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The Value of Getting Together with your Peers

Posted by Bill Lee on October 13, 2006 at 06:37 AM

When she came to the San Francisco Customer Reference Forum last March, Carol Blumberg was just getting ready to launch Epicor Software’s new, formalized customer reference program. “We had just completed setting up our database infrastructure with IT, as well as the "EPICvalue" Survey that profiles customers joining the reference program. I was at the point of rolling out the program to the Sales Field." But she had several issues that were concerning her and that she didn’t have clear answers to.

“I knew we were going to get some resistance from sales by mandating their accountability of a more formal process around references,” says Carol. "Another part of this resistance was their sharing with me their good references. Because Sales had kept their good references close to the vest and were not sharing, I knew that I needed to gain their trust. I wasn’t sure how I was going to deal with that. I also wasn’t clear on how to measure the effectiveness of our program or how to report on it.”

At San Francisco, Carol picked up several ideas that helped her solve these issues.

Find the Right Champion

“One of the presenters talked about the importance of finding a champion at an Executive level, a decision maker. That made a lot of sense. The impetus for our program came from both the Executive VP of Worldwide Marketing as well as the EVP of Worldwide Sales. I went right back to them and told them of what I’d learned from other programs in San Francisco, and that for the program to succeed they would need to stay directly involved in supporting it. By understanding the importance of a strong and formal reference program and the potential of greater sales "wins", they immediately supported my proposal and have been strong supporters ever since. Telling them about the experiences of other programs gave credibility and weight to what I told them”

Focus on Impact on Sales

A light bulb turned on in San Francisco on the reporting and measurement issue as well. “The key with programs like SAP and Lucent is to focus on a program's impact on sales,” says Carol, which she proceeded to do. “Each quarter, senior management issues a win/loss report. I take the report and, using our database, analyze how many of the wins used some sort of reference activity, such as a sales call or a site visit. When we started out, 16% of wins included reference activity. Now, that figure has more than doubled to 33% and rising. Sales people are increasingly using our references to close deals. That gets attention.”

Assume Everyone is a Stakeholder

A third critical insight was to assume that everyone in the company is a stakeholder in the reference program, and to organize stakeholders into a community of interest. “That’s just what I did,” says Carol, who built bridges to other groups at Epicor such as consulting, tech support and product development. “Consulting, for example, had never been involved with references, but now I’m included in their meetings because they know if they recommend a customer where things are going well, I’ll pursue the lead and get the reference. In addition, they’ll refer to our reference database to see whether a customer they’re working with is in the program and make sure to treat them accordingly. It’s a clear win. I get invited to the meetings of these groups and get a steady supply of fresh leads, and then I get recognition for bringing new references into the fold.” A similar story can be told of Carol's "Alert System." "For each customer who joins the Reference program, I add a note to each of the CRM Database records to alert everyone in the company who accesses the database that this company is part of the Reference program. When Tech Support sees these alerts, for example, they know to escalate their issues even quicker!"

Carol is excited, too, about how the Executive Vice President relies on her to give him the most credible customers to be briefed by Analysts such as Gartner and Forrester. "I love it when the EVP calls me monthly to advise him who I believe our best customers are to do an Analyst Briefing! Very exciting to be closer to the pulse of the company...and the EPIC value reference program has done just that."

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