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July 2010 Archives

Do (Great) Schools Have Lessons For Marketing?

Posted by Bill Lee on July 20, 2010 at 09:04 AM

Great article in Newsweek The Creativity Crisis which (after deploring the way most kids are taught these days in American schools) provides a compelling example of how learning should occur. It comes from Ohio's National Inventors Hall of Fame School,a middle school in Akron.

Looking for something better than the daily, dispiriting grind of cramming information into students heads day in and day out,  teachers tried something different with fifth graders. They game them a pracitcal problem to solve: figure out how to reduce noise in the school library, which overlooks a public space. Even with windows closed, the library was still too noisy. 

The students had four weeks to develop proposals to solve the problem. Here's what happened. Note that the project was cleverly designed to lead the students to learn significant parts of the school's fifth grade curriculum--but what a difference in motivation! 

And here's a question to ponder. Could there be a lesson here for marketing departments--so eager to get their message into customer's heads? Would it be possible to engage customers in a much more compelling and energizing way--by getting them to think about clarifying and starting to solve a problem that's important to them? You then introduce  your solutions and intellectual property only at the point when needed, to get to the next step? 

Perhaps you'd get a reaction from customers similar to the energy generated in these fifth graders as they worked to reduce the noise in their library...

"Working in small teams, the fifth graders first engaged in what creativity theorist Donald Treffinger describes as fact-finding. How does sound travel through materials? What materials reduce noise the most? Then, problem-finding—anticipating all potential pitfalls so their designs are more likely to work. Next, idea-finding: generate as many ideas as possible. Drapes, plants, or large kites hung from the ceiling would all baffle sound. Or, instead of reducing the sound, maybe mask it by playing the sound of a gentle waterfall? A proposal for double-paned glass evolved into an idea to fill the space between panes with water. Next, solution-finding: which ideas were the most effective, cheapest, and aesthetically pleasing? Fiberglass absorbed sound the best but wouldn’t be safe. Would an aquarium with fish be easier than water-filled panes?

"Then teams developed a plan of action. They built scale models and chose fabric samples. They realized they’d need to persuade a janitor to care for the plants and fish during vacation. Teams persuaded others to support them—sometimes so well, teams decided to combine projects. Finally, they presented designs to teachers, parents, and Jim West, inventor of the electric microphone.

"Along the way, kids demonstrated the very definition of creativity: alternating between divergent and convergent thinking, they arrived at original and useful ideas. And they’d unwittingly mastered Ohio’s required fifth-grade curriculum—from understanding sound waves to per-unit cost calculations to the art of persuasive writing. “You never see our kids saying, ‘I’ll never use this so I don’t need to learn it,’ ” says school administrator Maryann Wolowiec. “Instead, kids ask, ‘Do we have to leave school now?’ ” Two weeks ago, when the school received its results on the state’s achievement test, principal Traci Buckner was moved to tears. The raw scores indicate that, in its first year, the school has already become one of the top three schools in Akron, despite having open enrollment by lottery and 42 percent of its students living in poverty."

Top of Mind for 1500 Global CEOs: Reinventing Customer Relationships

Posted by Bill Lee on July 14, 2010 at 02:32 PM

"Reinventing customer relationships" is top of mind for CEOs today. That's the exciting conclusion from IBM's recently released Global Chief Executive Officer Survey. I encourage you to read through it, because it has exciting implications for the strategic importance of customer reference programs. Following are a few thoughts on how you and your reference program might capitalize on them:

 - Share the IBM CEO survey with your senior leadership, if they're not already aware of it. Summarize its implications for your firm's particular market and customers.

 - Learn how your senior management is approaching the issue of reinventing customer relationships. Then ask yourself how your reference program and your firm's customer references can help. Make proposals to the appropriate levels of leadership at your firm.

- The 1500 CEOs in the IBM survey, for example, want their firms to get better at anticipating customer needs, rather than passively responding to requests. Can your references help with this? Does someone at your firm systematically probe customers not just on what's worked well, but where customers foresee additional ways in which your solutions might help their firm? If not, your firm needs to correct this situation. For some firms, the customer reference team takes a strong role in this.

- The IBM survey CEOs want to make customer intimacy a priority. Does your CEO have the same priority? How can your reference program help? Reference programs at a number of firms, such as we saw at Oracle at the 2010 Customer Reference Forum, are stepping up and growing increasingly assertive in establishing and maintaining important, key-customer relationships throughout the relationship lifecycle. 

- The IBM survey CEOs also want to bring customers into their firms' core processes. We've seen a number of reference programs that are doing just that: bringing references into new product development, product launch efforts, into their advisory boards, and their social media/ Internet marketing efforts. Ask how can your references help improve core processes at your firm.


Jackie Breiter on Transforming CA Technology’s Customer Reference Forum

Posted by Bill Lee on July 13, 2010 at 10:39 AM
As the new VP, Customer Success and Flagship Programs, Jackie explains how she approached the daunting task of changing CA Technologies’s customer reference program. In just six months since taking it over, she’s executing on a plan to get her team away from inefficient and time burning “butler services,” while hitting significant milestones on the road to a full, self-service customer reference platform. She's also made enough progress toward cleaning up the firm's reference database to have the confidence to gain support to integrate it with the rest of the firm’s sales force automation software. Her team now has significantly more time to pursue more strategic initiatives, including developing closer relationships with customers.

Where do you start to undertake such a daunting set of initiatives? Here’s an excerpt from the teleconference we did on June 30. 

TC-Jackie getting started

Customers (Patients) Help Hospitals Improve Care

Posted by Bill Lee on July 12, 2010 at 08:51 AM

A great article in the Sunday NY Times business section today. Seattle Children's Hospital is both improving patient care and lowering costs by involving its customers (patients' families) in extensive, ongoing process improvement efforts. The include 40 hour (!) workshops. 

In a typical workshop at Seattle Children’s, a group of doctors, nurses, administrators and representatives of patients’ families set aside a 40-hour week to work through C.P.I. methods. They plot each “event” a patient might encounter — like filling out forms, interacting with certain staff members, having to walk various distances or having to wait for assistance — and brainstorm about how each could be improved, or even eliminated.

How Buyers—Including C-level Executives—Find You on the Web

Posted by Bill Lee on July 8, 2010 at 09:57 AM

I’ve compiled some stats showing how buyers—including senior executives—are   finding vendors through the Web. This is good to keep in mind as you think through how and where your reference content can be most effectively deployed.

- Siemens PLM Software reckons that 70% of their buyers’ “journeys” toward the decision whether to buy is complete before first contact with their firm. What sources are they consulting pre-contact? The Web, blogs, online communities and research services.

- 58% of B2B buyers first interact with a new vendor through the Internet. By 2015, that number will be more than 70%, according to research by Sirius Decisions.  

- Buyers, particularly in the middle stages of the buying cycle when they are starting to evaluate alternatives, are becoming more likely to regard vendors as a trusted source of information (11.4% buyers regard vendors as trusted sources in 2010  of vs. 3.5% in 2006).  11.4% is not huge of course, but it’s more than triple what it was. Note also that vendors went down as a “least trusted source" by about half, from 40% in 2006 to 21% this year.   These trends likely results from the fact that many more firms are figuring out how to provide useful information on their websites, as opposed to brochure ware.

- A Forbes Insights/ Google study of 354 executives (director level or higher) at firms with revenues greater than $1 billion) found that the Internet is now the chief source of business information for the big company executives. The study found that Internet search engines were considered the most valuable source for locating business information, with 60% of the executives surveyed performing six or more searches per day. And what information are they looking for on the Web? Among the top seven subject areas are: customer trends and marketing trends and strategies (for marketing and sales executives), and technology trends along with product trends and product development (for IT executives). In other words, executives are looking for solutions to their issue on the Internet.

Building Customer Communities: Lessons From U of Florida

Posted by Bill Lee on July 1, 2010 at 08:22 AM

Online MBA programs have obvious appeal and are enjoying rapid increases in enrollment. But they also suffer from high drop out rates as well. One reason: virtual students don't enjoy the advantages and stimulation of being part of a community like campus based students do.

The University of Flordia's Hough Graduate School of Business is addressing that problem by creatively infusing elements of community into its online graduate program, as reported in today's The Wall Street Journal. For example, Alex Sevilla, the director of the executive education program there, sends out regular emails to students and alumni describing the program's latest innovations. He and other staff go out of their way to meet students during their brief stays on the campus. They also started distributing iPod Touchs to each student, packed with program lessons, about three years ago--a creative way to use technology to enhance the sense of personal connectedness. "This was a huge hit for us," said Sevilla. This year, they plan to start distributing similarly loaded iPads.

Results from the community building efforts: Online student retention rates have increased from 81% to 95% over the last six years. The efforts have also improved the school's visibility and helped create loyal, donating alumni.

How attached are your customers to your customer communities? What can you do to increase their attachment. What non-technology, people