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Gaining Buzz for a Reference Program

Posted by Bill Lee on July 13, 2006 at 08:06 AM

Yesterday we had the first of our Summer Teleconference Series. Following is a summary and some key takeaways. Also, we've moved the discussion here, online, as our panelists continue answering questions on this important subject. Whether you participated in the teleconference or not, feel free to join the discussion.

By the way, our panelists, who will continue to monitor and respond to questions, are:
- Holley Garmany, Senior Manager, Customer Development at Network Appliance
- Sia Pappanastos, Customer Advocacy Program Manager at VeriSign
- Eddie Miller of Big Sky Communications
- Dan Montoya, VP of Operations and Client Implementations at References-Online

For more information about our Summer Teleconference Series, please click here.

Dream Scenario

Here’s the “Dream Scenario” for a reference manager who’s done a great job of promoting her reference program:

-- Sales. Sales regards you as a partner. They’re feeding you references – not hording them. They’re going through your organization to obtain references -- not around you. They regard the Customer Reference (CR) organization as vital to the sales process.

-- Product Marketing. Same with Product Managers and Product Marketing people. They regard the CR organization as vital to building a customer base for new offerings.

-- Senior Executives. Senior executives tout the value of references – including the value of your program. They don’t regard you as overhead or a cost burden. They understand where and how you add value, and they are receptive to your budgetary needs.

-- Customers. Customers are delighted to participate in your CR program. It enhances their sense of partnership with your firm. They don’t regard reference activities as a hassle.

-- Channel Partners. An often overlooked marketing resource, your reference program is making an impact on sales through resellers, distributors and other channel partners.

How to Get There

Here are some important takeaways from today’s teleconference:

-- Don’t stake out turf and inform Sales of what you need from them. Find out what THEY need from a reference program, through surveys, presentations or other interactions. You may find out that what they need wasn’t at all what you were planning to provide.

-- Promote the program regularly through short, easy-to-read communications that provide value to the audience. For sales, this might include providing “sales tips” based on interviews with customers that reveal fresh insights that Sales and Senior Execs weren’t aware of.

-- Develop a strategic approach to references. For example, when NetApp executives grew interested in achieving greater customer retention and share of wallet from its installed base, the “Evidence2Win” team changed its focus from Customer References to “Customer Development,” going after references and gaining information that would improve retention and up-selling/ cross-selling. A key value add the Evidence2Win team provided was locating references within a customer’s organization who played key roles in selling to other groups within the same organization.

-- To develop support from senior executives, find one who has a serious need you can help fill. When a VP of Marketing at one firm was besieged by PR, Sales and Market6ingh for names of references, the CR team did a stellar job of providing a bunch of reference names quickly. The VP was delighted, which opened the door for providing additional reference-related services such as content creation and leveraging references in new ways. He became a big and vocal supporter, and the reference program budget grew accordingly.

-- Don’t forget the visceral appeal of references in gaining buzz for your program, particularly live or recorded (video or audio) references. Senior executives can become much more aware of the value of references when they see and experience customers speaking passionately about your company.

Reference Community Comments

What are your major global challeges and examples on addressing those challenges - in other words, ho wdo you cater your program to address specific global needs/cultures?

Customer reference program (CRP) teams that have been particularly successful in "generating buzz" are those who have become embedded in the sales team. Relationships between program team members and "influencer" salespeople are strong and symbiotic. Easy to say, hard to do.

We often use the analogy of salmon (salespeople) swimming upstream, requiring all their energy and concentration to reach their goals (quotas). The only way to "get into their world" is to jump into the stream and swim beside them: literally and figuratively. This includes plain old face-time, but also using neural linguistics (i.e. be like sales, prove you’re on the same page) in interactions and communications.

This requires erasing the "us" (i.e. field) and "them" (i.e. HQ/corporate) perception. It's the small things: joining sales on sales calls, being part of regular sales meetings, calling them to see how/if you can help when you *don't* need anything. Essentially, become a familiar face (periodic in-person visits shouldn’t be underestimated, or under-prioritized).

Often marketing hesitates to reach out to sales because sales mgmt. has shut down previous communications: "Sales is too busy for that!" Those formal communications are always on the radar, *but* individual relationship cultivation isn't. Relationship and value-oriented people on the CRP team can quickly become a welcome "interruption" on a salesperson's calendar. It doesn't happen overnight..patience and persistence is essential.

Through this sort of grassroots approach that's reinforced by a track record of always coming through---a passion for service---"buzz" through word-of-mouth takes on a life of its own and executives take notice.

Rep incentive...we touched on this during the call. Can we elaborate on types of incentives offered to reps for submitting references?

Rep incentives can take the form of dollar awards given to reps who provide the largest number of qualified references each quarter. Often, these can be structured as a 'competition' among reps in a region, with cash awards given to the top three reps in each region (in terms of providing qualified leads). I've heard of award amounts starting at $3,500 and going all the way up to $8,000 per quarter. What's important is that the amount has to be large enough to get a rep's attention. The competition among reps is also important because reps tend to enjoy it. Another aspect of giving reps incentives is publicly acknowledging their efforts at sales conferences and in general employee communications. Reps definitely enjoy the recognition, as well as the cash awards. Finally, when setting up incentive programs with reps be sure to clearly define the parameters (such as "leads that turn into references", and not just "leads"). This will improve the quality of leads you get from the reps.

During the Q&A, Jennifer Bader asked whether reference managers personalize customer websites. Maria Sturgeon from Teradata has the following comment:

"We do personalize our website for customers. They have to log in using a password which takes them to a homepage that is pretty generic in nature. But from there, they can click on a link to review the activities completed and rewards available, as well as a history of reward redemptions. Contact me if you want more info."


In response to another question about reward systems, Maria comments"

"We (Teradata) do offer a rewards system for our member companies. Based on the type of activity they complete (i.e. reference call, analyst activity, media activity, etc), they are rewarded a set amount of points. They can use these points to redeem for registration, lodging, airfare to our annual users conference, Teradata education, executive seminars and more."

I would just add that the topic of customer rewards has become quite lively, with a number of companies shying away from them.

Hi Everyone: Curious to see if anyone out there can share any best practices with working with internal stakeholders on the corporate side when filling references and developing reference strategies. We currently encounter a lot of "silo" projects and wondering if anyone can share ideas as to how to best leverage a good story for multiple opportunities and agendas.

Excellent "how to" piece for those running a customer reference program. I know what it's like having to evangelize a new program within a corporate setting. (I deployed a social media program at a large company)

I recently referenced this actual post in some research I did on the Customer Reference Program and Social Media. I'd love to get your feedback, even if you don't agree.

Great information. My company uses Mindshare ( which has been a great tool. I know this is an old post - but the information still is very interesting.

It looks like you have got a great thing going on here. I loved the article the were many key pointers you have that I found to be very interesting. I know of a website called Mindshare that I go to very often for customer related things. I think it could be very helpful to you and what you doing. Thanks again for the great post.

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