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9 questions about reference program metrics

Posted by Bill Lee on February 13, 2007 at 10:02 AM

Barb Krasner chairs our Special Interest Group (SIG) on Metrics for Measuring the Effectiveness of a Reference Program. Its goal is to develop best practices in this critical area, and it's been up and running now for six months with a talented and diverse group of reference pros. I touched base with Barb recently to find out how the SIG is doing and get answers to such questions as what are the most critical areas of reference management to measure and why.

Btw, Barb's day job is Director of Customer Advocacy Marketing at Lucent Technologies, where she started that firm's (ITSMA) award-winning Client Reference Program in 2004.

Question 1: The big rap against marketing is that marketers can’t establish the business value of their programs. How close do you think reference professionals are to this holy grail? How much closer do you think they can get?

Answer: I think we're probably closer than most marketing programs, because the goal of reference fulfillment is revenue. Some companies track the relationship between the two systematically, through Siebel, for instance, and others track it manually by opportunity, using whatever means they have available to them. Data collection remains a challenge, particularly systematic data collection, and the SIG has two members who will be developing a best practice approach to that later this year.

Question 2: Who’s been participating in the Metrics SIG? How do you define your mission?

Answer: Participating companies include: Oracle, SAP, PTC, Epicor, Qwest, EMC, Intel, TomorrowNow, and ProjectLine Services. The SIG's goals are to: (1) develop a scorecard with a finite set of reference program metrics for executives, sales, marketing, and operations efficiency that represents best class practices; and longer term, (2) develop an industry standard through benchmarking for each of these metrics (for example, what constitutes a "good" result?).

Question 3: In what areas should reference programs measure results and what are the key metrics in each? And why are they key?

Answer: The SIG has identified a single most important metric in each of these four categories: executive, sales, marketing and operational efficiency. We call these the reference landscape. For executives, the most important metric is the same as the most important metric overall for a reference program: impact on sales. Same goes for sales. For marketing, it's customer recruitment to fulfill marketing requests and/or sufficient collateral by industry, region, product/service/solution, segment, etc. Finally, for operations efficiency, the most important metric is conversion of leads to references.

Question 4: What are some other valuable metrics in these four areas?

Answer: The audit we presented at the Customer Reference Forum in November in Dallas covers the gamut of possibilities. Some hard-hitting metrics in each area include:
(1) Executives focus on financial and business objectives--in particular, revenue impact.
(2) Sales focus on incremental impact--revenue impact; reference consideration (percentage of bid responses that include references); sales cycle impact (e.g., decreasing the sales interval); and, key customer coverage.
(3) Marketing focuses on inputs to deliverables-- such as reference coverage by key account/geo/product/ solution; conversion of new wins and "go lives" to references; and collateral usage.
(4) Operations Efficiency focuses on program expenses-- including reference request fulfillment and self-help fulfillment.

Question 5: In your opinion, what are the critical success factors for creating a successful reference program?

Answer: I love this question, because certain conditions must be present for success:
(1) Know your stakeholders and their needs--what results they're looking for (in other words, how they define success) so you can set appropriate measurable targets that are meaningful to them and gaining alignment around targets and metrics.
(2) Senior executive sponsorship--we cannot emphasize this enough--it's critical to have advocacy for your program at the CMO level or some other key exec level (even at the Board level in some companies). This can make or break the program.
(3) Clear focus on results and results reporting.
(4) Communicating the value proposition for the program and putting in place a feedback loop from the "voice of the customer" back to those internal stakeholders who build the company (product/service/solution) value prop.
(5) Strong communications plan--keep the program in the forefront by announcing big reference "wins", for instance, posts to your internal web site of success stories, etc.
(6) Recalibrating the program at least annually-- keep your program relevant by ensuring it is in lock-step with your company's business priorities and any shifts in those priorities.
(7) Tools!--make sure you have processes, workflows, etc. to drive recruitment and productivity.

Question 6: In measuring the most important metric (impact on sales), do you basically just ask the sales person “how important was the reference(s) to closing the deal”? And is that not fraught with the risk of, um, bias:)

Answer: It all comes down to tracking sales opportunities and deals. Companies with systematic metric methodologies can retrieve the information from Siebel, for instance, without relying on word of mouth. If you know references were used in the sales process, you can track that opportunity through to the close of the deal either manually or through a system like Siebel. Asking about a reference's importance in the process is a different question and would most likely be anecdotal. The best scenario is asking the newly won customer how important references were in making the purchase decision.

Question 7: The measures you list seem pretty quantitative. But can quantitative measures -- as important as they are -- fully capture a CRP’s importance? What about qualitative measures such as improved relationships, improved understanding by customers of your firm, or improved understanding by your firm of customers?

Answer: Frankly, executives want to see hard impact on the bottom line. Even improved relationships could be quantifiably presented through customer sat results or incremental revenue by account. The SIG's goal is to focus on a simple but effective scorecard that clearly demonstrates the value of a reference program.

Question 8: Do you plan to look at the effectiveness of customer communities, or is that beyond your scope or too early in their development to address?

Answer: That is indeed beyond our scope at the moment and yes, it's a bit too early to measure.

Question 9: Does the SIG plan to address Net Promoters and the potential connections between CRPs and NPS? SAP could definitely help with that.

Answer: No, we have no plans to address NPS. It hasn't come up in any conversation.

Take a Moment to Look at the Bigger Picture

Posted by Bill Lee on January 17, 2007 at 10:01 AM

his may seem like the wrong topic for a blog post so early in the year, since you're probably still digging out from the holiday season and have a 2-page task list plus 200 emails to get through. But I'd suggest you step back every now and then - particularly when you're busy - and look at the big picture. In particular, look at how your reference program fits together with the myriad of ways, many of them new and exciting, that your firm is engaging its customers.

Doing so will help you:

- Focus your efforts on what's important.
Reference managers have too much to do. Understanding where your program fits into your firm's big picture will help you set priorities.

- Accelerate your career growth.
And there is much reason to believe that the broader emerging field of "Customer Programs" will become a major new area in marketing (see the discussion under "A Prediction," here.),

- Enhance your reputation with senior management as someone who thinks strategically.

For example, take new product development (NPD). The “Voice of the Customer” – which includes the voice in particular of your customer references – is critical to NPD. Indeed, over the last couple of decades, our understanding of exactly how customer input can help NPD succeed has grown increasingly sophisticated. And it turns out that reference managers, without doing much of anything new, are in an excellent position to contribute to NPD.

How References Can Contribute to NPD

We now know that it doesn't always work to ask customers what new features they want or how they would improve the products/ services they're using. A better approach is to understand what "job" they're trying to get done (see Anthony Ulwick's excellent article on this, particularly pages 6-7). Once you know this, you then turn your engineers/ designers loose to develop ways to make the customer's job easier. For example, Intuit's QuickBooks gained rapid market share and eventually market dominance with a product that couldn't match - and didn't try to match - the sophisticated, report generating capacity of rival programs, which were developed by accountants. Rather, QuickBooks product developers talked to and watched business owners use their accounting software and found they weren't interested in the fancy reports. They just wanted a program that would make sure they didn't run out of cash. That's precisely what Intuit gave them.

What does this mean to you as a reference manager? Your writers are developing success stories and case studies. In their interviews, have them focus less on the whiz bang features, functionalities and capabilities that your engineers and product developers are touting. These things don't sell in any case. Have them focus more on what "job" customers are trying to get done with your product or service; what their desired outcomes are; and, how your current products are helping them achieve these outcomes. The answers, of course, will help sell more products. But if the customer's answers are different from what product developers think customers are doing, that information will also help NPD. And if you have your writers also ask customers about any constraints that prevent them from achieving optimal outcomes, that information will also be highly valuable to NPD. By sharing such information - most of which you're already gathering - with NPD, you become part of the bigger picture.

The Spring 2007 Customer Reference Forum will be held the week of April 23 or the week of April 30, for those of you wanting to plan. We'll finalize with the hotel in the next week or so, and I'll provide the exact dates and location as soon as I have them.

What Americans Can Learn From Europeans
plus a Prediction

Posted by Bill Lee on December 19, 2006 at 09:28 AM

It's been a busy 2006 for yours truly. I was in London in October for our first Customer Reference Forum Europe, then back in Dallas just two weeks later for our Fall US Customer Reference Forum. Whew! After intense face time with top reference professionals on both sides of the pond, here are a few of my takeaways on the state of the profession as we close out the year, plus a question and a prediction for you to chew on as we approach the New Year -- along with links to pics to have a look at.

But first a quick heads up. Our next US event will be next Spring in late April or early May on the West coast. I'll have more details for you after the 1st.


-- Reference professionals in Europe have it tougher than we do in the US. Language and translation issues. Cultural issues. Smaller budgets. Less headcount. They are, by necessity, a resourceful group.

-- My sense before London was that European reference professionals would tend to be more tactical and less strategic than their American counterparts, because many of the companies represented in London are headquartered here, such as HP, Microsoft, Dell, Oracle, EMC and the like. But one participant in London plans to go with her boss to her US-based CEO and argue for more funding. You can bet her case won't be based on tactical reasons. Another participant plans to approach her firm's VP of Sales to argue that sales people should have written MBOs related to supporting her reference program. These folks see the big picture and are working to influence it.

-- We Americans can definitely learn something from our European counterparts about how to party -- I mean, engage in after-hours, off-site networking!

Check out results and pics from our London event,


-- This was our fourth US event and I'm still amazed at the sheer passion of our community for their work, and for interacting with each other. Here's an example. After more than an hour of intensive, interactive "Master Mind" sessions led by the terrific Libby Gill, I suggested everyone take a break. I was roundly ignored as people kept right on talking and exchanging ideas. After another 30 or 40 minutes, I then tried to tempt them with refreshments and goodies out in the foyer. No thanks! They kept right on talking. The Master Mind sessions lasted some three hours during which very few people ever left the room. We'll have results from the Master Mind sessions in pdf format after the first of the year. Drop me an email if you'd like for me to let you know when the report is ready.

-- Our newly formed Special Interest Group on Metrics, which focuses on how to establish the business value of a reference program, was a big hit. Led by Lucent's always thoughtful Barb Krasner, with support from Oracle's Gayle McClary and PTC's Rhonda Morgan, they promptly recruited several new members and supporters. Their goal: develop true best practices for this critical area of reference management. This is just the first of several SIGs we plan to get up and running.

Check out some pics of Dallas,

What's Missing?

-- In both groups, there is still a considerable lack of awareness about Net Promoters. If you're serious about your program, about this profession, and about your career development, you need to get up to speed on this topic. It is the subject of spirited inquiry and debate at the most senior level of the executive suite and board. At forward thinking firms like SAP, Net Promoters (aka "enthusiastic references") provides the strategic underpinning for references. Plain and simple, you need to learn it. This will get you started.

A Question

-- Would it not make sense to locate reference programs in the sales organization, as opposed to marketing? Reasons: 1) Gaining cooperation of sales is an ongoing, often unresolved issue; 2) The most critical success factor for a reference program is impact on sales; and, 3) At least one advanced, highly respected reference program -- SAP's -- is now training sales on how to use references.

A Prediction

-- (Thanks to Point of Reference's David Sroka for this) The day is not far away when greatly expanded "customer programs" will be the domain of VPs or even Chief Customer Officers. Past Customer Reference Forum attendee lists have included only two VPs solely responsible for their reference programs: SAP's Coleen Kaiser and Unisys' Janice Burg-Levi. There are a number of reasons today's programs will ultimately gain representation on the executive team: 1) the current crop of reference managers are beginning to produce metrics that demonstrate top line impact, 2) program managers are being asked to take on a raft of customer projects that are becoming more visible to executives, and 3) companies are recognizing that broader and more strategic responsibilities warrant executive leadership and a place at "the table." The acceleration in sophistication and professionalism of customer reference programs is largely a result of a better-connected community and continuous knowledge sharing. What an exciting time to be in this space!

That's it for now. I want to wish you the happiest of holidays and a wonderful 2007.

In Europe, Customers Do the Selling

Posted by Bill Lee on October 27, 2006 at 06:50 AM

We just finished our first Customer Reference Forum Europe, in London on October 23-24. What an engaged, passionate group! As in the states, several of the world's top technology firms sent representatives -- including SAP, Hewlett-Packard, EMC, IBM, Dell, Intel, Microsoft, Business Objects, Lucent Technologies, SAS, Hyperion and other major firms -- thus confirming the growing importance of references to sales and marketing efforts in EMEA.

Takeaways? People left with a lot of specific ideas to implement. I saw pads of paper filled with lists of strategies for tackling tough issues.

Here's what my newest UK buddy and Metia CEO Steve Ellis took from the event.

Here are some highlights and pics.

Here's my take. For comments by participants, please stay tuned and see below.

Get validation.
That sounds like something you’d find on Oprah (and let’s not pooh-pooh the psychological boost one gets from knowing we're not alone in our struggles). But validation is also a powerful tool in getting what you need from senior management. One participant is going to ask her head of sales to require sales people to support the reference program, complete with clear objectives that get reviewed and enforced. And she’ll have more than the usual arguments for this. Now she’ll be able to show that top firms like SAP are doing it. That gives credibility. I can vouch for that, because I know of other reference managers who’ve gotten action after one of our events by telling senior execs that "we should do X" because 1) it makes sense and 2) SAP or HP or Intel or EMC or other respected companies are doing it.

Consider a reference book.
Why not just pick out your leading, most strategic references – based on solid input from sales – and publish it in a book? SAP did it and it became the most popular downloaded item on its entire website.

Engage Net Promoters
If you don't know what Net Promoter Score (NPS) is, learn. NPS is the strategic underpinning for your program. It says, in effect, that the company with the highest percentage of enthusiastic references wins. Your senior executives are likely reading Fred Reichheld's best-selling book on the subject. Research from the London School of Economics verifies Reichheld's thesis in the UK, as Metia's visionary Steve Ellis pointed out. Perhaps the most advanced reference program out there, SAP's, is implementing NPS through its reference program. Learn what NPS is about. Educate your senior executives if they don't already know. Start proposing ways in which your reference program can leverage this concept. You'll be glad you did.

No more throwing it up on a wall and seeing what sticks.
Effective reference programs are well beyond the phase of going for quantity in the number of references they can land and success stories they can write. That’s too expensive and often a waste. The clear emphasis is on quality and getting engaged in the sales process. Which means:

  • Select references who provide a genuine sales and strategic boost.
  • Learn what references activities work best at which point in the sales cycle. Every firm is different, but it’s likely that your sales people don’t close with a success story, for example. Instead they need a live interview or site visit (or at least a recorded reference that answers the prospects questions). That's pretty obvious. As Point of Reference COO Darren Smith points out, advanced programs are digging into the details of what works and when throughout the sales process.
  • Develop training to show your sales people how and where to use references. Don’t assume they know this! And make sure they take the training, by getting sales management to require it.

    Stop begging:)
    OK, that’s a little harsh, but leading reference programs are moving beyond the point of regarding reference activities as a favor you ask of customers. Instead, approach customers as an expert consultative sales person would. You’re learning their needs, and providing value that meets them. Presenting at an event raises their professional profile. Same for getting quoted by the press. Talking to buyers increases their knowledge of what’s going on in their industry.

    Tap the power of internal collaboration.
    Why not use the same consultative sales approach inside your firm? Reference programs have little formal power. But on-point references can provide great value to lots of groups in your company. So sell your program. Communicate its benefits to groups like sales, marketing, professional services, product development. It wouldn't hurt to grab a copy of Neil Rackhams legendary book on consultative sales. And by providing value to other internal groups, they in turn can provide lots of value (including new sources of references) to you.

    Gain control of your program.
    Have too much to do and worry about? You can’t do everything and please everyone, so stop trying. Here’s a couple of ideas for gaining control: (1) Segment your customers. Pick the most strategic and go after them. Ignore the ones who aren’t being used by sales or marketing. (2) Acquire a reference champion and enlist his/ her active support every step of the way. One motivated senior exec who can get things done is worth hours of persuasion and politicking. (3) Pick your targets. Focus on activities that result in highly visible deliverables.

  • The Value of Getting Together with your Peers

    Posted by Bill Lee on October 13, 2006 at 06:37 AM

    When she came to the San Francisco Customer Reference Forum last March, Carol Blumberg was just getting ready to launch Epicor Software’s new, formalized customer reference program. “We had just completed setting up our database infrastructure with IT, as well as the "EPICvalue" Survey that profiles customers joining the reference program. I was at the point of rolling out the program to the Sales Field." But she had several issues that were concerning her and that she didn’t have clear answers to.

    “I knew we were going to get some resistance from sales by mandating their accountability of a more formal process around references,” says Carol. "Another part of this resistance was their sharing with me their good references. Because Sales had kept their good references close to the vest and were not sharing, I knew that I needed to gain their trust. I wasn’t sure how I was going to deal with that. I also wasn’t clear on how to measure the effectiveness of our program or how to report on it.”

    At San Francisco, Carol picked up several ideas that helped her solve these issues.

    Find the Right Champion

    “One of the presenters talked about the importance of finding a champion at an Executive level, a decision maker. That made a lot of sense. The impetus for our program came from both the Executive VP of Worldwide Marketing as well as the EVP of Worldwide Sales. I went right back to them and told them of what I’d learned from other programs in San Francisco, and that for the program to succeed they would need to stay directly involved in supporting it. By understanding the importance of a strong and formal reference program and the potential of greater sales "wins", they immediately supported my proposal and have been strong supporters ever since. Telling them about the experiences of other programs gave credibility and weight to what I told them”

    Focus on Impact on Sales

    A light bulb turned on in San Francisco on the reporting and measurement issue as well. “The key with programs like SAP and Lucent is to focus on a program's impact on sales,” says Carol, which she proceeded to do. “Each quarter, senior management issues a win/loss report. I take the report and, using our database, analyze how many of the wins used some sort of reference activity, such as a sales call or a site visit. When we started out, 16% of wins included reference activity. Now, that figure has more than doubled to 33% and rising. Sales people are increasingly using our references to close deals. That gets attention.”

    Assume Everyone is a Stakeholder

    A third critical insight was to assume that everyone in the company is a stakeholder in the reference program, and to organize stakeholders into a community of interest. “That’s just what I did,” says Carol, who built bridges to other groups at Epicor such as consulting, tech support and product development. “Consulting, for example, had never been involved with references, but now I’m included in their meetings because they know if they recommend a customer where things are going well, I’ll pursue the lead and get the reference. In addition, they’ll refer to our reference database to see whether a customer they’re working with is in the program and make sure to treat them accordingly. It’s a clear win. I get invited to the meetings of these groups and get a steady supply of fresh leads, and then I get recognition for bringing new references into the fold.” A similar story can be told of Carol's "Alert System." "For each customer who joins the Reference program, I add a note to each of the CRM Database records to alert everyone in the company who accesses the database that this company is part of the Reference program. When Tech Support sees these alerts, for example, they know to escalate their issues even quicker!"

    Carol is excited, too, about how the Executive Vice President relies on her to give him the most credible customers to be briefed by Analysts such as Gartner and Forrester. "I love it when the EVP calls me monthly to advise him who I believe our best customers are to do an Analyst Briefing! Very exciting to be closer to the pulse of the company...and the EPIC value reference program has done just that."

    Metrics for Impressing the Toughest Executive

    Posted by Bill Lee on September 13, 2006 at 09:13 AM

    Today we're having our 3d – and final -- teleconference in our Summer Teleconference Series. We’re talking about “Metrics for Impressing the Toughest Executive.”

    . . . who have graciously agreed to continue monitoring this post and responding to your questions for the next week, bring a lot of experience:

    Gayle McClary, Senior Director, Global Customer References, Oracle Corporation --
    the world's largest enterprise software company. Gayle has been at Oracle for 7 1/2 years holding various positions all focused on demonstrating to customers the value of Oracle
    Solutions. For the past 2 years she has held leadership positions on the Global Customer Marketing and References team. This global team recruits and secures customers for Oracle Tier 1 events, press, media and analyst activities, sets the global reference standards and policies and manages the global references system. One key part of Gayle's role is to help establish and track reference metrics.

    Barbara Krasner, Director of Customer Advocacy Marketing at Lucent Technologies.
    Barbara launched Lucent’s Client Reference Program in 2004 within the services business and within five months was asked to take the program Lucent-wide—with no additional resources! Her career began with the pre-split AT&T in Market Research, where she formed an in-house creative agency and doubled B2B direct marketing response rates. When AT&T split into three companies in 1996, she was the brand strategist behind the Lucent brand. She joined Lucent’s services business in 1998 and led teams in marketing communications, strategy and market research.

    And I’m delighted that Barb and Gayle are founding members of the Special Interest Group on Metrics (SIG) we’ve formed. This group will be composed of a few experienced, bright reference professionals who will:
    - meet regularly
    - research this issue by exchanging ideas and bringing in outside resources
    - develop true best practices
    - present findings at future events or in reports or other media as appropriate and useful to the community


    OK, let's get started. Where do we set the bar on metrics for a reference program?

    How about this? Your program has a few, powerful metrics that accomplish several things.

    - They’re easily understood, even self-explanatory.

    - They’re not onerous to track: your systems make collection of data and crunching of numbers relatively easy – or at least, doable!

    - Senior executives agree that your metrics provide a fair measure of the value of your program. When the numbers are good, their pleased – and yes, impressed. When you need and deserve more budget, the numbers provide a compelling basis for getting it.

    - While simple and few in number, your metrics aren’t “one size fits all.” They take into account the special needs of important constituent groups, such as sales and marketing. They provide compelling evidence – again, without a lot of explanation -- of how you’re doing in meeting the needs of these other constituent groups.

    - And, through various communications tools, you’ve kept people aware of the importance of your metrics and how they relate to overall company performance.


    The theme of the discussion was that there are no real magic bullets for measuring the effectiveness of a reference program – not in the real world. But there are a lot of things you can do to measure your program meaningfully, in a way that gets executives’ respect, attention and even budgets!

    Here are some of my main takeaways.

    Make yourself accountable. Barb started Lucent's reference program by proposing ongoing, long-term targets, presenting those to senior executives, getting their feedback and adjusting accordingly. That got their support off the bat. And resulted in creation of a Customer Reference Council that includes heavy hitters including her boss, a VP, the CMO, and presidents of various regions. They meet twice yearly, get engaged in what the program is doing, push back at times, and support it.

    Keep it simple. Gayle outlined the areas that her program focuses its measurements on: effective reference recruiting, effective fulfillment and taking care of references. Her team asks, Are we recruiting the right references at the right time to meet the needs of our global sales and marketing campaigns? And they parse this question by looking at key milestones in the customer life cycle. Two key indicators for the Oracle reference program: How many new customers become references? Did they choose Oracle over a competitor? Lucent uses an indicator called the Customer Advocacy Index to measure how many customers become references. The goal: 100%.

    Impact on sales. This is huge, because it relates to impact on revenues, obviously. Everyone knows it's difficult to say exactly what impact a particular reference had at a particular point of the sales cycle. But some indicators do provide insights that senior executives find useful, such as measuring the total contract value of proposals in which references were requested and used, as well as looking at the value of such deals that closed. Surveying sales people is tricky -- what sales person wants to give someone else credit for the deal she closed? Barb uses a creative variation: recognize sales people who support the reference program. "We get sales people to reference us," she noted. And that gets them to support the program. Contrary to their mercenary reputations, sales people need love too:) A ripe area for discussion is to parse this further by tracking how references are requested and used at different points in the sales cycle.

    Don't forget other constituencies. A sales campaign often has much different reference needs than a marketing campaign, for instance. Part of the art of managing a reference program is to a) recognize that they have different needs and therefore you'll use different fulfillment metrics, while b) working to get the different groups to harmonize their needs where it makes sense. You don't want Sales, for example, pushing for references that use dated, non-strategic products or services.

    The above just scratches the surface. If you'd like a recording of the full teleconference, drop me a note ( -- there's a small charge.

    Recruiting Customers That Have WW Brands

    Posted by Bill Lee on August 25, 2006 at 11:00 AM

    We have another request (anonymous) from a leading technology firm (trust me when I say "leading"), who is looking to entice tier one customers with established worldwide brands into a reference program. "Our Customer Reference Program team is working on developing a clear value proposition for our customers to support our campaigns. Interestingly enough, this is our biggest challenge when asking a customer to participate in a case study or other corporate offering. We're a technology leader, so partnering with us is a great value proposition, but when you are trying to engage with WW brand names, it doesn’t resonate as much.

    "I would like to ask this forum what they offer to their customers as a valuable “get” that has made their program successful."

    To respond to this request, please comment below.

    Surveying the Sales Force

    Posted by Bill Lee on August 25, 2006 at 10:55 AM

    Rhonda DiGiorgio at Progress Software has this request: "My VP has asked me to put together some statistical information and then survey the field on our reference program (why isn’t it being used, what’s best about it, what’s missing, etc). Anything you have regarding surveying a sales force would be very valuable"

    If you have information or survey results from your own sales force you can share, please comment below. If you have information you'd prefer to share directly with Rhonda but not the community as a whole, let me know and I'll send you Rhonda's email address.

    Gaining Buzz for a Reference Program

    Posted by Bill Lee on July 13, 2006 at 08:06 AM

    Yesterday we had the first of our Summer Teleconference Series. Following is a summary and some key takeaways. Also, we've moved the discussion here, online, as our panelists continue answering questions on this important subject. Whether you participated in the teleconference or not, feel free to join the discussion.

    By the way, our panelists, who will continue to monitor and respond to questions, are:
    - Holley Garmany, Senior Manager, Customer Development at Network Appliance
    - Sia Pappanastos, Customer Advocacy Program Manager at VeriSign
    - Eddie Miller of Big Sky Communications
    - Dan Montoya, VP of Operations and Client Implementations at References-Online

    For more information about our Summer Teleconference Series, please click here.

    Dream Scenario

    Here’s the “Dream Scenario” for a reference manager who’s done a great job of promoting her reference program:

    -- Sales. Sales regards you as a partner. They’re feeding you references – not hording them. They’re going through your organization to obtain references -- not around you. They regard the Customer Reference (CR) organization as vital to the sales process.

    -- Product Marketing. Same with Product Managers and Product Marketing people. They regard the CR organization as vital to building a customer base for new offerings.

    -- Senior Executives. Senior executives tout the value of references – including the value of your program. They don’t regard you as overhead or a cost burden. They understand where and how you add value, and they are receptive to your budgetary needs.

    -- Customers. Customers are delighted to participate in your CR program. It enhances their sense of partnership with your firm. They don’t regard reference activities as a hassle.

    -- Channel Partners. An often overlooked marketing resource, your reference program is making an impact on sales through resellers, distributors and other channel partners.

    How to Get There

    Here are some important takeaways from today’s teleconference:

    -- Don’t stake out turf and inform Sales of what you need from them. Find out what THEY need from a reference program, through surveys, presentations or other interactions. You may find out that what they need wasn’t at all what you were planning to provide.

    -- Promote the program regularly through short, easy-to-read communications that provide value to the audience. For sales, this might include providing “sales tips” based on interviews with customers that reveal fresh insights that Sales and Senior Execs weren’t aware of.

    -- Develop a strategic approach to references. For example, when NetApp executives grew interested in achieving greater customer retention and share of wallet from its installed base, the “Evidence2Win” team changed its focus from Customer References to “Customer Development,” going after references and gaining information that would improve retention and up-selling/ cross-selling. A key value add the Evidence2Win team provided was locating references within a customer’s organization who played key roles in selling to other groups within the same organization.

    -- To develop support from senior executives, find one who has a serious need you can help fill. When a VP of Marketing at one firm was besieged by PR, Sales and Market6ingh for names of references, the CR team did a stellar job of providing a bunch of reference names quickly. The VP was delighted, which opened the door for providing additional reference-related services such as content creation and leveraging references in new ways. He became a big and vocal supporter, and the reference program budget grew accordingly.

    -- Don’t forget the visceral appeal of references in gaining buzz for your program, particularly live or recorded (video or audio) references. Senior executives can become much more aware of the value of references when they see and experience customers speaking passionately about your company.