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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. 

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