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Notes From the Reference Underground

Posted by Bill Lee on April 14, 2009 at 08:29 AM
Well, not exactly the underground, but some frank comments from several reference leaders I've chatted with since the February Forum - along with some of the senior marketing executives they report to. In no particular order:

- One particularly thoughtful reference manager sees a bright side to the current downturn and lack of funding: they are fostering much more creativity and collaboration with stakeholders. The unexpected result is that his team is  able to organize their program more effectively. Turf-conscious regional program managers, for example, are now happy to let global HQ take care of reference material publishing, reasoning: "Why would we do it?" A new sensibility.

- To get budgets and staffing, one director - who's been quite successful at this - positions references in the larger context of product strategy and customer engagement. In other words, she's not asking for budget for her reference program as a stand alone, but as (an important) part of a more strategic initiative.  She's also part of the team that's developing PD and CE strategy.

- I continue to be surprised at how the various customer engagement programs within a firm DON'T communicate about the most obvious things. One manager said that early adopters aren't referred to the reference program. Another said that their CAB program refuses to share information. At another firm, regional reference programs don't share information with other regions! As one reference manager put it, NOT an optimal experience for the customer - or the company. To say the least.

- How does the reference process work in other cultures? - from who makes the best references, to how to recruit them, to how prospects are influenced by them, to what form do prospects want to receive reference information, etc. It's a fascinating topic. Most reference programs probably assume they work about like they do here, but it would be surprising if that were actually true. Learn the differences, create a competitive edge.

- One VP of marketing has implemented an entirely new use for the good old case study.  The firm is transitioning from selling products to selling services and consulting. The new case studies are being used to develop best practices for using the firm's solutions. They'll be used not just to persuade buyers, but to help educate the firm's sales and consulting delivery teams - straight from customers' mouths.

- One Sr. VP of Global Marketing said what many more are likely thinking: he has no idea how to invest in Social Media. He realizes his firm must invest in these tools, but freely admits he has no idea how priorities should be set, or budgets for introducing specific social media tools. He needs benchmarking information.

- Here's EMC's value proposition for attracting decision makers in one of its markets to its respected community site, Studio E. Note that the community is private and membership is restricted (though this page is public). No information yet on how successful this value proposition is. (Thanks to Susan Zellmann-Rohrer for pointing this out):


- One  reference manager is proud of the fact this his firm never uses the term "reference."

- A very senior marketing officer described his mission thusly (from my notes of the conversation): "responsible for customer satisfaction and loyalty, and for leveraging those to help his firm sell products and services." One of his current goals is to drive consistency of interaction with customers.

- One reference manger who comes from a PR background nominates her customer references for awards within their own industry, a nice win-win. The customer is thrilled, of course, while the reference manager helps her firm attract more business within the same industry.

- Here's one reference manager's wish list for her firm's customer engagement efforts (reference program, CABs, customer community, forums, early adopter program, etc): their strategy, data and reporting should be integrated; customers in them should be monitored regularly to make sure they stay happy; when a customer joins one program he should know what ALL the available options are. A step toward that "optimal" customer experience.

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