“I was very impressed this morning,
listening to the amount of metrics that customer reference managers have developed that actually
show your direct contribution to revenue generation. The more that you can make
that correlation; the more you are going to stay relevant. And frankly, relative to other
marketing spend -- like print, advertising or other media or Internet ads or
whatever – reference programs are easier to quantify.”
“Another one of the most important things you can do with
referencing today is to build confidence in your company. And one of the
biggest confidence boosters you can provide to a CIO is not just your financial
performance, but who are you signing up as customers.”
Persuading Me to Reference
”Don’t just fly in and out with a reference request. Or a
media request. Offer me the full range of opportunities to engage with you.
Give me the chance to improve your service to me, measure the value you’re
delivering, develop best practices together, partner with you, engage in
marketing withy you, and interact with my peers. And then make referencing a
part of the ongoing discussion between the account manager and the person they’re
selling to at the senior level. That’s what a strategic customer reference program does.
You’ll probably get a lot more traction at the senior level. ”
”If you want a customer to
publicly reference for you, you need to understand what message their PR is trying
to get out to the world about their company. And then ask, how might our
message tie into theirs? . . . If the PR person comes into my office with you,
and you both say , ‘Here’s the message we think benefits our companies
together,’ then I see a win win. I’m there. ”
”The most important thing you
can bring to a dialogue with me is knowing my problems, and it’s really not
that hard. You guys are doing customer references, right? Are you investing in
market research about those customers? If you want to develop a customer as a
reference, know everything you can about them. And then know everything you can
about your important prospects too.”
Why It’s in My Interest to Reference For You
If you’re a smaller supplier or brand new, and I’m meeting
with your account manager all the time and building that relationship, I want
to help that firm grow and get established. It’s in my interest. So I’m willing
to do what I can to help you grow your customer base.
On the other hand, if you’re larger and better established,
you can help me reward my team by letting them go to conferences and present
papers. It’s great career development for them.
Persuading Me to Buy
For me as a CIO and a buyer, I’m looking for investments
that pay for themselves, in hard savings, in the first year. Can you
demonstrate to me that your other customers get that kind of immediate value? .
. And don’t be afraid of saving just $5,000, $10,000, and $50,000. Even at a
company like Motorola, I was interested in that kind of money because budgets
are very tight.
Case studies from your own IT
department using your technology are absolutely persuasive. I work with a lot
of hi-tech CIO’s, from IT shop to IT shop. Nobody color codes it, nobody puts
‘lipstick on a pig,’ as they say. Really, I mean, it’s a professional courtesy
How a Reference Program Can Improve Customer Satisfaction
The opportunity is substantial for customer reference programs to
build relationships with customers when times are tough. And building those
kinds of relationships really does make a lasting impression on the senior
people. Because what I look for is: do I have a partner? Someone who’s going to
be with me in good times and in bad times.
Always remember, the most
important thing is to be delivering. If you’re not delivering it’s kind of
irrelevant to talk about references.
Getting Support from Sales
You ought to build for yourself a metric showing the
‘successful reference ratio ‘of your sales people. They match prospects with
good references. They interact well with reference customers. They develop
excellent relationships. They cultivate referrals and leads from their
customers. Identify these stars, and cultivate them. Find ways to reward them
and give them visibility. You’ll likely get much better results than trying to
spread your efforts across thousands of sales people, right?
Portrait of a Superb Customer Reference Relationship
An account manager from one of
my larger vendors – I met with this AM quarterly -- told me that one of the new
metrics for their quota was going to be references, and asked If I’d be willing
to help them out. I said yes, as that was part of that ongoing dialogue that I
mentioned earlier. That is, we’d meet every quarter, we’d would go over all of
their performance metrics and how they were doing as a supplier and I would go
through all of the things that were going really well and we would identify the
things that I thought were best practices. And for me, that opens the door to
referencing. So if we were doing something really well with this vendor –
something that in my career as a CIO I believed was unique and exceptional --
we would identify those kinds of things and get them documented.
This arrangement would work
with other suppliers too where, let’s say, they had a newer program that we
chose to implement, and we regarded it as an emerging best practice. And we
would work with that supplier and then I’d work with my team to write it up,
showing what worked, what didn’t, keeping it as realistic as possible. It
really helps the supplier with their marketing and sales and, frankly, it helps
us a lot too because we learn from it. So part of it was this documentation of
The second part of our
arrangement was to systematically review what prospects they were talking to.
That was a great opportunity to match a best practice to potential prospects.
Or, we’d have a conversation about, ‘Who do you know on this list, where would
you feel comfortable having a discussion?’
A lot of times I end up
delegating those kinds of things. I don’t do the references myself, but I might
call up someone on my staff and say. ‘Hey I want you to have a meeting with
this company and talk to them about what we’ve done with this supplier. Be
honest. Say what’s good and what’s not good.’ So it wasn’t always me, but
because I had that conversation all the time with the account manager, and that
relationship, we did a lot of references. And by the way, that is a supplier
for Motorola and they just won an award for being the most referenced account in
their company. So that program is really working for them.
I’m not likely to pull
information about a vendor. I’m more likely to have it pushed. One of the more
creative ways I’ve seen of pushing data is through other vendors. For example,
if HP is mobility solutions, they could bring me a RIM case study showing how a
particular mobility solution saves office rent and improves productivity at a
company like mine.
You should also ask yourself,
do you know who the CIO is connected with, who they’re going to trust, who
they’re going to listen to? If it’s a CIO in Chicago, it’s likely we all know
each other. If it’s other groups, you know I worked at Proctor & Gamble,
GE, Office Depot, Motorola, and PepsiCo, which is Quaker Oats -- a lot of companies.
So, learn something about my company, me, my network. It shows you’ve invested
in understanding me before you walk in my office, understanding my situation –
as opposed to the worst thing you can do: walking in my office and expecting me
to spend an hour telling your everything about what my problems are. That
doesn’t leave a good impression with me.
Pitfalls to Avoid
I think generally one of the worst things a vendor can do is
to a press release when you sign a contract. I really hated doing that because
I believe very strongly that it’s the implementation of the technology that
determines what value is created.
By the way, I have a thought on ratings systems. I love to
cook; I go to the FoodNetwork.com and look at recipes and I read the ratings on
the recipes. If, say 9 of them are positive and 1 is negative, I’m really
surprised how influenced I am by that 1 negative. I think you need to be really
careful with that.