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Follow the Money: Customer References and Demand Gen

Posted by Bill Lee on May 18, 2010 at 03:18 PM

Positioning a customer reference program as a  . .  . customer reference program . . . won't get the attention of senior management at any firm. It's a function. A cost, in the preception of most. Reference program budgets reflect this.

But two emerging developments, which came into view at last week's Sirius Decisions 2010 Summit, will bring reference and other key customer engagement programs squarely into the spotlight, if they're positioned and run correctly. 

1. First, where marketing is concerned, budget dollars are flowing into demand generation--which use targeted marketing efforts to drive awareness and interest in a company's products and/or services. That was evident from the audience--some 500 people from an impressive array of companies on hand, , some 15% of whom i'd say were VPs or above. 

2. Demand generation programs need content. In particular, content that can or should be developed by customer reference programs. That's because "peers" are buyers' most trusted sources of information throughout the buying process (see last post).

Here are some more interesting stats and takeaways from the Summit (following last Friday's post) that will have important implications for reference programs:

- Siemen's VP of Marketing Lief Pederson reckons that 70% of the buying decision is completed before the buyer contacts their firm, up from 40% just a few years ago. That is, buyers are checking Siemens out through their sources like their peer community and/ or online. Obviously, Siemens wants their customer references involved in those conversations.

- By 2015, 71% of all B2B leads will come through the web. (Currently the number is 58%) Again, you want those leads reading about and interacting with your customer references and customer communities (whether on your site or elsewhere) during the buying journey.

- There is growing acceptance of the notion that marketing must remain engaged with lead generation throughout the sales cycle--as opposed to simply generating "inquiry" leads up front and tossing them over the wall to sales. Marketing will need to help "nurture" leads that are falling by the wayside, and in particular continue to provide content and support throughout the buying process. And we've already seen what the most consistently trusted source of information is throughout that process.

- There is also a growing awareness that firms must analyze and understand the buying process, not just the sales cycle. What does the journey from education and awareness to purchase look like through the eyes of the buyer? References can play a critical role in understanding this process (attention: case study writers) as well as supplying relevant content to support it

- Back to Siemens: Pederson's team reinforeced this view of the expanded role of marketing (and implicitly of customer references) by asking, What if:

           *  we could convert 10% of our visitors into email contacts?

·                * we could convert 50% of those into actionable leads for sales?

·                 * 25% of sales pipeline was directly sourced from marketing (not just influenced)?

     Is there any doubt that customer-based content will be critical in making these numbers a reality?

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