How A Customer Reference Program Can Help You Sell More Print

This blog is part 2 of a 3-part series: Maximize New Opportunities Through Current Customers

How A Customer Reference Program Can Help You Sell More Print

How many print buying prospects have you quoted that say they want to “think about it.” Maybe they do, maybe they don’t, but delayed buying behavior like this often occurs when the prospect is on the fence. They aren’t quite convinced that they should buy from you, right now. The more printers they engage with, the more confused they get and the longer it takes to make a decision.

In part 1 of this series, we discussed the value of a customer referral program for your print business. In a referral scenario, your delighted customer may be willing to make a direct introduction to a prospect for you. That prospect may be a trusted friend or colleague. The referral is proactive, direct, and specific. It typically involves a personal relationship between the referrer and the referee.

In this article, we pivot from the concept of customer referral to customer reference.

What’s a customer reference? It’s a testimonial or positive statement made by one of your customers that promotes the value of your brand and tells your story better than you can. Powerful references can effectively make your delighted customer part of your sales force.

Getting customer references isn’t easy and it doesn’t happen on its own. So what’s needed is a well-structured program to drive, manage, and promote these statements. A customer reference program (CRP) builds a living library of advocates for your brand.

An endorsement from current or former customers can help move a prospect of the fence. References offer huge benefits, including:

Building trust and credibility

Accelerating sales cycles

Improving win rates

Reinforcing your brand’s value proposition

Generating even more customer references


Here are five steps to creating a successful customer reference program for your print business.

1. Appoint a coordinator – Assign someone on your team with the role of the customer reference program manager. This person may be tasked with:

Collecting potential references from your customer base

Creating the stories and sales tools

Sharing this content with your sales and marketing team

Fulfilling the sales team’s requests for new references

Maintaining the accuracy of the references and information about customers providing them

2. Identify Candidate Customers – The program starts with the customer reference program manager identifying your target customers. These customers typically share the characteristics of your brand’s Ideal Customer Profile (ICP). This type of customer buys from you with loyalty and frequency. They recommend your brand and refer business to you. Once identified, determine individuals from your customer’s organization that may serve in a specific role in the program, such as the  Customer Advocate or the Secondary Reference.

The Customer Advocate is the one who will proactively promote your brand.

The Secondary Reference is one who is willing to passively provide an endorsement.

3. Offer Several Options – Determine your desired Customer Reference Activity, or how your customer contacts will share their stories. If possible, ask the customer if they will allow their company logo to be used in your brand’s marketing. In addition, try to secure a specific customer contact to play a dedicated role in the program, either as an Advocate or as a Secondary Reference.

Your Customer Advocate will play the more prominent role, such as:

Participating in a case study interview.

Speaking for your brand on a webinar or video or at an event.

Agreeing to speak with a prospect on the phone.

Your Secondary Reference, acting in a more passive role may:

Provide a written quote.

Allow their contact info to be used in your marketing material and shared with prospects.

4. Make the CRP an Ongoing Activity – The activity of obtaining references should be a structured, continuing part of your sales and marketing program. Make the process of asking customers to serve as references an ongoing and natural process.

Segment your reference customers by product/service, geography, demographics, and use cases.

Keep in touch with your customer reference contacts to ensure the accuracy of their situation and their continued high level of satisfaction.

Appreciate and thank your reference customers for their participation.

As you ask candidate customers if they would serve in the program, consider whether to offer them rewards or incentives.

Provide customers with a specific opportunity to participate or give them a range of options and test their comfort level with each one.

5. Make Your Program a Team Effort – Even with a CRP manager, the success of your program will require contributions from everyone. Build a process and train all customer-facing employees on how to identify candidate customers and how to invite them to participate in the program. Celebrate the contributions of all team members and all participating customers.

Your customer reference program should be an active part of your company’s marketing strategy. With a healthy, ever-growing, and continually updated CRP, participating customers should feel good that they are helping your brand, just as your brand has helped the customer. More new prospects are likely to become your customers and potentially even proactive advocates or champions for your brand.

See more posts from David

David Murphy Nvent Marketing author at Print Media CentrDavid Murphy is the founder and CEO of Nvent Marketing, a marketing agency specializing in digital marketing for the print industry. David has 30+ years of experience in the graphics and document print production industry. He has served as a board member and advisor to print organizations and associations including Sustainable Green Printing Partnership (SGP), Print Industries of America (PIA), Association for Print Technologies (APTECH), and Electronic Document Scholarship Foundation (EDSF). David was also awarded the Idealliance Soderstrom Society Award for Print Industry Leadership.

David can be reached at ​​.


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