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Reference Management Q&A

We compiled a list of all the questions from our webinar on Reference Management Best Practices, Challenges & Pro Tips, and asked top reference managers for the answers. Check out what Meaghan SullivanMorgan AsherNitzan SofrinAndreas Silva & Gal Biran had to say below! 

Have a question that’s not listed below? Reach out & just ask – we’d be happy to have a chat & give you an answer! 😄

One of the important  things is to not just rely on yourself but provide visibility across the company. Tell them what your pipeline is, what you’re going after, and why it’s so important. Provide weekly updates to your key stakeholders and tell them about your key initiatives and how to go about it.

Find opportunities for them to get engaged in your community, provide product feedback or participate in peer review platforms like G2 and Trust Radius.

Gamification and community based engagement with rewards points is a great way to incentivize advocates. However, if you start using incentives beyond that they’re really not your advocates. They become people you are paying to advocate for you, whereas an advocate is someone who loves your product and is consistently willing to vouch for you.

First important step is you need some sort of CRM or Reference Management System to help aggregate all of your customer advocacy data into one central place. There are a few tools available to you that can help your needs. Crowdvocate is certainly one of those tools.

Probably the most important first step, other than potentially purchasing a Reference Management system, is to establish processes and SLAs internally. Without setting those expectations up front you’ll be run ragged.

For a limited budget you would have the most impact investing in a Reference Management tool. Even if you don’t buy all of the bells and whistles it’s a place where you can house all of your important customer data. There may still be a lot of manual effort in terms of pulling together data to present to your management team, but it’s still a heck of a lot better than pulling it from 5 different sources or from spreadsheets.

  • Cornerstone is fortunate enough to have the leading companies in each industry and we have great companies. It is always by relationship – when your client success manager is really taking care of these people, they will be able to return the favor. Once they do that, you start building the relationship. This is exactly as any “unbranded” company, even in a big company, as soon as you have a good relationship you could get them on board.
  • Partner closely with the executives at your company who are likely already interacting with these top customers in other areas and see if they can introduce you
  • There’s a few ways to go about this. One is to negotiate this into the contract and the customer can get a discount. However, when it’s time to call on the customer to take action be prepared for them to drag their heels a bit. 
  • Think about how this would benefit the customer and present it to them in that way. “This is a chance for you to show to some of your peers that you are forward thinking and innovative, using cutting edge technology….etc.” They don’t care that you want their logo to make your website look good, but they sure wouldn’t mind if it makes them look good. 
  • Leverage your executives. You may find on LinkedIn that your CMO, CISO, CTO, or whomever knows one of the executives at that big brand company. Sometimes it may just take a phone call from them to help bypass some of Legal’s objections. 
  •  The sad truth is that some companies have a VERY strict “no endorsement” policy. If you know who those companies are just cut your losses and move on. You can spend that time finding another logo that may be just as powerful without the headache. 
  • We do this in a more conventional or personal way. My allies are the client success managers of accounts. I have regular calls with them, I speak with them, we map their client base and I know exactly what are the challenges that each geographical area is going through. I know who are the clients that are struggling, who are the clients that are really happy. I then invite them to a web session where I explain the advocacy program and I enroll them but actually, after a first reference call that has been done well. I then kind of leverage this relationship slowly asking for more and more and also gift them more. 
  • Sales reps also love public recognition so find ways to recognize and thank them when they do help you onboard advocates. For example, our CFO always calls out the sales reps who help us get customer approvals for the earnings call during our company-wide All Hands meetings

We do have a win report process and when we see a win pop up, we reach out directly to the key account director and loop in the product and solution leads that are a part of that win so that we can start building out a robust plan to how to tell the story. You can’t always tell the whole story in one piece of content, so that’s why we want to pull in our cross functional teams to find opportunities to tell each phase of the story. We want to pull in our partners, our solutions, and our product leads.  


Maybe run a list of the accounts that just renewed. They must be happy enough to have signed a renewal, and they’re past the point where they would try to haggle a discount for being part of the reference program (although if they try then they may not really be an advocate to begin with). Run that report again at the beginning of each month and you get a fresh list of accounts you can talk to.

We have something within the initial contract that asks whether we can use their logo and so on. If they are not specifically agreeing to that in the beginning of the contract, they may agree to it after they see success. We then go with more of the personal consent, we’re not signing them off on anything but we do have a relationship with them. They see success, they see what we’re doing for them and they want to do the same for us.

Think about this in terms of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (basic human needs). From an advocacy standpoint we can skip Physiological and Safety needs and jump straight to Love and Belonging. You want to give your advocate a sense that they are belonging to a community of people just like him/her. By joining they would immediately be part of a much larger network of like-minded individuals that they can call on and leverage for help. Depending on who you’re talking to then you can move up into the Esteem category, and that’s where you can start talking about things like speaking engagements videos, and written articles.

The easiest and most effective way at the early stages is to tag the opportunities that your customer advocates took a reference call for. You can then dive into the Closed Won vs. Closed Lost if needed. Later you can expand that to how your content (videos, case studies) is being used in the sales motion if you have the tracking capabilities. If you host User Groups you can invite prospects towards the end of the sales cycle and track the potential revenue influence there. (

Customer Marketing owns customer references, which falls under Corporate Marketing.

  • There are different points in the journey. Sometimes it depends on the customer. Staying in constant communication with your Sales or Customer Success team at each of these touch points can be key. 
      1. Post-sale
      2. Post-implementation
      3. Customer gets first “win” with the product or service
      4. Renewal

Simply put – are they happy and engaged? 

It is a difficult thing to track, and a lot of the time it’s that manual follow up, so it’s not super scalable. When it’s a super high visibility opportunity – hundreds or millions – maybe everyone’s got eyeballs on it so you know if it influenced and can celebrate that. But when it’s on the side that’s not super scalable, I’m sure everyone is looking to improve that. 

For sales and marketing, the first thing to do is to track all of this. Tracking all of the requests is really important so that you’re aware, in general, that this customer has been requested or has participated in numerous sales reference requests. One thing to understand upfront, especially if there is one customer that people always want to talk to who may be one of those really recognizable brands, do you have a really good relationship with that customer to help them to set SLA’s for how many sales reference requests they will participate in. We actually have some agreements with those marquee customers to say, will you participate in 10 sales references a quarter. That way, if they agree on 10 or 5, we know that’s the limit and that’s all they’re going to participate in. So then we have the agreement that we won’t go over that and they understand that. So 1 – tracking and 2 – setting up agreements in places where you see a customer is beginning to get overused and then you can be the protector and say sorry team, we actually reached our limit with this customer but here’s another really great example. Step 3 is having alternatives for those customers that are getting overused. Try to find an alternative that also has a similar use case, product, or other in that industry that would be a good match.

This one is particularly tricky. Get it out of your mind now that they will go into the video saying things like “Thanks to (vendor) I’m able to sleep at night”. You’ll need to be more patient. Instead of going for a video testimonial in the traditional sense you can try to get them to do a ‘thought leadership’ video or ‘best practices’ video. Keep the questions more high level and industry specific. Give the customer a chance to share their expertise. Collaborate with your advocate on the list of questions and get sign-off from their Comms or Legal team for approved questions. Once you post that video to the website, even if they’re not endorsing your product, viewers will be able to make the conclusion that they are your customer.

I would draft an email to the customer as If I was the CEO and then send it to the CEO and tell them that we are trying to get a customer on board and would love for them to send it. Then the CEO just has to copy and paste the email and send it and loop me in to follow up on next steps.

  • One thing that we probably all do and try to avoid is the anonymized case study or use case slide. Of course, that’s an option “Top retail bank does XYZ”. We all do that and sometimes customers and prospects can almost guess at who that might be so that’s one option. An alternative option is finding thought leadership options for that customer where they don’t have to dive specifically into the products or solutions that they may be using at your company but a way for them to just talk about, this is what I think is important in the technology space or retail space of XYZ. Giving them a platform to speak publicly is almost supported by you on your behalf. It may begin to warm them up to be a public customer and showcase the benefits.  
  • Speaking opportunities are a great way to highlight customers where it’s not necessarily a case study. We have quite a handful of customers that can’t  necessarily do marketing engagements but if it’s a speaking opportunity where they’re talking about their larger company initiates, it’s much easier for them to get approval. Then figure out how you can record that session and share it on your website, or share it on social, it still definitely documents that they are a customer of yours and are happy with the partnership that you gave.  

What we currently have in place is we always track reference participation. So, after the call takes place we circle back with the rep saying that we want to confirm that it took place and if they have any feedback on if the reference was successful to please let us know. We also do track all of the reference calls that did take place and which did close to see if it was effective or not.

We go through both approaches. During the sales cycle, we ask customers if they are willing to be referenced and we have a handful of clauses such as, can we use your logo, can we mention you in sales collateral, are you willing to participate in a case study or press release? A lot of times, the biggest customers don’t necessarily agree before they see success with the product so we definitely circle back with the customers once they are live to see how we can partner with them. When we do that sort of engagement, we don’t necessarily have a formal contract in place. We will work together over email and make sure they know how we’re going to share the content afterwards and then we just keep the emails so we can always refer back to them if needed.

It’s not a feature – Cornerstone developed some of it and automation tools like Crowdvocate as a pre-built App for salesforce.

The only way to “buy” a salesperson is where it matters to them – revenue. know your client base, so you could provide a perfect match to their prospect (and fast!) and you help them win their deal – they’ll be back! 😉 For the perfect match fast, you need to keep your best advocates warm – I use the Advocacy Program and personal relationships, which makes all the difference.

  • I think there was that time where we all paused with co-marketing or “asks” to our customers to be respectful. But then once we reengaged, I really found that customers were just as, if not more, open to maybe creating more digital events. Executives are participating more in digital events than they would normally. So I actually have seen an uptick in potential participation. Also, an uptick in digital. It used to be a second hand thing and now it’s THE thing. There’s less budget there, it’s easier, there’s no travel and it’s a whole new world that we didn’t always consider before.  
  • We had seen a little pause in the beginning, everyone was trying to figure out how to treat this new situation. This is another example of why you need personal relationships. As soon as I have these people on LinkedIn, and some of them are even on my Whatsapp, they would respond to me, Covid or not Covid. It is a social connection that you need to develop before something happens and before you meet these people. If you keep them warm, and have a personal relationship they will answer covid or not.

We’ve added pages to SFDC (our CRM) to track advocacy as well as references and the whole client and prospects base

If you have more questions about reference management or would like to contribute to the answers above, submit it below and we'll get back to you!

Have a question that's not listed above?

Reach out to us & just ask – we’d be happy to chat and answer! 😄