Resplendent in Tudor surroundings that have played host to Royalty, Heads of State and Celebrities, we were treated to fine wine and excellent food from the kitchen of renowned UK chef Heston Blumenthal. Reference professionals from companies such as HP, Vodafone Group, BMC and Orange had the opportunity to network and knowledge share in a relaxed, sales-free environment.On the 19th of November inEvidence hosted the first informal reference riffs ‘n rants session at the Hinds Head Hotel in Bray, Berkshire (just west of London).

Throughout the evening we focused on sharing best practice (riffs) and challenges (rants) around customer advocacy, including:

Co-ordinate globally, execute locally – when working with globally focused organisations, what is the best way to manage references across the programme?

It varied between organisations, however the consensus pointed to processes, infrastructure and templates being developed centrally with references gathered and produced locally.

Incentivising customers – everyone acknowledges that incentivising customers is a bad idea, but when a customer has put his hand up and recommended your services, how do you say thank you?

Hard cash changing hands before or after is a no-no but what about a donation in their name to charity, free training on your products or an invite to an industry event? What about an exquisite pen to sign the agreement with? Or a personal touch such as a hand written thank you note?

Corporate and social responsibility – how do people feel about referencing companies that sell unethical products? Tobacco companies, breweries and online gambling firms may all be advocates but do you want to associate your brand with them? It’s also not just what they make but also how they make it; what if the company contributes to child exploitation, deforestation or animal testing?

It seems that nothing is clear-cut. If organisation’s disapproved strongly enough about their customer’s business model then they shouldn’t be doing business with them. Ultimately, if you are selling to the defence or banking sectors then to win new business you need to provide industry relevant references.

Rewarding the Sales community – many people make the analogy of a customer reference programme resembling a bank account; everyone makes withdrawals but few make deposits. Sales teams own the relationship, so how can you motivate them to put customers forward as references?

It seems the stick doesn’t work but what flavour of carrot do you throw them? Working references into targets or providing a one-off payment seems to work. However, why not play to their ego or encourage their competitive streak – surely two pre-requisites for a successful career in Sales?

How about a life-size cut out of the sales rep in reception, their favourite meal in the canteen or dress down Friday in their honour? Pitting Sales teams against each other in terms of number of references undoubtedly makes the process more compelling. Remember, the Sales cycle isn’t over until the customer becomes a reference.

Talking heads – the case study is still king but how do people feel about multimedia references? Videos and Podcasts can be more expensive to create but do they deliver the corresponding additional value? Do you need a Hollywood finish or is there more credibility in humble production values?

No-one could agree on the perfect balance but everyone was convinced they need to be short. Anything over 10 minutes and you’ve lost your audience. A great idea was to split the content into chapters so only the appropriate material can be used.

Summary –  there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to reference programmes. But on one thing everyone did agree – they can’t wait for the next event!

We hope to see you there, register your interest for the sequel (working  title – riffs ‘n rants 2 -Judgement Day.