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

« September 2009 | Main | November 2009 »

October 2009 Archives

Forrester's Laura Ramos on the Summit on Customer Engagement

Posted by Bill Lee on October 28, 2009 at 02:25 PM

Forrester is showing increasing interest in B2B customer engagement efforts. Laura attended and presented last week at the Summit. One of her points is that customer engagement efforts lend themselves to persuasive ROI analysis: they can have important impacts on business performance, which can be measured. Here

Also, she provides an excellent overview of how our executive attendees at the Summit view these programs. Here

The ROI of B2B Customer Engagement: Takeaways from the 2009 Summit

Posted by Bill Lee on October 26, 2009 at 12:51 PM

The 2009 Summit on Customer Engagement was the most intense 2 days I’ve seen yet at one of our events.

There’s no way to provide a list of takeaways and do the content flowing from the  Summit justice. So over the next few weeks I’ll post a series of takeaways as we continue to compile information from the presentations, Executive Forum, peer exchange, panel and fireside chat.

First up is the ROI from Customer Engagement Efforts. There’s a growing body of evidence – evidence that’s persuasive to CFOs – that customer engagement efforts drive growth. Customer engagement includes customer reference programs, advisory boards, communities and customer social network efforts.

 Here’s a few examples from last week’s Summit.

 From co-keynoter and thought leader Sean Geehan:

- Customer programs that engage decision-making customers create measurable ROI vs. those that have little or no engagement with decision makers. In particular, such customer engagement efforts triple account growth rates (from 4% to 12%), more than triple referenceability (94% vs. 28%), and increase retention by 25% (90% vs. 72%).

- Such results impress finance executives. “Our executive customer programs have proven to be the most effective way to positively impact top and bottom line results.” Jeff Garrity, CFO, Services, NCR.

 - Oracle, which has substantially outperformed its industry - as measured by the Dow Jones Software index as well as the overall DJIA - gives great credit to its executive customer programs. “Our executive customer programs have driven the Oracle transformation. The pay-off has been tremendous.” Charles Phillips, COO, Oracle.

From co-keynoter Tim Thorsteinson, retiring President, Harris Broadcast, on the superior performance of Harris relative to its market and competitors.

- Harris has excelled by rapidly revamping its product line: 50% of its current line was developed in the last 24 months. This wouldn’t have been possible without engagement with key executives at its most important customers through its Executive Advisory Board – who drove 16% of the firm’s revenue last year.

At Harris, customer engagement efforts drive:

     - Improved margins, predictability, sustainability (increase in sales)

     - Confidence in the business trajectory and forecasts

      - Market alignment, higher stakeholder returns

From Intel's Rhett Livengood, the firm's social media efforts – which are now well advanced in integrating customer reference and customer advisory board programs at Intel - are driving lead generation and branding. Here’s how Intel measures social media, and the current numbers showing its impact:

- Lead Generation (% of new customers coming from social media efforts)

     Goal: 10%  Current: 3%

- Brand Impact (measured by comment ratio on blog)

     Goal: 1:1   Current: 1:.87

- Community Driven (conversations driven by community members vs. Intel)

     Goal: 90/10   Current: 70/30


More to come . . . . 

What Intel is Doing in Social Media

Posted by Bill Lee on October 21, 2009 at 12:50 PM

Rhett Livengood is presenting on how Intel is integrating its customer reference and customer advisory board programs into its social medial program. Btw, he's a musician who cut his first album when he was 17 years old - back when an album was a "record."

A few takeaways:


  • When it comes to customer content that people use, video is king.
  • Standard customer case studies contains content that people care about: but it obviously must be reformatted for social media. 
  • People want one click and 90 second or less videos.
  • Key social media metrics: lead generation, brand impact, extent to which it is community driven
  • Keep content fresh. Most of the views of content take place within the first 3 or 4 days.
  • There are lots of valuable tracking tools out there, for free.
  • You need a mobil version of your website.


  • The idea is to go from "touching" advisory board members once or twice a year, to frequently.
  • First, your site for your Board members must be secure, and simple.
  • Use a blog platform, because it's familiar.
  • You're looking for quality content -- true, C-level input. Assuring security is key to this.
  • Rhett and his team drive commentary with an e-newsletter, content from the CAB meetings, minutes, updates -- all such communications drive them back to the site.

How "Groundswell" Winner National Instruments Builds Customers for the Future

Posted by Bill Lee on October 21, 2009 at 08:46 AM

At the 2009 Summit: National instruments' John Pasquarette, Vice President, Product Marketing – Software, showed us how National Instruments (NI) achieved a pretty remarkable strategic success by marshalling its customer communities in a successful, high-profile cause marketing effort. NI's long-term goal was to increase visibility and usage of its programming language, LabVIEW. John showed how his team partnered with philanthropist and inventor Dean Kamen's FIRST Robotics competition, which attracts 1700 high school teams culminating in a Super Bowl-type event in the Georgia Dome each Spring. The goal: get these customers and engineers of the future to convert to LabVIEW over the traditional programming language approaches they normally use to control their robots. It was a high risk effort: the kids had only 6 weeks to master the language and build their robots.  If the students' first experience with NI products had been bad, the entire project would have backfired.  But it exceeded expectations. John showed us how NI brought existing experts from its communities with the student teams to drive adaptation significantly beyond the firm’s initial goals.

Health Care Services and Customer References

Posted by Bill Lee on October 21, 2009 at 08:11 AM

Day 2 at the Summit on Customer Engagement.  What are health care services providers doing to cultivate customer references and other customer engagement opportunities?  VP of Market Development Vicki Cooney is telling us what AmerisourceBergen - a $70 billion pharmaceutical services provider - is doing. Vicki took a relatively new customer reference program and led the implementation of its "Refernces 2.0" program strategically. Many reference programs that have been around for years have grown stale, hidebound by traditions that no longer make sense. It's enlightening to see how a bright executive approaches customer references from a fresh point of view. 

Her approach: decidedly holistic. She started by securing senior executive support, including sales. She worked with them to establish clear goals. Performed gap analysis. Mapped out their existing reference customers. And proceeded with a clear implemntation plan. Make use of new technologies such as uploadable video to capture testimonials in ways most likely to be seen.

Her advise to firms wanting to build - or rebuild - a customer reference program.

- Understand corporate goals: be strategic, don't focus on program tools, focus on business goals. Recruit thought-leading customers into the program

- Develop a program roadmap

- Involve all stakeholders: understand their "pains" when it comes to customer references (are they getting the right ones? Do they get the reference materials they need? etc)

- Communicate early and often

- Listen to your customers

- Define the value

- Leverage the technology

Forrester's Take on Customer Engagement

Posted by Bill Lee on October 20, 2009 at 01:12 PM

Greetings from the first day of the 2009 Summit on Customer Engagement. Right now Forrester's Laura Ramos is talking about engaging B2B customers, in order to build brand and grow business.

Some takeaways:

- Most of the things B2B firms do to build brands don't work, and we know they don't work: Direct mail, blogs, social media, webinars, virtual trade shows.

- Same goes for demand generation: radio, customer communities, sponsorships, PR . . .they don't work very well. 

- What's missing from such efforts is customer engagement: "The deep connection a company or brand creates with customers that drives purchase decisions, interaction, and participation over time." You can't build these with any single approach or isolated tactics.

- Customers want to get engaged - with vendors and with each other. For what? # 1 reason: TO provide input and influence in strategic direction and offerings. #2. To network with industry peers.

#- What does this require from you? Involvement, interaction, intimacy, and influence.

- What causes decision makers to engage in online, work-related communities. #1. Discussion quality and relevance. #2. Demonstrated experience and thought leadership.

Developing Emotional Connections with Customer References

Posted by Bill Lee on October 13, 2009 at 12:24 PM

There is growing interest in, and evidence of, the value of developing strong emotional bonds with customers. Gone is the notion that customers - even B2B customers - buy primarily for rational reasons. Much more important than giving them logical reasons to buy is engaging with them on an emotional level.


In a series of studies, the Gallup organization has found that businesses that optimize such customer engagement outperform their competitors by 26% in gross margin and 85% in sales growth. Their customers buy more, spend more, return more often, and stay longer.


Reference programs are in an excellent position to help build those emotional bonds. Often the "relationship owner" is an sales or account management (AM), who gives their closest attention to customers when they want to sell them something. Reference managers, on the other hand, have an interest in keeping customers engaged and connected consistently - it's in your interest. What we're learning is that this will not only be good for your program, but also for your firm's growth and profitability. 

Here are some tips for keeping customer references emotionally engaged:


Avoid obvious turn offs

Examples are asking for reference commitments up front upon signing the contract (the only exception here is to tie reference commitments to performance goals), engaging with customers only when you want references, relying on rewards and gifts to keep references happy (not to be confused with thoughtful, appropriate gifts to show appreciation, while relying on performance to keep them happy).


Learn and care about their issues and problems

Former Motorola CIO Patty Morrison calls this one of the first tests she applies in deciding whether to build a relationship with a vendor representative - including the reference manager. Think this is outside the scope of your responsibility? See how SumTotal Systems' Kathryn Perkins used that approach to build her refererence program and raise its visibility and importance both within the firm and with customers. 

Tie customer reference deliverables to regular performance reviews

Someone such as the customer's AM engages in regular performance reviews to make sure that the customer is receiving the value promised. That's the time to discuss references because it tells the customer you care, and the reference activities that naturally flow from such discussions can be exciting. In areas where delivery excels, for example, suggest doing a white paper or case study that would prominently feature the customer's role in the success. In areas where delivery is falling short, AMs are sometimes negligent in getting the problem corrected. Offer to step into the breach (as Kathryn did at SumTotal.)


Understand the customer reference's emotional drivers

What's her personality type? Is she a Driver? Analytical? Expressive? Amiable? Different types respond to different approaches and have different emotional triggers. Here's a useful checklist.  An Expressive, for example, loves the spotlight and will likely be excited about getting up on stage or in the media with his success story. A Driver may be ambitious to raise her professional stature, which can guide you in developing reference opportunities that will excite her.


Integrate references with other customer engagement programs

This will allow you to provide more options to customers - not just referencing, but other activities such as advisory boards, customer communities, user groups, customer events, etc. Such integration clearly creates better opportunities to leverage key customers. But, it also deepens emotional ties to your firm. SAS Canada's Wally Thiessen, who heads up customer programs, has taken this approach. Customer engagement at SAS Canada is 50% higher than a comparable region that has not been able to achieve significant integration. And it's leading to improved business performance, as the Gallup studies suggest: customer retention rates - once a strong point for SAS Canada that began falling off earlier in the decade, have risen steadily since Wally and his team began integrating key customer engagement programs.

Who's Attending the Summit on Customer Engagement on 10/20?

Posted by Bill Lee on October 5, 2009 at 08:47 AM
It's an impressive list, including Microsoft, EMC, Intel, SAS Institute, Wells Fargo, IBM, Harris Broadcast Corporation, National Instruments, Hitachi Data Systems, AmerisourceBergen, Citrix Systems, NetApp, and others.  Recent registrants include Cisco Systems, NICE Systems, DataFlux, Diebold, Open Text Corp,, and VitalSmarts, And we'll have the strongest list of presenters on engaging the B2B customers you'll find.