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Going Global with a Reference Program

Posted by Bill Lee on August 8, 2006 at 07:56 AM

Today we're having the second of our Summer Teleconference Series. As with the first, I'll post a summary of the teleconference here, then we'll continue the discussion with Q&A, below in the comments. Whether you participated in the teleconference or not, feel free to join in.

. . . who have graciously agreed to continue monitoring this post and responding to your questions for the next week, bring a lot of experience to our topic:

Coleen Kaiser, Vice President, Customer Value and Reference Services, SAP AG
Coleen oversees the Global Customer Reference Program as well as initiatives involving the documentation of customer value that are crucial in selling SAP’s solutions. (SAP is the third largest software company and the largest enterprise applications software company in the world.) She is also a pioneer in implementing the Net Promoters concept developed by Bain’s Frederick Reichheld into SAP’s reference program. And she’s a member of the
Customer Reference Forum Advisory Board.

Rhett Livengood, Director of the Customer Reference Program for Intel(r) Solution Services
Rhett has been at Intel 17 years in a variety of marketing, sales, business development, and engineering roles. Currently, he manages a worldwide team that delivers customers references. He's based in Santa Clara, CA. And I’m happy to say Rhett was a facilitator at our last Customer Reference Forum in San Francisco during our Birds of a Feather sessions.

Steve Ellis, CEO and founder of Write Image
Steve's firm is a specialist IT marketing agency that has been running customer evidence, customer advocacy programs for over ten years for its clients -- companies such as Microsoft, Dell and Citrix. Write Image employs 200 people and runs programs in America, EMEA and APAC, so has firsthand experience of overcoming many of these issues.

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


OK, what does an effective, smooth running, well oiled global reference program look like? Something like this:

Regional/ country offices respect corporate policies and regard corporate support as vital, not as a bureaucracy. Regional offices and corporate work smoothly together to attain the right mix of local initiative while furthering global policies and branding.

Sales people/ PR/ Marketing, etc. in one part of the globe are able to access and USE (emphasis on “use”) relevant references from other parts of the globe. Sales people who themselves HAVE customers that would be great as global references readily supply them to the Global Reference Program.

It was a rich and varied discussion -- we could have spent 3 hours, easily. Here are a few highlights:

- Dream or Fantasy? As Steve pointed out, the dream scenario may describe a program that no one has quite reached, but it's a good goal to shoot for. The panelists identified a number of key issues that need to be addressed to get there, such as:

- Organization is key. Fascinating it ain't, but paying close attention to organization is key. How you structure the global program, develop reporting systems and communicate with field offices in the various regions are important issues that can hold the keys to success. Intel uses a concept called "glocal" to describe the relationship, and stretches its scarce global resources -- just six people total run the program worldwide, covering some 2,000 references -- using a matrix model of organization. Coleen has a much larger organization at SAP, with 25 people at corporate and some 60 around the regional offices -- but she is equally careful not to overstep the bounds of what corporate should take responsibility for and what it should leave to the field.

- Regional differences - be nimble. The program must be nimble in taking into account regions differences. Steve pointed out, for example, that customers in the US and Western Europe want to see the value that your references have enjoyed, while customers in Asia, the Middle East and Africa focus on cost and are unpersuaded by value metrics. Pretty fascinating stuff.

- Avoid the EuroDisney goof! One of the key pitfalls in rolling out a global reference program is to take a model that worked in one region and roll it out to all the regions -- the EuroDisney fallacy! Steve has seen this repeated a number of times. We're still doing it!!

- Incent or not? Incenting sales people to provide references, tricky as this is in the states, is no less so in a global program. Intel finds that it works to compensate sales people (while using MBO - management by objectives -- to get non-commissioned employees to come up with references). SAP, on the other hand, finds that compensating sales produces lots of . . crummy references. SAP HAS had tremendous luck incenting CHANNEL PARTNERS to come up with references.

- Getting to the next level. As well run as Coleen's program is, she is working to take it to the next level with a 10-point plan, developed -- this is critical -- with the regional managers. This is no "directive from on (corporate) high." It includes a global advisory board that will include representation by regional managers. Clear processes will be established to eliminate "who should be doing this?" debates, and again, regional offices will have substantial input in defining them. The plan will also improve sales training at the local level, so that sales people will know a) where to find references and b) how to use them. That's just a few of the 10-points. Stay tuned on how this turns out.

The above just scratches the surface. If you'd like a recording of the full teleconference, drop me a note ( -- there's a small charge.

And now to the questions and comments.

Reference Community Comments

We have a growing international office who now has a marketing person whose responsibility includes references. Right off the bat they seemed to want to document their reference activity in a way inconsistent with the corporate management system - which is still an evolving system in itself. How strict should we be in having them comply with our HQ system? Could pushing them too hard to comply squash their creativity and their energectic drive to succeed? We realize they know their country best, but we also needed consistency.

Great session,thank you.

It appears that your reference programs are tied either directly or indirectly to sales. I would think this would be key to positioning your reference teams with greater visibility and accountability. How are your reference targets communicated to the field? Who supports these targets within the company? Do you have executive sponsorship for each customer that can 'smooth the way" or are these reference requirements built into regional sales goals?

Sales are a vital part of the reference process, they are a key provider, as well as user, of the evidence that is created. We encourage as much dialogue as possible from as high up as possible within the Sales Teams - it is vital to understand how they work (top down, bottom up), how they sell, so we can dovetail our solution into their existing workloads. Show them the benefits of a top reference programme, listen and motivate them, show them how references make sales = ideally the sales teams will then become the driving advocates of the Reference Programme itself.

Coleen said they plan to move to a program entirely devoid of points. Do you assign a specific reward type to each activity type (i.e. reference call earns a conference pass, success story earns $200 off next training)? Doesn't this pose a problem for customers who can't accept gifts?

Kristin - Points are awarded by activity type depending on how much time the customer takes for the activity. As it is not a personal gift, this normally is not a problem - but as I mentioned, a lot of customers don't use their points. Only a small fraction do the activities for the points -so they can add to their training budgets, etc.

Steve - it depends what you need. As long as they can supply you with the information you need, it shouldn't matter how they record them. Maybe you can update your system to incorporate their needs as well? What are the benefits to them using your system? If you can provide this to them, they shouldn't want to use their own.

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