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September 2009 Archives

15 Minutes with Asim Zaheer on the Importance of Customer Engagement

Posted by Bill Lee on September 29, 2009 at 11:34 AM

Asim is VP, Worldwide Product & Competitive Marketing at Hitachi Data Systems, and one of the most thoughtful B2B marketing executives I know. A great executive-eye's view of how to think about customer engagement, including customer reference programs.

Interview with Asim

Understanding a Sr Executive Customer Reference: Dan Crain’s Journal, Part 1

Posted by Bill Lee on September 24, 2009 at 05:26 PM
Today’s key quoteThe person who interfaces with the customers MUST be able to get things done, and show that it’s a real relationship, not just one based on getting references and marketing quotes.

This is the first of several posts  from time to time over the next few weeks, recounting musings from Dan Crain, former CTO at Brocade, COO of Global Systems, Morgan Stanley, and EVP of StorageApps, Dan is the buyer - and the customer reference, and the advisory board member, and the customer community member, etc - any technology firm would like to have. Dan has also run such customer engagement programs within his own operations. He brings a terrific – sometimes contrarian - perspective to the issue of how companies often get customer engagement wrong, and how to get it right.

 Q. Dan, you’ve been a buyer of technology systems, a seller, and a customer-engagement practitioner having run advisory boards for your businesses. Let’ s
ay I’m a vendor looking to win your business and grow your account for years to come. What’s are the keys to  establishing, building and nurturing a relationship with you that will achieve tha
A.  Obviously listening to the customer is important.  But so is having field representation that is credible and low key, especially with new products.  Also, I’d say that establishing REAL executive relationships inside the company with customers is totally worthwhile.  I’ve found that generic “executive sponsor” programs never really work, but the ones that are more organic, based on mutual interest of the customer and a vendor representative generate long term benefit for everyone.   Obviously this doesn’t scale indefinitely, but it is definitely worth doing at some level.  The one caveat is that the person who interfaces with the customers MUST be able to get things done, and show that it’s a real relationship, not just one based on getting references and marketing quotes.

Q. How many vendors that you’ve bought from actually do this successfully, in your opinion, and why do the others fall shor
Very few unfortunately.  A rolodex is only valuable if people will actually answer your emails or phone calls, and this level of relationship can only be maintained with mutual communication.   The best cases have people on both sides of the commercial relationship taking a genuine interest in each other based on mutual accomplishment, the worst cases are when the vendor representative is cynical about what value the customer can provide.  

Survey to Help B2B Firms Re-Vamp Customer Engagement Programs

Posted by Bill Lee on September 23, 2009 at 03:00 PM

We're working with the Business Marketing Association (BMA), ITSMA and Forrester Research to develop new insights into B2B customer engagement. To learn more, and participate, click here: 

Establishing your reference program's value: a snapshot

Posted by Bill Lee on September 17, 2009 at 10:47 AM

- Microsoft Dynamics estimates that 85-95% of new sales opportunities require some form of customer reference before the deal can be closed.(source: Boulder Logic interview with Microsoft Dynamics). Ask three respected sales people what the number is for your firm.

- If a sales person lacks access to reference program support, it takes her, on average, 5-7 hours to hunt down a reference on her own. (source: Boulder Logic and Infor study by Abby Atkinson) 

- At Infor, that would translate into 13,000 hours annually spent by sales people tracking down references (and not talking to customers). That would work out to (conservatively) $3M in lost business. What are the figures for your business? These numbers are easily obtainable - no data is more analyzed in most firms than sales productivity.

- Every dollar spent on the reference program at Infor saves $2 in sales salaries and benefits, plus $5 in lost revenue. (source for the last 2: Infor. You can read more in our forthcoming white paper "Engaging the B2B Customer Reference: Your Greatest Untapped Asset?" If you'd like a copy, send me an email). Again, what are the figures for your firm? These will give you the foundation for getting the budget you need to help you grow your business.

Put this information together into a PPT slide. Use it whenever you make the case for your program's budget.

You're not alone: major issues faced by reference program managers

Posted by Bill Lee on September 17, 2009 at 10:41 AM
Based on a "flash" survey of 42 reference program managers that we conducted earlier this summer: 

1. Top reasons why customer reference programs may be falling short, in order (most cited reason first):
- Our program is under funding pressure.    
- Customer participation in the program is low.    
- We're spinning our wheels on important new initiatives– - like (developing) a partner reference program or global reference program -- and need guidance.    
- Our sales department is dissatisfied.
- Our market share is down compared to competitors with more extensive reference programs.
- We're spinning our wheels to develop a social media strategy, and need guidance.

2. Areas where reference managers feel they need more information:
-  How to increase participation by customers
-  Investing in and leverage social media
-  How to integrate reference programs with other customer engagement programs, such as advisory boards, customer communities, etc.
-  Best ways to measure reference programs
-  Setting budgets for reference programs
-  Gaining cooperation from Sales, Marketing or other stakeholders

For help establishing the value of your program and getting the funding you need, see the next topic. For immediate insights into how other reference programs are addressing the issues above (or other issues you may be having), join our
Linkedin community of more than 200 reference practitioners.

The Importance of Customer Engagement: An Executive's Eye View

Posted by Bill Lee on September 16, 2009 at 11:24 AM

Listen to my interview with Asim Zaheer, VP Global Product and Competitive Marketing, Hitachi Data Systems;  Laura Ramos, VP and Principal Analyst, Forrester Research; and the Geehan Group's Sean Geehan, author of C-Level Guide to Transforming Your B2B Business. We look at the importance of customer reference programs, communities and social media, advisory boards, etc from an executive perspective. 

Download Show_686968

"Global Economy Gains Steam"

Posted by Bill Lee on September 2, 2009 at 12:53 PM

Today's Wall Street Journal headline is just one of many recent positive signs in the last several weeks. That's not to say we're completely out of the economic woods, or that there won't be some more bumps along the way. But recovery is coming.  Are you prepared? 

Here's a checklist:

- Are you primarily focused on cost cutting? Time to change focus. Cost cutting won't help you grow the business.

- What is your senior management's strategy for recovery? How will your customer engagement efforts -- including Customer Reference program, Communities and Social Media, Advisory Boards, etc -- contribute?

- If your corporate strategy calls for providing new offerings to existing customers, what's your plan for getting buy in from existing references?

- If your strategy calls for cultivating new customers or unfamiliar markets, what's your plan for developing new references? 

- Rather than cost cutting, focus on leveraging what you've got.  One often overlooked approach: better integration with other customer engagement programs. Your community sites are likely hungry for content - can you or your references provides some? Do you have Advisory Board members who'd be willing to act as customer references? Or vice versa? If you have a Net Promoter Score program, is anyone harvesting your promoters into the reference program? 

- Do your customer references match your changing company strategy? Now is a good time to question and cull. Note that yesterday's stars, or even your currently largest customers, aren't necessarily the most strategic. Maeve Naughton has a thoughtful post on this on the Boulder Logic blog.

 - What's your plan for being indispensable to Sales? They'll be on the front lines of the recovery push. Will you be up there with them?

- What's your new value proposition for getting customers into your reference program? If it's not based on performance first, then I'd suggest you push "reset." Tying reference activity to the success of your firm's deliverables will delight the customer , improve their input and referencing activities, and raise the strategic visibility of your program.

Building a Community of CIO Customers: How Microsoft Does It

Posted by Bill Lee on September 1, 2009 at 12:18 PM

Want to know how to build a high-level council of some 40 CIOs, CTOs and architects from leading corporations and governments around the world? Perhaps you've thought of doing so -- starting with some of the marquee names from your own customer reference program, or advisory boards. If so, take a look at how Microsoft has built its (rather dryly named) "Interoperability Council," which is now more than 3 years old and is going very strong.

It meets twice a year, includes representatives from marquee businesses and governments like Aetna, Raytheon, American Express, the European Commission, Government of India, Denmark’s Ministry of Finance, and hasn’t lost a single member since it started. While the Council has produced a number of immediate benefits to Microsoft’s business — such as the decision by one Council member to forego a planned major JAVA project in favor of using Microsoft's .net platform — this is NOT the goal of the Interoperability Council, and is not why it works.  

Connie Dean, Director of Customer Advocacy at Microsoft, explains why it does work. Connie will be prese
nting at the 2009 Summit on Customer Engagement, Boston, October 20-21:

How to Build a CIO Community

1. Determine major needs this community has -- without regard to your business offerings.
“Interoperability” -- getting technology to work in a complex, heterogamous environment, is a major, growing problem with CIOs. Helping an SAP or Oracle platform work in Windows environment is not necessarily something that Microsoft would choose to do -- but the need was there and no one else was addressing it.

2. Ask, “Can we address it? Does it make strategic sense to do so?”
One reason it made sense for Microsoft to do so was to enhance its reputation for trustworthiness and credibility. Succeeding would depend on getting cooperation from other technology firms, some of them fierce rivals. But CIOs in need are a persuasive force.

3. You’ll need an Executive Driver.
Not “sponsor,” if by that is meant someone who offers support and makes the occasional appearance. You’ll need a driver who gets heavily involved in meetings, and in follow-up.

3. Build parallel “working groups” to implement projects.
It does no good to meet, brainstorm, and develop exciting projects with senior executives unless they turn into action and results. Connie and her team developed 6 working groups, composed of implementation people from both the CIO’s firms and Microsoft. The Microsoft working group members report to the Executive Sponsor (oops, Driver). Failing to follow up is not an option.

4. Report back
In the last 3 years, the Interoperability Council has identified about 100 “scenarios,” or technology and business issues resulting from interoperability failures that needed to be fixed. A healthy 60% of those have been solved. Of the 40% that haven’t been solved, many are still undergoing analysis and some will likely be solved. Connie estimates that Microsoft has declined to pursue only about 10%. In any case, council members are fully briefed and know the reasons why.

5. Learn
To gain more clout in the interoperability movement, Connie’s group has started sponsoring white papers and other publications on the subject, to grow industry awarness and encourage more cooperation from skeptical vendors. They’ve also figured out how Council members can engage more closely and influence senior Microsoft executives in ways that create win-wins for both. She’ll provide more details about that at the Summit.