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Persuading a CIO to Reference, Persuading a CIO to Buy

Posted by Bill Lee on August 13, 2009 at 05:35 PM

How do you engage a senior executive to reference for you? How do you persuade her to buy? Following are some tips from one of the most dynamic CIOs in our industry, Patty Morrison, former CIO at Motorola, GE Industrial Systems, Office Depot and other marquee firms.  We’re putting final touches on a pdf report of Patty’s “fireside chat” with me at the 2009 Customer Reference Forum – perhaps the major highlight at the event. I urge you to read the full report (just email me and I’ll send you the full copy when it’s ready in a week or so).

Why reference programs are important

“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 thing. 

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 best practices.

 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.

Hot Tips

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 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.

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