Qualifying your customer reference nominations is important; you want to know that the stories you're investing in are the best ones out there. At the launch of your customer reference programme, the bar doesn't have to be too high. Remember that as the programme progresses, you can always apply increasingly stringent measures to ensure you choose only the best material.
So, what sort of criteria should you be applying?
Basic criterion: does the nomination offer the associative credibility you want?
Part of the value of customer references is the credibility you gain by association. As the programme progresses, references might be selected on the basis of the amount of associative credibility to be gained, with some relationships offering more than others.
Basic criterion: is the time right?
If the customer successes are at the level of a specific solution, product or programme, the length of time the solution has been in place will influence the best time to gather a story.
The optimum time for gathering reference material will depend on how quickly customers will appreciate the real benefits of your solution. Too early and supporting data won’t be available; too late and the solution may already be taken for granted, and the customer’s initial enthusiasm may have waned.
Other qualifying criteria:
Again, as the programme develops, you may reach a position where you can afford to be more selective about the references that you use.
Criteria against which a story’s worth can be judged include:
- The solution’s size (in terms of its cost or scale).
- The level of innovation the solution displays.
- Whether the story supports your company’s strategy.
- The vertical market sector and size of the customer company involved.
- The type of story it is; and how topical the story is at the time.
With a combination of these, and your own unique criteria, you'll have a benchmark by which you can judge the value of your possible success stories. The next step is to create an account experience profile for your customer reference nominations; an easy way of documenting the relevant details of the story, ready for evaluation.