised that as sales and marketing managers we need to listen to customers and understand what they are doing to promote themselves, introducing them to references as another way of raising their profile.  Also it’s important to work closely with the sales team, to build trust and show them a range of promotional options for their customers – essentially, sales and marketing departments need to help one another.