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What Forrester's Merv Adrian Has Learned About Customer Reference Programs

Posted by Bill Lee on November 18, 2008 at 11:12 AM

Merv will be co-keynoting at the upcoming 2009 Customer Reference Forum  on February 18, along with Laura Ramos, Vice President, Principal Analyst at Forrester. He tells us what he learned from attending our last Forum earlier this year, why he thinks Reference Programs are growing in importance, and why Forrester is planning to start covering them as well as partner with Customer Reference Forum on this year’s program survey. Take it away Merv.

A sizable and increasing number of businesses in the technology industry are finding that their existing customer base remains one of their best sources for continuing growth. It’s well understood that it’s less costly to retain customers than it is to find new ones.  But many firms have also discovered that effective management of their Customer Reference (CR) management function – in some cases, simply the creation of a formal organization to manage these important assets – is on the critical path to both sustained business from the base and growth in new accounts. Sales uses references to nail deals down, Marketing develops reference stories for campaigns and events, and Analyst Relations uses them to support information requests from influencers.

That conclusion is no mystery to the firms that participated in the Customer Reference Forum event in February 2008 at California’s Claremont resort. And the list of attendees read like a who’s-who of the industry’s leaders. They have created, staffed, and begun to measure teams that manage their sourcing, development and distribution of customer references in a way that has begin to reap substantial benefits. They have improved their sourcing development of referenceable accounts, made better use of them for selling and marketing, reduced redundant and often conflicting programs, and grown a cadre of professionals who are learning to measure and mange the delivery of substantial value from their programs.

Forrester found the customer reference professionals at the event to be a highly motivated, increasingly well funded, and thoughtful group who were often seeking more visibility, support and resources despite their early successes. We were struck by the growth of an industry of products and services to support the CR professional: creative services, hosting, management tools and full consultative outsourcing were all in evidence.

The Customer Reference Forum event is a valuable gathering place for those involved in CR programs who seek to learn about best practices and share with their peers. It has also served as a focal point for an ongoing survey designed to document common practice in the industry, and the sponsors of the survey have several years of data tracking the emergence and growth of CR management as a discipline. They have learned that successful teams usually result from a Sales-Marketing partnership, with agreements forged to use references wisely, manage conflicts about ownership and overuse, and assure a steady stream of fresh stories to support corporate goals.

Forrester is excited to be partnering with the Forum team on this year’s survey, developing some new avenues of investigation, and sustaining the existing data elements, which document team size, reporting relationships, management styles, and more. We’ll be joining in the 2009 conference, delivering a keynote address that will include data from the survey as well as other ongoing Forrester research. Since our discussions of this important corporate function with our clients began following the 2008 event, we’ve had a steady stream of inquiries and discussions with them that will provide us with additional ideas to share. And our ongoing research onto the effective uses of social computing supplements and extends this work. We look forward to networking with the pioneers and the new arrivals alike – we hope to see you there!

Reference Community Comments

Bill,

Just came across this post. Great info. Thanks.

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