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August Newsletter: Reinventing a Customer Reference Program

Posted by Bill Lee on August 12, 2010 at 09:15 AM


Last month we saw that "reinventing customer relationships" is one of the three top issues for CEOs today, according the the recent IBM survey of 1500 global CEOs. Reference programs can be a key player in such an effort. This month I'll provide some more* tips on how to implement changes your program needs in order to play such a key role.

 (* See the March issue:


1. Expand your thinking about what customer reference programs can be doing.

These days reference programs are in the middle of improving qualified lead generation efforts, building successful customer communities and social media programs, building key executive-to-executive relationships, improving early adopter rates for new product launches, helping to develop "solutions selling" offerings, improving strategic alignment with customers, gaining greater penetration into existing customer accounts ... the list goes on and on.

2. Always know what senior management's agenda is.

You might have to throw away your canned deck showing what terrific things your reference program could be doing. Start a new one whose first slide is top management's priorities--in particular, the ones that your reference program could have a powerful impact on. Then show how you can do so, always in terms of outcomes for your senior management's objectives.

3. As you begin the change initiative, Identify encouragers and detractors early.

Before proceeding in any change initiative for your program, it's worthwhile to think through who your encouragers are--and how to attract more of the right people. And among potential encouragers, don't forget customers themselves. They can be powerful advocates in a change initiative that will have clear benefits for them. As for detractors, ignoring them can sabotage an otherwise promising change initiative. It's critical to avoid this deadly buzz: "Well, here's yet another program of the month." Combat that with education, visible executive support, and consistency in purpose. If a powerful detractor emerges who's bent on sinking your change initiative, there are really only two options: His boss must order him unequivocally to cease and desist with opposition, to the point of including this requirement in his performance review. Or he must be removed from the scene either temporarily or permanently.

4. Be prepared for roadblocks

Here are a few that most change initiatives will encounter at some point, along with tips for addressing them:

- Roadblock: The Compensation or Reward System

"We can't make the changes you propose because it would require changing the sales compensation system, which we can't do. We certainly can't do it mid-year." is a common objection. Remember two things: this is nonsense. Systems serve the business, not vice versa. Also, take the initiative to propose the changes that will need to be made rather than leaving it up to the compensation bureaucracy.

- Roadblock: Vested Interests

Whose boat is your change initiative rocking? For example, a senior sales person may not want his top tier customers "bothered." If you've done everything possible to address his concerns, then you may have a vested interest on your hand. Solution: don't attack the person, attack his reasons. You can suggest to your executive sponsor that customers be directly surveyed to find out if they would really be bothered by the change initiative. You'll likely find that your carefully thought through initiative will delight them, neutralizing the objection.

- Roadblock: Lethargy, Apathy

This is a killer, and the first line of defense is your own attitude. You must be passionate about the change initiative (otherwise don't even get started) and you must communicate that passion, along with the good business reasons, for proceeding. And don't forget: for any constituent you work with, always show clearly the rewards and advantages they'll reap from the effort.

For more on this--including more about key initiatives today's reference programs are doing, dealing with personal and emotional time wasters, ways to help senior management achieve their objectives and more--drop me an email to receive my new White Paper, Transforming a Customer Reference Program: Implementing Change That Leads to Dramatic Impact."

All the best,




- ONSITE WORKSHOPS: Summer Discount



- NEW WHITE PAPER: Transforming a Customer Reference Program

- Join our Linkedin community

- Local meetings of reference professionals

- Jobs: Who's Hiring? Who's seeking a position? 



Is it time to take your customer reference program to the next level? Having trouble getting there?  Bill Lee brings Customer Reference Forum's knowledge, research capabilities, and the most extensive network of reference professionals and suppliers in the world, onsite to you. Currently we're offering two workshops (with more on the way):

- Building a Just-in-Time Reference Capability

- Bringing Customers Into Your Social Media and Lead Generation Efforts

We're also offering a 15% Summer discount, through August 31, for our onsite workshops.

Learn more:



March 1-2, 2011

San Mateo, CA, USA 

Save the date. We're expanding our premier event for Customer Reference and other Customer Engagement Professionals to include keynotes by leading executives and thought leaders in the profession, together with in-depth tracks on Customer Reference Programs, Communities and Social Media, and Customer Advisory Boards and Executive Forums.

Plan to join your peers from many of the leading B2B firms in the world:

* Network, build relationships, and learn best practices from your peers.

* Get answers to your toughest challenges from experienced reference pros.

* Learn how leading firms integrate their reference, communities, social media and advisory board programs for maximum leverage.

* Learn how to get budget, resources and respect from senior management.

* Learn about vendor offerings in a no-sales, non-threatening environment.

* Just getting started? We'll have a special track for you.

. . . and much more.

Registration will open in September. To keep informed as our plans progress, please drop me an email  with "keep me informed of the 2011 event" in the subject line.)



Transforming the Reference Program: Implementing Significant Changes That Lead to Dramatic Impact 

Join us for our third and final teleconference for the Summer Series: Customer Integration Power: How to Multiply the Impact of References, with SAS Canada's Wally Thiessen. Wally and I will discuss how reference programs can partner with other customer engagement efforts to dramatically leverage the effectiveness of customer references. You can also get access to audio of our previous teleconferences with leading reference managers at Cisco, CA Technologies and Qwest--and learn how they deal with issues such as corporate inertia, limited budgets and staffing, customer burnout, sales distrust, changing buyer habits, etc.--and making changes to their Reference Programs that have a significant impact on their businesses.

For more information and to register.



For practitioners only. Exchange ideas and best practices with peers, get your questions answered quickly, expand your network. This recently launched community is already up to 350+ members. If you're not a member, join us - just send me an email "sign me up for your Linkedin community" in the subject line.


For the Boston Customer Reference quarterly meetings schedule, please check with Kara Manfredi for updated information, at karaManfredi at deltek dot com

To follow and attend the San Francisco/Silicon Valley Customer References Council, you can go to their new LinkedIn community site (just copy and paste "San Francisco/Silicon Valley Customer Reference Council" into the LinkedIn search engine for "Groups").

For the next Bay Area Reference Group Meeting please send an email (and please include your title) to amy.shever at sap dot com.


For information on who is hiring and to apply, please visit:

We can let our community of more than 1000+ reference pros know about your position opening. To post a job (for now, this service is free), please click here.