Will Robins is on the Business Operations team at Gainsight and leads Customer Marketing.
Noha Khan is on the Business Operations team at Gainsight.
A crucial part of the sales process is building the prospect’s confidence. Even when you’re market leaders in what you sell, a great way to strengthen their confidence is by having them talk to a current customer. But sales references can also be difficult and time-consuming to coordinate. We recently rolled out a new reference process which has reduced the time to coordinate a reference from one week to one day, and we’re excited to share it!
There are a variety of reasons a prospect may benefit from a reference. A prospect may have questions about:
- The ROI that customers have seen with your product (spoken from their own mouths)
- How customers solved for a use case similar to theirs
- The implementation experience with your company and the time to value
References are beneficial to sales folks as well. A reference can give confidence to the prospect, leading to faster deal cycles, larger contracts, and stronger internal sponsors.
References are also a frequent requirement in procurement processes, so they often have to happen for a deal to advance.
Without a defined process, it can be very cumbersome for AEs to get a reference. Sales reps often know a number of top advocates and key contacts at prior deals they’ve closed, but without a robust process, they’ll continue tapping the same people. This would lead to exhausting old references and underutilizing others.
Streamlining the reference process is important to make sure you’re tracking advocacy and proving the value of your Customer Success team. CS helps make customers referenceable, so it’s important to track the impact of that advocacy to credit your CSM team. Do you know how much new business pipeline your CSM team influenced through customer references last quarter?
The Challenge – Deliver Impactful References in a Scalable, Timely, and Trackable Manner
Our key business challenge was to accelerate and grow New Business deals by identifying and coordinating customers’ references in a timely and trackable manner. In order to do so, we needed to clearly define the following:
- Accountability: Owner for the reference process who is accountable for the program
- Delegation of Tasks: Ownership of certain tasks throughout the workflow that are necessary for a reference to happen
- Configuration: A system in Gainsight that would support reference management and reporting
Accountability: We defined that the owner of the process would be a member of our Customer Marketing team. At Gainsight, Customer Marketing falls within our Business Operations team. Business Operations also owns our Gainsight Administration, allowing them to build Gainsight processes to support references.
It is also important to note that our CSMs have a portion of their compensation tied to advocacy. We call it CSQA—Customer Success Qualified Advocacy. So there is an incentive for them to help identify and coordinate references.
Delegation of Tasks: From start to finish, the reference process includes seven steps:
- Step 1: Sales Rep submits a “Ref Request” CTA in Gainsight
- Step 2: Customer Marketing identifies candidates and aligns with CSM
- Step 3: CSM reaches out to customer and connects them with Sales Rep
- Step 4: Sales Rep connects customer to prospect
- Step 5: Reference occurs
- Step 6: Sales Rep confirms that reference happened
- Step 7: Customer Marketing documents reference
Configuration: See below!
Deep Dive: How Does Our Reference Process Work?
Step 1: AE Submits “Ref Request” CTA
When an Account Executive identifies a need for a reference, he/she creates a “Ref Request” CTA in Gainsight. We also have regular meetings with our Regional Sales VPs to kick off this process proactively for customers who we anticipate may ask us for a reference. In the future, we’d like to provide reference candidates for every mid and late-stage deal coming through the pipeline.
Using custom fields, the “Ref Request” CTA prompts the Sales Rep to input specific pieces of information that will help us coordinate the reference. Asking for this info up front has greatly reduced the time to coordinate the reference since it eliminates the need for a lot of follow-up questions. The data points we request are:
- Salesforce Opportunity
- Timeline for the Reference (e.g. today, tomorrow, next week, next month)
- # of References Needed
- Level of Conversation (CXO, VP, Director, Admin)
- Who at Prospect will they speak with
- Key Talking Points
- Desired Traits of Customer
- Any Current Customers in Mind
Creation of a “Ref Request” CTA triggers an SFDC Email Alert Rule. This email is sent to CSM Managers, the Customer Marketing team, and any CSMs that have opted in to receive it. It includes all the key data points that the AE fills out as part of the CTA. We’ve also included a tokenized boilerplate email that the CSMs can send out to potential references.
Step 2: Customer Marketing Identifies Candidates
CSMs and managers receiving the email sometimes provide good customer matches before Customer Marketing can even engage!
Otherwise, Customer Marketing is tasked with providing potential references. They do this with the help of a “Reference Dashboard” that shows relevant data for all our customers. Key data points include (but aren’t limited to):
- Industry, Segment & Vertical
- Advocacy History, Last Reference, and References in Progress
- Habits Health Score
- Employee Count
- Lifecycle Stage
- Licenses and Daily Active Users
- Number of ready advocates at customer across different job levels (CXO, VP/Director, Admin)
After finding 3-4 good candidates, Customer Marketing syncs with CSMs using the email thread that was triggered in Step 1.
Step 3: CSM Reaches Out to Customer
Using the boilerplate from the email in Step 1, the CSM reaches out to the customer and CC’s the sales rep. Once the customer agrees to participate, the sales rep then owns coordinating a time for the prospect and customer to speak.
Step 4: Sales Rep Introduces Customer and Prospect
He/she will help them find a time to chat.
Step 5: Reference Occurs!
Step 6: Confirming the Reference Occurred
Using CoPilot, we send automatic weekly follow-ups to our sales reps on all open “Ref Request” CTAs to check if they have occurred. Once Customer Marketing receives confirmation that the reference has occurred, we will record the date and Contact who performed the reference on the Ref Request CTA and then we will close it.
Step 7: Documenting the Reference
Using Rules, several things happen:
- A “Customer Reference” milestone will be laid on the customer’s account in Gainsight
- Information on the date, customer and Contact who performed the reference will be pushed to the relevant Salesforce Opportunity
- Information on the reference will be pushed to the customer’s Contact
References provide tangible data on the value of your Customer Success and Customer Marketing team. An example of some reports we can build are:
- # of references completed
- Customers who have done the most references
- Total pipeline or closed won dollars influenced by references
- Difference in length of deal cycle with and without references
- # of customers referenced per CSM
Here are some samples using illustrative data:
Ratio of Closed/Won ARR where a Ref Occurred
Top Reference Contacts by Pipeline ARR they Influenced
Customer Reference Milestones each Quarter, by Segment
Building the process out in GonG: Notes from a Gainsight Admin
This is how we’ve built this process in GonG (our internal instance of Gainsight):
- We created custom fields for the key data points we wanted. We made a new CTA type called “Ref Request” and put the custom fields on the CTA layout.
- When a sales rep creates a “Ref Request” CTA, he/she would associate it with the Gainsight customer in GonG (we have Gainsight represented as a customer in GonG). Using a Salesforce Email Alert, we trigger an instant email notification to the sales rep, the Customer Marketing coordinator, and CSMs that have opted in to receive notifications.
- We’ve pulled together many key customer traits that would be relevant for finding a reference and using Rules Engine, we’ve consolidated them onto the Customer info object. We consult this data in a “References” dashboard to narrow down our potential list of references.
- Once the referenceable customer is selected and the customer confirms, the Customer Marketing Coordinator makes a “Ref Request” CTA on that customer’s account and closes the one on the Gainsight Account. We do this because currently, we cannot change the customer a CTA is assigned to. We then use CoPilot to send automated follow-ups to the sales rep to close the loop once the reference occurs.
- Once the AE closes the loop, the Customer Marketing Coordinator closes the CTA. A Rule is used to push reference details from the CTA to fields on the Opportunity and Contact. A reference milestone is also laid for the customer using a Rule.
- This allows for very robust reporting, as we’ve shown above.
Impact: Reducing the time to coordinate a reference from 1 week to 1 day
Prior to implementing this process, it took us an average of one week to coordinate a sales reference. Using this process, it now takes us an average of 24 hours to coordinate a reference. In one exceptional circumstance for a strategic prospect, we were tasked with lining up 10 willing enterprise references in 90 minutes and did it!
Now that we have strong tracking around our customer references, we are seeing clear trends of which segments of our business are providing the most advocacy. We can use this information to better understand why other segments are not advocating as much and improve their overall experience. Good reference tracking has also increased CSM confidence that they will be rightly credited for those references, giving them greater enthusiasm to drive advocacy.
The reference process has gotten our Sales team much more involved in using Gainsight as well. It is a great stepping stone for expanding their use of Gainsight.
We also have firmer data on who are our super-advocates! We knew many of the names before, but having a firm figure on the amount of pipeline they’ve influenced has us thinking about how to better celebrate them.