Why Forrester Research is Bullish on References
Forrester Research, as you probably know, is one of the world's most respected technology and marketing research firms. I recently had the opportunity to chat with Merv Adrian, Sr. Vice President, and Laura Ramos, Vice President, Principal Analyst, on why Forrester is bullish on customer reference programs.
Merv and Laura will be keynoting the 2009 Customer Reference Forum on February 18. For more information about them, please see their bios just following the interview.
Q. Forrester is getting ready to publish articles and conduct research in the area of Customer Reference Programs - which will be presented at the 2009 Customer Reference Forum. What prompted your interest in this field?
A. Our clients: Marketing, Sales, and AR professionals - are all deeply interested in customer reference programs. Customer testimonials are deeply connected to how B2B firms market their products since the most popular source of information to inform and validate product or service purchases is peers and colleagues. B2B marketers must focus more on their installed base - leveraging customers they have is much more cost-effective than attempting to build on new names alone. Our research shows that many vendors are not leveraging higher value programs that can create loyalty retention and advocacy the way that effective CR programs can.
Q. So why DO you feel that the importance of Customer Reference programs is increasing?
A. As more and more firms realize that their practices in this area are redundant, overlapping, and ineffective - and often serve to inhibit customers from participating as advocates - the value of a formal program with clear goals and metrics, one supported by its key internal stakeholders and adequately resourced, becomes more and more clear. The Customer Reference Forum's research of the past few years has shown how this recognition has spread through the top tier firms, and we are both seeing growing interest in smaller firms as well as increased investment to make existing programs more extensive and effective.
Q. Right now you're planning a research project jointly with us and Point of Reference. We've been surveying reference programs now for several years. Forrester is going to add a lot to that effort. Can you give us an overview of what we can look forward to from the information you help us develop?
A. Forrester is excited about partnering to take this research to the next level. The work to date has documented the state of current practice, proved and catalyzed the growth of professional standards and internal recognition. We plan to take a deeper look at ways to ensure and visibly demonstrate the value of customer reference programs to the rest of the business. And how customer reference programs help to extend marketing's focus beyond demand generation and the front of the sales pipeline.
Q. A lot of Reference Managers think that the rise of Web 2.0 -- social media, online communities, customers controlling conversations about companies - will completely change the nature of Reference Programs. I know this is one of the things we'll be researching, but what are your early thoughts on that?
A. We don't believe it will "completely change the nature" of the programs - but it will expand the ways customers can meaningfully participate. Not enough customers are engaged in these efforts - many hate participation in programs that chew up their time. Social media gives vendors other avenues to make participation easier- like creating a blog post on the vendor's behalf, but expressing the customer's unique perspective done at his/her convenience. Or customers could participate in a podcast conducted over the phone from their office, contribute to a wiki or other threaded discussions, participate in online surveys - all these take less time and effort than conventional reference tactics. Web 2.0 technologies enable these and other avenues - and they can be tracked, measured and managed much more precisely with the emerging technologies.
Q. Forrester is, of course, one of the leading technology analyst firms in the world. What are the three most important things a Reference Manager should know about working with analysts?
A. Customer references are used a lot in analyst programs, of course. And the same guidance applies in other uses:
1.) Ensure freshness - an old, untested reference may not be a good one. CR Managers should always know the sate of a customer before using them.
2.) Manage appropriateness, defined as fit to need. Most analysts are looking for references for a specific reason - just like sales prospects or press are. Get the fit right - know why it's needed.
3.) Follow up. How good was the reference? And how did the analyst, or press, or prospect talking to them find the interaction? Was it useful? Measure results, not activity. And as long as you're following up, give the reference a stroke - check in with them, ask them the same questions, uncover any current or outstanding issues, and thank them.
About Merv and Laura Merv Adrian does research designed to serve information technology marketers and strategists. He introduced Forrester's research for the Analyst Relations role, and continues to contribute to that body of work. He has also been publishing research about ISV partner programs and the Business Intelligence market. He is responsible for Forrester's large primary research effort into software demand for 2009 which surveys decision makers in NA and Europe about their plans for spending and technology initiatives.
Laura Ramos primarily conducts research for Forrester's clients who are business-to-business (B2B) marketers. Her research covers a broad spectrum of B2B marketing issues including the integration of traditional and digital B2B marketing tactics, emerging B2B social media use, best practices in interactive demand generation, B2B marketing measurement, and the use of technology to enrich the online B2B customer experience. Laura's work also focuses on effective lead management, lead nurturing, sales and marketing integration, installed base marketing, and the use of digital media and the Web to create customer engagement, loyalty, and advocacy.