Just got back from an intense 2+ days at our Spring 2007 Forum in Berkeley (with a bit of a detour to southern CA for a little beach time).
Below are some of my more optimistic takeaways from the Forum. Also, here are Jeremiah’s. And here are Steve Ellis’s (on our keynoter Ben McConnell, his red shoes, and "scary" Jeremiah) – three of the most perceptive people I know in and around this space. Jeremiah's presentation on social media and customer references was both scary, as Steve notes, but also filled with opportunities.
1. An strong spirit of collaboration.
We had directors and mangers from HP, Dell and IBM, EMC and Network Appliance, Microsoft, Oracle and SAP – presenting, collaborating in small group discussions and sharing information. Obviously a line has to be drawn – presenters were careful not to disclose proprietary or strategic information. But very few attendees, as far as I can tell, refuse to disclose anything because competitors are in the room. Software engineers form communities to collaborate and exchange ideas. CIOs do it. Doctors from competing hospitals do it. So do lawyers, accountants and other professions. And so, it now seems, do customer reference professionals. It will be good for the profession, and good for the companies who send these professionals.
2. A strong sense of strategy and business results
I observed very few people who are mired in the nitty gritty of tactical activities. They understand how what they do ties to strategic goals and business results. HP’s Billie Abrams is not in the business of churning out x number of case studies. She focuses instead on how to put reference information into a format that prospects will read and respond to when it’s time to buy. Amdocs’ Stef Porter doesn’t present references with a laundry list of activities to check off, or not. She and her team have become expert at building long-term relationships based on providing value. That helps customer loyalty. NetApp’s Holley Garmany is developing a “closed-loop” system to ensure that valuable and often unexpected customer intelligence – which reference managers are in a unique position to gather – is fed back into NetApp sales and marketing, resulting in upsales and cross sales. EMC’s Terri McClure and a workshop full of other practitioners are figuring out how to segment customer references strategically, so that they can marshal their resources and efforts where they will have the biggest businesses impact. And on it went for two days in Berkeley.
3. Steady growth of the profession.
We had about 125 reference professionals in one place for two full days this week. The most we’d had before was about 110.
Of those, 95 were practitioners (the rest were sponsors and vendors). The most practitioners we’d ever had before were 76.
Among the firms who have sent numerous attendees numerous times, you can count most of the major global technology firms, including HP, SAP, Microsoft, Oracle, Intel, Dell, IBM, EMC, SAS, Sun Microsystems, EDS and many others.
We also attracted substantial newcomers. Among the companies who sent reference managers to our event for the first time, we had A&R Edelman, ADP, BEA, BMC Software, Callidus Software, Entrust, Extreme Networks, Infor, Juniper Networks, Nortel, Open Text Corp., Postini, Inc., Rackspace Managed Hosting, Riverbed Technology, Siemens (first event in the US), Teradata and Tripwire.
This profession thus appears to be growing not spectacularly (word-of-mouth and social media events are growing far more rapidly), but steadily. The profession of reference management, as an integral part of customer programs, has the feel of steady, unspectacular-but-strong long-term growth.