I'm just back from presenting at Customer Reference Forum Europe. This was the first gathering of customer reference professionals in Europe and was brought together by the illustrious Bill Lee who, as always, did a great job as host and facilitator. Find out about Bill's organization here.
Having spent two days in a darkened room discussing the minutiae of reference programs, I probably need to sit in the daylight and gather my thoughts but, quickly and stream of consciousness style, here is my immediate braindump:
- Its good to share a problem. This is a niche within a niche. Frankly you don't often bump into other people who work in this area. So just getting together with peers in comparable organizations provides a good sanity check (thanks for that Bill).
- No-one has this problem fixed yet. There's still lots to improve. Even the most committed organization with the best available resources (step up Coleen at SAP) are still working at pulling together various threads of their programs.
- While quick wins can arrive in a matter of months, building a successful program is clearly a multi-year commitment.
- Some organizations have customer referencing in their DNA, again SAP seems the obvious example. Others had an evangelist in their CEO. This commitment is a massive boost to any program. Without it you are pushing a very heavy load up a very steep hill.
- Awareness of Net Promoter Score methodology was less than 50%. Surprising, when it can be such a foundation for these programs and a helpful tool in getting exec sponsorship.
- As a vendor, I continually underestimate how much client-side time gets sucked into dealing with internal politics, securing budget and joining up as many of the corporate silos as possible.
- As a counterpoint to that, I suspect a lot of client organizations under-estimate how much vendors who run outsoured programs know about this subject. The audience seemed to split between a few big companies who had outsourced key elements of their programs (in our case Microsoft and Dell) and built long term relationships of trust with vendors as 'partners' in building their programs, and those who hadn't yet taken that step. Its not the normal agency/client relationship at all.
- While there is a lot of commonality across programs, the balance and focus within them differs dramatically depending upon products, routes to market, customer profiles and deal values.
- Getting the balance between volume (the numbers game is compulsory for big vendors with multiple solutions across different products/markets) versus depth (fewer, deeper personal relationships) is an ongoing challenge. Any healthy program needs a balance.
- The Sales function was the proverbial elephant in the room. Paradoxically, sales is both ally and enemy. For customer reference professionals, Sales causes untold frustration - there was clearly a little pent up frustration being discharged at the event - but equally Sales provide the oxygen we need. Getting this relationship into some kind of harmonious balance, where responsibilities and mutual obligations are transparent, is a key goal in every organization.
- I was struck by how few people present had a background in sales (me included). But one of those that did, Nicky from Amdocs seemed to run one of the best relationship programs. She was certainly very tightly connected to tactical sales requirements and doubtless had the respect of the sales teams as a result.
- No-one mentioned blogging once. Generally, the thinking around new dynamics of customer communities was not very far advanced or widely discussed. Or perhaps it was simply not applicable to those present?
I spoke about systems, tools and infrastructure for running customer reference programs. Not sure I set the audience alight exactly (jet lag didn't help) and this topic is always frankly a pain point for anyone running a program. But as the conference progressed I felt the subject redeemed itself. The need for compelling metrics was mentioned a lot - 'data drives decision making' to quote one delegate. And, if you don't fix the infrastructure, you won't ever get the metrics you need.
btw - we just published a white paper on the Why's and How To's of getting started with a customer reference program - if you are interested in getting a copy, mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tags: Customer Reference Forum, Customer Advocacy, Customer Reference Systems