It's been a busy 2006 for yours truly. I was in London in October for our first Customer Reference Forum Europe, then back in Dallas just two weeks later for our Fall US Customer Reference Forum. Whew! After intense face time with top reference professionals on both sides of the pond, here are a few of my takeaways on the state of the profession as we close out the year, plus a question and a prediction for you to chew on as we approach the New Year -- along with links to pics to have a look at.
But first a quick heads up. Our next US event will be next Spring in late April or early May on the West coast. I'll have more details for you after the 1st.
-- Reference professionals in Europe have it tougher than we do in the US. Language and translation issues. Cultural issues. Smaller budgets. Less headcount. They are, by necessity, a resourceful group.
-- My sense before London was that European reference professionals would tend to be more tactical and less strategic than their American counterparts, because many of the companies represented in London are headquartered here, such as HP, Microsoft, Dell, Oracle, EMC and the like. But one participant in London plans to go with her boss to her US-based CEO and argue for more funding. You can bet her case won't be based on tactical reasons. Another participant plans to approach her firm's VP of Sales to argue that sales people should have written MBOs related to supporting her reference program. These folks see the big picture and are working to influence it.
-- We Americans can definitely learn something from our European counterparts about how to party -- I mean, engage in after-hours, off-site networking!
Check out results and pics from our London event,
-- This was our fourth US event and I'm still amazed at the sheer passion of our community for their work, and for interacting with each other. Here's an example. After more than an hour of intensive, interactive "Master Mind" sessions led by the terrific Libby Gill, I suggested everyone take a break. I was roundly ignored as people kept right on talking and exchanging ideas. After another 30 or 40 minutes, I then tried to tempt them with refreshments and goodies out in the foyer. No thanks! They kept right on talking. The Master Mind sessions lasted some three hours during which very few people ever left the room. We'll have results from the Master Mind sessions in pdf format after the first of the year. Drop me an email if you'd like for me to let you know when the report is ready.
-- Our newly formed Special Interest Group on Metrics, which focuses on how to establish the business value of a reference program, was a big hit. Led by Lucent's always thoughtful Barb Krasner, with support from Oracle's Gayle McClary and PTC's Rhonda Morgan, they promptly recruited several new members and supporters. Their goal: develop true best practices for this critical area of reference management. This is just the first of several SIGs we plan to get up and running.
Check out some pics of Dallas,
-- In both groups, there is still a considerable lack of awareness about Net Promoters. If you're serious about your program, about this profession, and about your career development, you need to get up to speed on this topic. It is the subject of spirited inquiry and debate at the most senior level of the executive suite and board. At forward thinking firms like SAP, Net Promoters (aka "enthusiastic references") provides the strategic underpinning for references. Plain and simple, you need to learn it. This will get you started.
-- Would it not make sense to locate reference programs in the sales organization, as opposed to marketing? Reasons: 1) Gaining cooperation of sales is an ongoing, often unresolved issue; 2) The most critical success factor for a reference program is impact on sales; and, 3) At least one advanced, highly respected reference program -- SAP's -- is now training sales on how to use references.
-- (Thanks to Point of Reference's David Sroka for this) The day is not far away when greatly expanded "customer programs" will be the domain of VPs or even Chief Customer Officers. Past Customer Reference Forum attendee lists have included only two VPs solely responsible for their reference programs: SAP's Coleen Kaiser and Unisys' Janice Burg-Levi. There are a number of reasons today's programs will ultimately gain representation on the executive team: 1) the current crop of reference managers are beginning to produce metrics that demonstrate top line impact, 2) program managers are being asked to take on a raft of customer projects that are becoming more visible to executives, and 3) companies are recognizing that broader and more strategic responsibilities warrant executive leadership and a place at "the table." The acceleration in sophistication and professionalism of customer reference programs is largely a result of a better-connected community and continuous knowledge sharing. What an exciting time to be in this space!
That's it for now. I want to wish you the happiest of holidays and a wonderful 2007.