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December 2008 Archives

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.

To register for the Forum.


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.

Should Reference Programs Ask for More Budget?

Posted by Bill Lee on December 17, 2008 at 01:54 PM

The recently appointed manager of the customer reference program for a major global technology firm gives a thoughtful response to my recent comments. Please see below – I love informed debate!

She responds to my argument that reference managers shouldn’t accept travel restrictions, budget cuts and possible layoffs passively, because their programs can play a strategic role in helping their firms both deal with the downturn and position themselves for recovery.  In particular, they should consider asking for budget increases (as Infor’s Abby Atkinson has done, successfully).

They can also make a strong case for budget exemptions to attend the February Customer Reference Forum as a way, among other things, to gain rapid exposure from multiple reference programs to best practices in this dynamic field. Much of the program we’re putting together is geared precisely to showing how reference programs are making themselves strategically important to their firms during the downturn – which is why firms like Microsoft, Intel, SAS, Research in Motion and others are sending
multiple members of their reference teams.

Here’s her case for not doing so. (She wishes to remain anonymous).

In [our firm] we are currently ‘battening down the hatches’ in preparation for what might be ahead through the course of the next year. As a result budgets have been scrutinized both at a program and OPEX level. . . . Our travel budgets have been cut dramatically; therefore, I cannot support attendance at the forum. This isn’t about ‘passively’ accepting these cuts, or being afraid to ‘rock the boat’ – this is about a wider appreciation of the strategic decisions that the leaders of our company are making in order for the company to keep performing at the levels our shareholders and the Street demand of us.
Let me put this in context for you: I . . .  have been managing the team now for approx. 6 weeks. If I had travel budget I would be using it to visit my team and see them face-to-face.
This isn’t about not appreciating our reference program either, far from it; our reference program in **** has got more visibility now than it’s ever had before.

Bill – I hope you understand our position on this. I wish you all the best for your forum and hope that I will be able to attend one in the future.

I wrote back that of course I understood and respect her decision, and in fact will be responding to it. In future posts, I’ll flesh out my (and others’) arguments a bit more for why reference programs often can and should play an important role in furthering “the wider . . . . strategic decisions that the leaders of [your] firm are making”  in this economy. 

How Infor Protects its Reference Budget in a Downturn

Posted by Bill Lee on December 3, 2008 at 12:53 PM

Following is the most powerful justification I’ve seen for protecting a reference program’s budget and headcount during a downturn. Infor’s Abby Atkinson – who’ll be presenting at the 2009 Customer Reference Forum - used it to reverse a request that she cut discretionary spending by 10%, and instead received a 64% increase in funding for her program.

She did this by answering two critical questions, using both internal research,  and external research from other reference programs:

1. What is the impact and cost of having a sales rep hunt for his or her own reference?  That is, what would it cost to have no reference program, or an underfunded one?

2. What does it cost to have her reference program fulfill such a reference request?

Abby showed how much time each reference request fulfilled by her reference program saved a sales rep – time better spent out selling (especially precious in a downturn) rather than digging for references. Multiplying that by the number of Infor reps worldwide, Abby showed that freeing up that amount of time would result in $3 million in extra sales using conservative and well accepted  assumptions.

As a result, the request that she cut discretionary spending in her program by 10% was withdrawn, and instead she won a 64% increase in funding for her program.

Abby will present at the 2009 Customer Reference Forum (February 18-19). See my interview with her, below.


Abby's been working in marketing for high tech companies throughout her career, and has helped evaluate and initially develop reference programs with previous employers. 

Infor makes business software better by acquiring and improving proven, functionally-rich software backed by domain experts. Infor improves it via continuous innovation, faster implementation options, global enablement, and flexible buying options. In a few short years, Infor has become one of the top 3 leading providers of ERP business software. Infor's revenue is $2.2B and it has over 70,000 customers and 125 direct offices.


Q. In the face of proposed budget cuts to your reference program, you developed an analysis showing cost of a dedicated reference team vs. having sales people hunt for their own references. Can you flesh that out for us?


A. While we were developing our fiscal plans and budgets, we felt we needed a thorough analysis of our program costs in order to build a justification case for this year's budget. We compared the program costs (and efficiencies) against having no program / database, in order to give a good picture of the overall value of our program and staff. We concluded that by  having a program in place, we saved the company over $600,000 in total for the year. The impact of those figures certainly influenced our budget approval.


Q. You were also able to analyze how frequently sales people were able to match reference requests before the Infor reference program got started vs. how often the program is able to provide reference matches now.


A. What we actually analyzed was the impact and cost of having sales reps hunt for their own references. Based on the number of reps in our company and an average time for a typical search, we determined that sales reps would spend over 13,000 hours (globally) trying to fulfill their own reference requests. That's a significant amount of time the reps would spend NOT focused on selling. In fact, that represents the number of hours that six newly hired sales reps would spend annually to bring in an additional (and very conservative) $3M. In other words, if sales were to fulfill their own reference requests, the firm would lose $3M in sales per year, in addition to the actual cost of processing each request.


Another issue is that sales reps would end up with a high degree of frustration trying to manage this aspect of the sales cycle. In addition, there would be no monitoring or managing the utilization of our customers, and the customer burnout rate would be extremely high. 


In contrast, by having a formal reference program and dedicated team to handle fulfillment, it actually saves the company money, while also protecting the customers and offering a consistent approach to messaging and building relationships with these valuable accounts. By having a reference management system in which all references and activities are tracked, we're able to fulfill over 75% of all reference requests within a short timeframe. In very simplistic terms, we found that the discretionary budget for our formal program was less than a quarter of the cost (we took half the time it took a sales rep to find a reference -- at half the cost).


Q. Can you give us an idea of how much the proposed budget cut was, and how much it was increased, after you provided these analyses?


A. Initially, we were asked to cut discretionary spending by 10% compared to the previous year. Because we could demonstrate the massive savings the program will deliver to Infor (and by providing detailed metrics), it made sense to increase funding for the program. As a result, we were able to secure approval for a 64% increase in funding for the new fiscal year.


Q. Tell us a bit about your monthly reference program reports. They tend to be quite diagnostic, allowing you to pinpoint and correct problems with the global program. Can you give us some examples of problems you've identified? What actions are you taking to correct them?


A. It was very important for us to model our measurements against our company's business plan. We compared the percentage of total revenue goals per region against the number of requests per region and determined that one region was significantly under utilizing the program. We also were able to show that because that same region had fewer qualified, approved references in their area, the time to close each of their requests was considerably longer than other regions. This provided us with the insight and ammunition needed to address the issues with that region.


Our monthly reports also help us perform gap analysis and identify those key areas where we have a high volume of requests with an insufficient number of qualified references. Since this flags a potentially serious problem of customer burnout, we launched 1-to-many forums (which we call Customer in Action Forums) for these key products to alleviate the burden on the customers, while at the same time providing sales reps with a tool to proactively use references in the sales cycle.


Q. You've also used your monthly reporting to get an increase in headcount for your program approved. Can you flesh that out for us?


A. Using historical data, we showed a projected increase in the number of reference requests we expected to handle month-over-month in the coming year. Using queuing theory to predict reference manager utilization capacity, we provided quantifiable evidence that additional staff would be needed at specific intervals during the year.


Also, as a manager, I use the monthly metrics to monitor my employees' performance levels. The detailed measurements allow me to set very specific goals and objectives for each reference manager and check their progress throughout the year.