The Danger of Overusing References in Your Sales Process

Champion

If you work in B2B SaaS, you know sales cycles are lengthening. This was all but confirmed by a 2023 GTM Survey, run by venture capitalist Tomasz Tunguz, which found that the average start-up saw a 24% increase in sales cycles from 2022 to 2023 — up to around 75 days from 60 days the previous year. These extra days and weeks are especially felt at the end of quarters, when you’re scurrying to hit targets!

Every B2B company is looking to grow efficiently, despite the somewhat grim environment. One of the most powerful tools in your arsenal: the advocacy of your satisfied customers and champions. 

These advocates can play a pivotal role in helping unlock revenue and drive growth by providing references for sales calls and participating in case studies. That said, there's a fine line between nurturing advocates and overusing their support. 

In this blog post, we’ll explore the dangers of overusing references and how you can avoid turning your strongest advocates into detractors.

The Power of Advocacy

Advocates are your biggest fans. They’re the customers who not only love your product or service but are also willing to vouch for it…usually without even being prompted to. Their enthusiasm and first-hand knowledge of your product dramatically influences potential customers' decisions — our research shows 81% of sales leaders and 65% of marketing leaders agree that deals close at a higher rate when references are used. What’s more, most organizations are reactive when it comes to references, only providing references when explicitly asked.

Great references generate incredible results — just look at our reference calculator to see the impact. The problem? Many times, you may begin asking the same champion for support over and over and over again..eventually burning them out.

The Consequences of Overusing References

Overusing references and advocates can have serious consequences, including turning your biggest supporters into detractors. Here are some of the risks associated with failing to properly track and manage champion requests.

1. Advocate Burnout

When advocates are asked too often to participate in sales calls — on top of case studies, testimonials, and other promotional activities — they can become overwhelmed and fatigued. This often leads to a decline in their enthusiasm and a decreased willingness to support your brand. 

If you aren’t strategic in handling requests, your champions might even begin getting burnt out by too many requests from different departments — thinks sales, customer success, and marketing. Not only are you potentially asking too much of them, but other departments are doing the same. This can lead to overwhelmed advocates and champions.

2. Strained Relationships

In addition to burning out an advocate, overusing champions can strain your relationship with them. Instead of feeling like valued partners, they may start to feel like commodities. This is actually worse than being burnt out — strained relationships can turn your biggest fans into active detractors.

When a customer goes from being an advocate to a detractor, it not only harms their relationship with your product and brand, but it can also lead to them actively advising others not to work with you — a big shift in the opposite direction.

3. Diminished Impact 

Advocates are most effective when their endorsements and advice are genuine and heartfelt. When they’re overused, their messages can become repetitive and lose their impact, making it harder to sway potential customers. Simply put, overusing references can start to feel inauthentic — something that’s felt by champions and sales prospects alike. 

4. Decreased Satisfaction

Imagine you use the same reference time and time again to speak to sales prospects across a wide range of industries, companies, and buyers. By having a reference talk to all prospects, you run the risk of bad matches — conversations that are irrelevant to both the champion and the prospect. 

If you’re not intentional about how you match champions to prospects (based on things like experience, product line, company size, level of sophistication, etc.), you run the risk of not only a poor experience for the prospect, but frustration from your advocate. Irrelevant conversations for advocates might make them start to feel like you don’t value their time or don’t understand their expertise — both of which can be detrimental to their overall satisfaction.

Solutions to Avoid Champion Fatigue

Now that we’ve covered the dangers of overusing references, let’s talk solutions and advice.

Identify Eligible References

A huge reason why references get overused today is not because companies only have a handful of viable references — it’s because they have yet to identify their advocates and champions within their existing customer base.

Because there’s not a good understanding of every reference you could reach out to for help, it’s common to reach out to the same person time and time again (hence the fatigue). Each time sales needs a reference, the same person — or small group of people — gets a request. Instead, make the pool bigger by identifying hidden champions (pst: this is where we can help).

The reality is this: if you only know a handful of references, you’ll never be able to scale references in your sales process in any meaningful way. Which means understanding who will advocate on your behalf is critical to unlocking growth.

Set Expectations Up Front, Track Requests

Once you know who your champions are, you’ll need to set expectations up front. How would they like to be involved? How often? What kinds of sales conversations are they willing to have? What other advocacy activities — case studies, testimonials, guest speaking — are they interested in?

To make sure you’re not overstepping, simply ask them how involved they’d like to be. Then, make sure you’re actively tracking requests sent to your champions across every department. While you can do this in spreadsheets or through custom configuration in your CRM, scaling your reference program might require a purpose-built solution that can manage and track requests.

Support Your Champions!

Finally – make sure your champions know how much your support means to you. This one isn’t rocket science. A little bit of gratitude goes a long way. Make sure they know that you value their time and energy, and check back in on expectations if you suspect they may be getting burnt out.

Keep Your Advocates Advocating

Advocates are a precious resource when it comes to B2B SaaS and service industries. However, the danger of overusing references and advocates is real and can lead to negative consequences for your company and brand. 

To really scale your advocacy program, make sure you know how to identify champions within your customer base, set expectations up front, track requests, and make your supporters feel valued. That’s how you win, together.

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