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How Genesys is Taming the Reference Data Beast

Posted by Bill Lee on December 17, 2008 at 02:56 PM
When Becky Roberts took over Genesys' global reference program, she found a collection of programs covering a wide and daunting variety of product lines with information scattered all over. Genesys had over 4,000 customers but no reference database or even an accurate record of which customers were references. Further complicating the challenge, Becky had to address the challenge of the lack of organization without a great deal of support from the internal tech team, which was focused on different priorities. 

See my interview with Becky, below. She'll present at the 2009 Customer Reference Forum, showing how she gained control of the Genesys reference database making information easily accessible to critical stakeholders such as sales and marketing. She'll also show how she integrated the reference database as part of her larger mandate to unify Genesys' entire global reference program.

For more information about the 2009 Forum, including other presenters.

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An interview with  Becky Roberts, Sr. Customer Reference Program Manager, Genesys, an Alcatel-Lucent Company

Q. When you took over the Genesys reference program, you found that the reference database was pretty chaotic. Can you  describe what you found?

A. Actually, when I took over the program, we had no reference database. There had been an attempt in the past to integrate reference information in our CRM tool, but the information there was dated and not searchable. For the most part, each region had their own process with no insight into what was going on in the other regions. We also had an ad hoc spam email system for Sales to request references from one another.

Q. In addressing the data issue, you didn't have much support from your internal tech team, due to their focus on other priorities, correct? How did you  deal  with this?

A. I don't think that we are unusual. Our internal tech team was overburdened with other priorities. Our tech folks decided that the vendor we selected for a reference database could provide project resources. We were fortunate to select a vendor who provided technical resources and strong project management. A good partnership with the database vendor is a necessity when going through this type of project.

Even with a great partnership with our vendor, there were still times when I really needed internal IT support or direction. Fortunately, I have implemented several web portals for Genesys and have good relationships with our IT folks. So, I guess I would say that my approach was to work the relationships to find the information that I needed and to get some basic direction. I don't like to escalate to management unless the path forward is absolutely blocked. I've found that building positive relationships with individuals usually opens doors and that often individuals will go out of their way to be of help, even when they are officially not working on a project. It was also important to keep my boss informed of what was going on and to have management support for those times when there was a need to escalate.

Q. Can you tell us how your reference database is now organized and configured?

A. Our database is hosted by our vendor and accessible through two different interfaces, depending on the user. Our Sales staff in most regions uses, so we are providing an integration through SFDC for Sales. Our decision early on was that we wanted SFDC information to be current with customer information in the reference database, so SFDC is actually the primary point of entry for information to flow into the reference database. We also make the reference database available to non-SFDC users from a link in our intranet. The look of the database when accessed from the intranet link is slightly different from the SFDC interface, but regardless of how it's accessed, the reference database has the same data and functionality.

The information in the database combines SFDC account data, Siebel licensing information and SAP purchasing information. It's pretty universally acknowledged at Genesys that our data isn't as clean as we would like, and this data issue was considered the biggest risk for the reference database project. In fact, at the same time that the reference database was under development, there were several data cleanup projects also underway. Coordination and communication were definitely critical to stay on top of this data cleansing.

Q. As a reference stakeholder, such as sales, what are the biggest differences I'd notice in the reference database?

A. The biggest differences that stakeholders experience with the roll out of the reference database is that now there is a global view of reference customers. It's relatively easy to find lists of customers who have certain products. Also, because Sales was so involved in the development of the reference database they are able to see the ideas they contributed that have been implemented, which helps with overall buy in and usage. A good example is that we have implemented a self-service recording application where account owners call in and tell us about their reference customers. This idea came from Sales and has proven to be very popular. Within the first two weeks that this application was launched, we had about 75 recordings. This is giving us some great information about our customers.

Q. Your work in "taming the data beast" is being done in the larger context of unifying what was a pretty disparate program there at Genesys, and transforming it into a unified global program. Apart from the database issue, what other challenges did you find when you came onboard, and what goals did you set to meet them?

A. As a company, Genesys operates with three different regions: EMEA, APAC and the Americas. When I came on board, the challenge was to get these three regions to operate cohesively by setting the same standards for references while still meeting regional needs. We also had a  challenge of redefining the reference program value proposition moving from a points-based rewards system to value-based rewards such as individual recognition and increased exposure to Genesys executives. Goals to meet these objectives included individual performance goals and also goals for the Marketing organization, for example goals for recruiting new reference customers and creating new customer collateral. Regularly reporting on these team goals and tracking results enabled success that far exceeded the numbers that were set.

Q. What support did you have from senior management, and how critical was it?

A. Senior management support was essential for the success of the reference database and for the revitalization of the reference program. References was in the top three of strategic initiatives for the company for 2008 and was actively supported by the CEO.

Q. How did you enlist buy-in and ownership of Sales?

A. The Senior Vice President of Sales made a Sales Vice President in each region responsible to work directly with me to build the database and develop program guidelines. Every Sales meeting for the past year has included an update on the database project and reference progress. This consistent commitment from the C-level communicated downward along with regional reference managers from our reference core team pushing information upward to the Sales teams they work with has been quite effective.

Q. With an engineering background, you come at references from an interesting perspective. If you would, tell us a bit about your background.

A. When I was asked to take ownership of the global reference program, I really had no previous exposure to references or to the Sales process. While I've worked for enterprise software companies for over 20 years, most of that time has been on the product development side, most recently managing technical writing teams. My undergraduate degree was in public relations, so I also have a good mix of writing in my background.

A few years ago as the internet was gaining momentum and the global economy was becoming a reality, I went back to school and got an engineering degree in technical communications management with an emphasis in international communications. While working on the engineering degree, I also worked full-time managing multimedia development and the corporate website for a Fortune 500 company. I have a passionate interest is technology and in bringing order to chaos. I think those two traits provide a good background for managing a reference program. It really helps that I know Genesys software pretty well, even though it's been a learning process to get to know about our customers. And, the writing background really helps in project management and process development.

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