Official blog of Customer Reference Forum®. Learn from our community of reference pracitioners

« December 2008 | Main | February 2009 »

January 2009 Archives

How 3PAR Uses Social Media to Recruit Customers Who Haven't Referenced

Posted by Bill Lee on January 28, 2009 at 04:16 PM

This week I had a chance to interview Craig Nunes, VP of Marketing, 3PAR about how they are engaging previously 'unreferencable' customers - or "the other 90%" - through a remarkable application of Social Media and web-based survey tools. Craig will be a presenter at the  2009 Customer Reference Forum


Craig's presentation at this year's event will describe how he and his Reference Team developed this capability, and how it's significantly improving public awareness of the firm's value propositions, as well as helping to recruit new references from "the other 90%" previously considered unreferencable. Enjoy a preview below:


Q. Craig, tell us a bit about yourself, your firm 3PAR, and the role you play there.


A. I have been with 3PAR since 2000 and am Vice President of Marketing. 3PAR

provides a highly virtualized storage array for virtual (utility) data centers within medium to large enterprises, cloud service providers, Internet and Web 2.0 companies, and government agencies. We were founded in 1999 by the engineers and architects who developed the core of the Sun Server products back in the '90s. 3PAR is headquartered in Fremont, California and has offices across the US, Europe and Asia. The company is also publicly traded on the NYSE Big Board under the ticker symbol 'PAR.' Gartner has positioned us in the enterprise disk array market as leading in vision for 5 straight years and has recognized the company as #2 in the US Hosting market.


Q. Can you also give us a quick overview of the Reference Program at 3PAR.


A. Until recently, our customer reference program was very conventional, aimed at the following:

·    Customer success stories or win announcement published via a press release and pitched to targeted journalists

·    Supporting product launch activities with customer quotes

·    Placing customers in speaking opportunities at large storage events

I would characterize our efforts as blocking and tackling, but not making the most of an awesome customer base and viral enthusiasm.


Q. What led you to implement the Social Media/ Web-based survey platform you're using? What problem were you trying to solve? Also, what do you call the platform?


A. We have been selling our products into the social media space - to firms such as MySpace and Facebook - and have watched with interest as these and other Web 2.0 companies have revolutionized communication. Our customer base is very passionate about our solutions, and about 10% ALREADY are publicly vocal about them. We were looking for a social media strategy that fit our B2B application, specifically finding a way to engage the OTHER 90% who weren't able for a variety of reasons to publicly reference for us. That's when we ran across TechValidate.


Q. Tell us a bit about how the platform you set up at 3PAR, and how it functions. How difficult and costly was it to implement?


A. We turned to TechValidate which is a web-based software service that allows us to engage our customer base in a very natural way, pose questions to them, and derive "certified" value statements that can be used on our website and in our public announcements. Set up was very simple. We developed a couple of simple questionnaires and an email list of targeted 3PAR customers. If you like immediate gratification, you will love applying social media to your customer base -- responses to the survey arrive in real-time with nuggets of pure gold.


Q. Can you describe for us some of the more important results your Reference Program has achieved using the platform?


Once our surveys were closed, after about two weeks, we were able to perform quick and simple analysis with the tools provided by TechValidate's website. This led to a new type of reference. Previously, 3PAR customers like Credit Suisse or Deutsche Bank, large financial services firms, were very strict about what could be publicly referenced. However with this new platform, we are now able to reference what might be called "aggregated testimonials" like these non-market specific statistics called "Tech Facts:"


"50% of 3PAR customers surveyed say they have saved at least $50K of Capital Expenditures (CAPEX) costs over the past 12 months with 3PAR Thin Provisioning."


Or this:


"32% of 3PAR customers say they have reduced physical capacity requirements by at least 10 TBs over the last 12 months with 3PAR Utility Storage"


These could have just as easily been done by market or by application type, depending upon your preferred segmentation.


Once results are distilled into useable conclusions (Tech Facts), they are certified by TechValidate. We have now leveraged these results into content for a couple of press releases and webpages - and we just started in November! And I can tell you that when we issue the releases with third-party certified statistics such as these, the media is much quicker to pick them up and use them in their articles. Our Tech Facts possess an inherent credibility versus the traditional vendor claims in a press release. 


Another important result: we're picking up additional new references from this platform as well. That is, we're converting about 10-20% of that 90% who weren't referencing in the traditional way, and converting them into traditional references. I'll be describing how that works at the Forum


Q. What are your plans for expanding and building upon this platform, going forward. What do you see as it's ultimate potential?


A. We are just scratching the surface in this area and have more learning to do. We are also interested in how we can take information from this tool and publish it within our BoulderLogic customer database so that our sales team can not only view the traditional information we capture about a given customer, but also details about a customer that may surface from a TechValidate survey.

Taking your Reference Program Online

Posted by Bill Lee on January 20, 2009 at 01:45 PM

The 2009 Customer Reference Forum is just a few weeks away and this week I had the chance to chat with Intel's Rhett Livengood and Umang Shah, formerly of Xerox and VMware about a fabulous workshop they're planning.   


The workshop will be a 90 minute "bring-your-laptop-and-get-your-hands-dirty" event showing how to move your reference program online. When you leave, you'll have a Web 2.0 strategy, together with the tools and knowledge you need to implement it as painlessly as possible. 


Q. Rhett and Umang, can you give us a quick overview of your Customer Reference programs and the role you play in them?


RHETT: I manage Intel's Worldwide Customer Reference Program and Enterprise Customer Reference Board (CRB).


UMANG: I have managed worldwide Sales and Customer Reference programs for Xerox, BEA and VMware.


Q. How is the current downturn affecting your reference programs?


A. The day-to-day management of our reference pipeline hasn't changed but we're seeing many organizational changes in our customer base.  Executive sponsorship of our program is strong with pressure to control spending and make the most of our existing reference customers.  There is a greater focus on one-to-many events wherever possible.


Q. The workshop you're planning is called "Get Your Hands Dirty in Web 2.0: Bringing Your Reference Program Online in an Hour and a Half."  If attendees bring their laptops and some reference content, you'll get their reference program online right there during the workshop. And when they leave, they'll have a Web 2.0 strategy, together with the tools and knowledge they'll need to implement it as painlessly as possible. How will you pull this off?


A. With today's Web 2.0 tools and the knowledge on how to use them, anyone can get started on moving their reference program online. This session is designed to be a "kick start" using real references data and content from Customer Reference Forum® attendees. The session will be a "master class" with industry experts telling you the "answers".


Q. Tell us a bit about the strides your own reference programs are making in leveraging social media tools?


Rhett: We moved our entire reference program online in 2008. In 2009, the challenge is to continue to "go where our customers are online" and refine our processes in developing online content.


Umang: Our focus at Xerox was mutli-pronged. We minimized traditional case study development and took advantage of multimedia (podcasts, webinars), blogs, LinkedIn, and even Twitter to push our content out to our customers. Furthermore, we took advantage of 3rd party sites that our customers tended to visit.


Q. Where are you finding that Web 2.0 is making the biggest, measurable impact on your reference programs? Where is it helping your reference programs make the biggest impact on sales and marketing?


A. The communities that we foster and others that develop on their own allow our customers to interact with each other more easily and share feedback with us directly and quickly. Additionally, our reference content is getting so much more exposure than ever before. For example, Rhett has increased exposure for his reference summaries by 100X over his standard reference library.


Q. How is Web 2.0 helping you to cut reference program costs and streamline operations?


A. We are able to cut reference program costs by reducing the number of new, expensive case studies we create. Social media lets us do this by leveraging our existing content, optimizing it for the web, and then syndicate that content to get the most traction out of it.

How SAS' Reference Program Stays Relevant in the Current Economy

Posted by Bill Lee on January 14, 2009 at 11:56 AM

This week I had the chance to chat with SAS Institute's' Director or Marketing, Craig Frampton, who along with several members of his reference team will moderate a panel at this year's Customer Reference Forum on how they are redefining - and expanding - the role of their program in the current economy. 


This will be one of several presentations showing how reference programs are not only cost cutting or streamlining in this economy, but are finding ways to provide important new strategic value. 


Q. Craig, Many reference managers are talking about cost cuts, layoffs, scaling back, "hunkering down,"etc. But you're finding opportunities for your reference program. Let's explore those. Why don't you start by telling us where senior management is seeing new opportunities for SAS' business in this turbulent environment?


A. We believe that in the midst of turmoil stands opportunity. Like many technology firms today, we recognize that our software and services can help companies navigate today's challenges and also create new opportunities - by helping them make the right decisions, helping them leverage better integrated information across the enterprise, and so forth. In fact, we have some compelling value propositions. For example, organizations that are prepared during rough times can seize the moment and perhaps leap ahead of the competition. At the least, a turbulent environment represents a burning platform to get things done in order to survive.


As a result, from a customer reference standpoint, the only way that SAS can definitively understand what our customers need in this environment is to listen to them. As reference professionals, creating a community of conversation for our customers to share not only what they are currently doing with SAS solutions, but what their emergent business challenges are, is a critical component in growing our overall business. My team plays a crucial role in that chain of understanding. In turn, senior management sees customer referencing as an extremely high priority function. Without new references being added to the program and without existing references to help drive ongoing value, we lose an important piece of a very customer-centric puzzle at SAS.


Q. What are some of the more important ways that the SAS Reference Team is providing value in this economy?


A. For one thing, we play a key role - among several stakeholders at SAS - in refining our products and services. The reason we can play such a role is that we're the ones talking to customers about how they actually use - and benefit - from our offerings. As we all know, these often differ from the ways that planners, product development and sales people think customers will use and benefit from our solutions. Getting that information into the feedback loop is therefore critical, and it's why we play a key role in the process.

 

As a result, we're now able to play an important role in developing solutions that will meet the needs of customers - such as Financial Services firms, for example - in this very tumultuous economy. We'll be developing and refining lots of solutions, rapidly. It's critical to have a robust feedback loop to refine these solutions, and it must obviously include customer input. That's why we'll continue to play a vital role in this environment.


Q. Are there new areas in which your Reference Team is providing value to SAS business goals?


A. Yes. One of the things we're focusing on as a company in this economy is to dive deeper into the needs of our biggest customers. Often these are huge, global firms that, in this environment, may well be growing through acquisition - such as healthy banks acquiring faltering banks.

 

By taking a deeper dive into these customers' needs, SAS can provide better value. Obviously our Reference Program can help in the process of understanding these needs.

 

In addition, SAS is working very hard to focus on the solutions providing the most essential value to customers at a critical time. Our Reference Team is playing a key role in sharpening this focus. Once priority solutions are identified, we make sure that we're developing marketing resources - references, case studies videos, industry event speakers and the like - for these solutions. I'd suggest that any Reference Program make very sure that you're not working on reference resources for solutions that were popular five year ago. Your program priorities need to be up-to-the-minute in sync with current business initiatives.

 

At the 2009 Forum, we'll talk more about the process we're a part of that implements this tight focus on key products and solutions.


Q. Where does your team focus its time and efforts currently?


A. We spend a lot of time focused on cross-functional collaboration.  Across sales, professional services, product marketing, field marketing, media relations, analyst relations, research and development, the list goes on and on, we all have valuable interactions with and intelligence about customers. The trick is to have just enough process, structure, and technology in place to not be overly burdensome but actually create value for the company. As you extend the reach across geographic regions, this quickly becomes a fairly complex organizational scenario. But it's worth it because we're able to complete and benefit from a collective customer picture in a global economy.


Q. How do you see the role of the SAS reference program changing as we move forward?


A. The recent and continued proliferation of information and the ability to participate in networking virtual communities on the web changes the way that referencing will be done into the future. I believe the reference evolution that is underway is moving us closer toward what looks like a "community of open conversation" between customers, prospects, and the general marketplace - obviously within reason.  Essentially, we need to facilitate or create an environment for those interactions. I'm not sure that anyone truly knows what that will look like, but considering the convergence of referencing, influencers in a buying decision, and social networking, it is a fundamental topic at SAS. It will require testing things over time, but the reality is that if we do not create a community that customers see as valuable, they will seek interaction with one another through alternate avenues.


Q. Let's look at a couple of particularly interesting markets for SAS as well as other technology firms, and the role your Reference Program is playing there. Let's start with the  Financial Services market. What opportunities is SAS seeing there?


A. Certainly, consolidation activity, government support, and a shrinking number of overall companies is a reality. However, for those companies that remain, now more than ever there is a need to manage their operations and serve and protect consumers more effectively. SAS is very active in this space, in areas of operational and credit risk, fraud, customer intelligence, data intelligence, and anti-money laundering, among other core areas. Current market conditions will create the need for more and more of the solutions that SAS offers today. In addition, as we listen to our customers in banking and insurance, for example, new business challenges will emerge and we will be able to apply analytics as a solution and value driver.


Q. What specific challenges - and opportunities - is your Reference Team finding in the Financial Services market?


A. Traditionally, the hypercompetitive and regulated Financial Services industry presents a referencing challenge - they tend to be less willing to speak publicly. We've had great success at getting customers to speak in a more controlled and structured environment. It is amazing, but one to one sales opportunities or confidential analyst community interactions have been well-received and, often, direct competitors will talk to one another. In certain instances, even before the current changes to the industry, some customers truly see the value of gaining visibility in the marketplace and are intrigued at the thought of being positioned as a thought leader.


As the market changes and the crisis continues, we're finding some interesting opportunities. First, companies that are having success, in the face of so much failure, are increasingly willing to talk about positive things. It creates a mechanism to cut through the noise of the crisis and showcase how they are differentiating from the companies that are struggling. Second, we're seeing a real spike in interest in the mid-market and regional sector. Some of the mid-size players have not seen the same level of consequence from the meltdown, and are really working to raise their profile in a shrinking space. Our Financial Services Reference Managers are working to navigate the daily changes and create opportunities for customers to express their successes and also share their challenges. This is about as volatile a market as anyone could have ever imagined, and we are working to help our customers stabilize and identify truly valuable silver linings to an ever-changing cloud of activity. At the Customer Reference Forum, we will spend some time during our panel discussion talking about the current state of affairs and how the industry is both an ongoing challenge and growing opportunity.


Q. Elizabeth Stack has described in her interview how she's managed to build a particularly robust Federal Government reference program - another key market in this economy. Are you seeing additional opportunities to expand the value of this particular reference program?


A. Elizabeth has done a fantastic job working in building Federal and also State & Local Government references. We've built an extremely tight partnership with our Government group and have a great approach to engaging Government customers.  As Elizabeth described in her recent interview and will describe in more detail at the Forum, we have established a win-win situation for Government customers; building lasting relationships, and working within the construct of the way Government agencies do business.


Assessing the current state, it appears that a solid approach to Government referencing will pay great dividends. Prevailing thinking, given challenges in so many industries, is that Government will need the ability to dive into industries, diagnose and fix problems based on analysis, and get things back on track. Looking at Financial Services or the Auto industry, for example, the Government is taking a great deal more control of the marketplace. In turn, the Government will logically grow. With an established pool of Government references and a track record of large-scale success, SAS is excited to support the efforts of agencies and find ways to highlight successes in appropriate and relevant ways. 

Positioning Your Reference Program for 2009

Posted by Bill Lee on January 13, 2009 at 09:00 AM

We all know that cutting costs and streamlining reference programs are important in our current environment. But they aren't ALL you should focus. In all likelihood, your senior management is looking beyond cost cutting and streamlining.  Technology CEOs in particular are hot on the trail of exciting new opportunities in this tumultuous, historic economy.  


Key Question for 2009: Is your reference program positioned to be a player - to provide robust support - for your senior management's 2009 strategic initiatives? 


Here's a suggested test:


1. Are you aligned with your firm's efforts to GROW revenue in this economy?


Yes, I said "grow revenue." In this economy. Trust me, senior management at every technology firm in the world is looking for markets with growth potential.  There is huge opportunity out there - in markets such as the Federal Government, Financial Services (the entire industry is undergoing radical restructuring), Health Care, and others. There are huge opportunities in markets with entrenched market leaders. There are huge opportunities in helping companies - in any industry - cut costs and streamline operations.


At Hewlett-Packard for example, Mark Hurd is planning to challenge Cisco's core business. He's also planning to place strong emphasis on services that help customers streamline their technology infrastructures and business processes. Those are just two.


Are you aware of and is your reference program aligned with all of your firm's goals for growing revenues in 2009? 


2. Has your CRP team thought through what it can do - what it must do - to support revenue growth initiatives?


New value propositions from your firm will require new case studies and success stories. New customers and new markets will require fresh new pipelines of customer references. And in a recessions, buyers will demand more references - more proof points - not less. Do you have the budget and staff to support these efforts?


3. Has your CRP team thought through what new value it can provide in this environment?


SAS Institute's reference team, for example, is increasingly playing a key role, not in just creating and managing references, but also in helping product developers refine the new value propositions SAS is developing in this economy. Reference programs are ideally situated to provide significant help with this.  (The SAS US Reference team will be showing how, at the 2009 Forum). Is your CRP looking for such new areas to provide value?


Or take Intel and Xerox, who are finding creative ways to integrate references into their social media efforts, dramatically improving the measurable visibility of their reference material, while cutting costs of content production - a two-fer. (They'll be leading our social media workshop at the 2009 Forum).


4. Do you have clear criteria for being adequately staffed and funded to help your firm pursue these new opportunities - criteria that will get rapid buy-in from senior management?


Let me suggest one: you are properly funded if no salesperson in the field will have to spend one single hour hunting down a reference. As Infor's Abby Atkinson will show at the 2009 Customer Reference Forum, every dollar your CRP saves by not being able to fulfill reference requests will cost your firm $2 in sales salaries and benefits, plus $5 in lost revenue. All these numbers are conservative, and easily calculated using numbers probably already known to HR and Sales. In fact, she and Mainstay's Amir Hartman, who run our Metrics Special Interest Group, will provide an ROI Calculator to help you assess the impact on your own firm of underfunding your own program.

Keeping your Reference Program Relevant in the Recession

Posted by Bill Lee on January 6, 2009 at 10:44 AM

I thought I'd summarize in one place the resources we'll provide at this year's Customer Reference Forum to help your program thrive in the recession. Indeed, many reference pros are finding ways to provide important new, strategic value in this economy.

RESOURCES FOR MANAGING (AND THRIVING) THROUGH THE MELTDOWN at the 2009 CUSTOMER REFERENCE FORUM

Peer Exchange Workshop

"How to Manage Through the Meltdown" will be the lead topic in our Peer Exchange Workshop. We'll have a room full of experienced professionals from many of the leading reference programs in the world sharing ideas, processes, best practices on how they are keeping their reference programs vital and relevant during the downturn. Whatever question you have about dealing with the downturn, we'll have the best available answers.

Chat with Patty Morrison, former CIO of Motorola, GE Industrial Systems and other leading firms

In addition to her presentation to the full group, you'll be able to sign up for individual chats with Patty. She'll provide a senior executive's view of how to persuade CIO's to reference in this economy, as well as how to persuade them to buy. Sign ups for these 1-1 sessions will be limited.

Panel: "How to Keep Your Program Relevant in a Downturn"

Craig Frampton, Director, Marketing, Customer Knowledge Center, SAS Institute, and his reference team will share their experiences in three areas particularly relevant to this economy: the federal government (the one market sure to grow - and yes you can get government agencies to reference); financial services (learn how Craig's team has expanded its traditional role to help SAS uncover new business opportunities in this tumultuous industry); and pharmaceuticals (learn how to persuade these notoriously secretive firms to reference).

Social Media Workshop for Reference Professionals

Rhett Livengood  Director, Worldwide Sales Development, Enterprise Solution Sales,Intel will lead a 90 minute interactive workshop, along with  reference managers from other programs who are also on the leading edge of social media integration. When you leave, you'll be up to speed on how to establish and build your reference social media program. What does this have to do with the recession? As Rhett and the workshop team will show, social media creates dramatic cost savings as well as marketing leverage for your reference program.

New Reference Program ROI Calculator

Presented by the Customer Reference Forum Metrics SIG, and based on the work of Infor's Abby Atkinson in turning a requested program budget decrease into a 64% increase for FY2009. In addition, the Metrics SIG will provide results for our first compensative survey of reference program metrics.

 

Breakout Session: "The Inside Track: Evaluating Reference Management System Vendors"

Technology purchases are famously tricky. Buyers who rush the process, or skimp on the details can suffer great pain afterwards in fixing a messy situation. Reference systems are no different. In a remarkably frank peek behind the curtain, David Sroka and Darren Smith from Point of Reference will present a systematic guide showing how buyers can dramatically improve the cost-benefit ratio of their reference software purchases, their odds of getting the system right the first time out, and their overall satisfaction with the result. This is essential knowledge for buyers, particularly in a time of tight budgets.