We just finished our first Customer Reference Forum Europe, in London on October 23-24. What an engaged, passionate group! As in the states, several of the world's top technology firms sent representatives -- including SAP, Hewlett-Packard, EMC, IBM, Dell, Intel, Microsoft, Business Objects, Lucent Technologies, SAS, Hyperion and other major firms -- thus confirming the growing importance of references to sales and marketing efforts in EMEA.
Takeaways? People left with a lot of specific ideas to implement. I saw pads of paper filled with lists of strategies for tackling tough issues.
Here's what my newest UK buddy and Metia CEO Steve Ellis took from the event.
Here are some highlights and pics.
Here's my take. For comments by participants, please stay tuned and see below.
That sounds like something you’d find on Oprah (and let’s not pooh-pooh the psychological boost one gets from knowing we're not alone in our struggles). But validation is also a powerful tool in getting what you need from senior management. One participant is going to ask her head of sales to require sales people to support the reference program, complete with clear objectives that get reviewed and enforced. And she’ll have more than the usual arguments for this. Now she’ll be able to show that top firms like SAP are doing it. That gives credibility. I can vouch for that, because I know of other reference managers who’ve gotten action after one of our events by telling senior execs that "we should do X" because 1) it makes sense and 2) SAP or HP or Intel or EMC or other respected companies are doing it.
Consider a reference book.
Why not just pick out your leading, most strategic references – based on solid input from sales – and publish it in a book? SAP did it and it became the most popular downloaded item on its entire website.
Engage Net Promoters
If you don't know what Net Promoter Score (NPS) is, learn. NPS is the strategic underpinning for your program. It says, in effect, that the company with the highest percentage of enthusiastic references wins. Your senior executives are likely reading Fred Reichheld's best-selling book on the subject. Research from the London School of Economics verifies Reichheld's thesis in the UK, as Metia's visionary Steve Ellis pointed out. Perhaps the most advanced reference program out there, SAP's, is implementing NPS through its reference program. Learn what NPS is about. Educate your senior executives if they don't already know. Start proposing ways in which your reference program can leverage this concept. You'll be glad you did.
No more throwing it up on a wall and seeing what sticks.
Effective reference programs are well beyond the phase of going for quantity in the number of references they can land and success stories they can write. That’s too expensive and often a waste. The clear emphasis is on quality and getting engaged in the sales process. Which means:
OK, that’s a little harsh, but leading reference programs are moving beyond the point of regarding reference activities as a favor you ask of customers. Instead, approach customers as an expert consultative sales person would. You’re learning their needs, and providing value that meets them. Presenting at an event raises their professional profile. Same for getting quoted by the press. Talking to buyers increases their knowledge of what’s going on in their industry.
Tap the power of internal collaboration.
Why not use the same consultative sales approach inside your firm? Reference programs have little formal power. But on-point references can provide great value to lots of groups in your company. So sell your program. Communicate its benefits to groups like sales, marketing, professional services, product development. It wouldn't hurt to grab a copy of Neil Rackhams legendary book on consultative sales. And by providing value to other internal groups, they in turn can provide lots of value (including new sources of references) to you.
Gain control of your program.
Have too much to do and worry about? You can’t do everything and please everyone, so stop trying. Here’s a couple of ideas for gaining control: (1) Segment your customers. Pick the most strategic and go after them. Ignore the ones who aren’t being used by sales or marketing. (2) Acquire a reference champion and enlist his/ her active support every step of the way. One motivated senior exec who can get things done is worth hours of persuasion and politicking. (3) Pick your targets. Focus on activities that result in highly visible deliverables.