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Tips for Implementing Significant Changes to your Reference Program

Posted by Bill Lee on March 15, 2010 at 05:51 AM

Reference programs are changing rapidly. The internet and social media in particular are changing the landscape, and opening up both big risks and big opportunities for your firm's sales and marketing efforts. How can you make the changes your reference program needs to stay abreast? Here are some tips to think about:

1. Avoid the strategic vs. tactical pitfall.
Start by taking your list of things you want to change and asking, which of these are strategic and which are tactical? Strategic items are the "what" you want to accomplish, tactical items are the "how" you'll get to the what. For example, "our team needs to build better and closer relationships with our references is strategic" On the other hand, "we need to host more face-to-face events for our references" is tactical. One of the best ways to derail a change initiative is to mix those two up. Start with getting clarity on the strategic items you want to implement. Then put together a tactical plan.

2. Put your strategic items to the test.
Just because you think they're great ideas, doesn't mean your boss or key stakeholders will. You'll need to open or re-open dialogue with them on your program's strategic goals, and the best place to start is by getting clear on what their goals are, first.

3. Work with your boss to identify key stakeholders to enlist.
They might include the head of global sales, your head of demand generation, social media programs, PR, AR, and/ or product marketing. Who can likely most benefit from new tools, processes, ideas in reference management that you've learned about?

4. Don't ask stakeholders what they want from your program.
Well, you can ask the question and you might get lucky with a specific and well thought out answer. But be prepared for a blank look or a very general and unhelpful answer. In any case, don't start the conversation with "we have this great new idea for our reference program that I want to tell you about." Trust me, it will get you nowhere. You have to prepare the ground first.

5. Do ask stakeholders what their priorities are.
For example, if one of your key stakeholders is the SVP of Global Sales, you need to get clarity on what her primary goals are--what she wakes up thinking about every day--that your reference program can have an impact on. This isn't as easy as it sounds, by the way. Once you're as clear as possible on her goals and those of other key stakeholders, then it makes sense to put together a first draft of your program's new strategic goals, to make sure they support those of your stakeholders.

6. Don't bite off more than you can chew.
Before finalizing on new strategic goals
to pursue, prioritize. Which will make the biggest impact, quickly, and with a clear impact on objectives that are important to your key stakeholders and to the business. Start with just one or two of these. As uber strategy consultant Alan Weiss says, don't move a hundred things an inch, move 2 or 3 things a mile.

7. Now you're ready for tactics, the "how's," to get you there.
And a critical part of this discussion should be "what things can we stop doing?" For many of you, it will be important to get away from "butler" services for your sales and marketing people--that is, taking phone calls and chasing down references for them at the last minute. It's time wasting, inefficient, and not the best and highest use of your talents.

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