The Risk, The
Reward: Know What "Customer References" Really Say About You
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If you missed my
previous TMCnet articles presenting questions, insights and information
about how to build a strategically and tactically sound customer reference
program, large or small, to leverage your customer assets, you may find
If, however, you
have been following this six-part customer reference series developed
exclusively for TMCnet readers, you may have taken my complimentary advice
and launched, expanded or made changes in your company’s approach to
I ask you now to
take one more thing into consideration:
What customer references say about your company
can be either gold or silver to you: Gold, as in enabling quicker sales and
smarter marketing; or silver, as in the silver bullet competitors use to
discredit your company. Learn how
to secure your customer reference base and prevent silver bullets that
create negative publicity, and ultimately, spoil deals.
HOW WILL YOUR
COMPANY DISCOVER WHICH CUSTOMERS' REFERENCES ARE SILVER BULLETS WAITING TO
Over the past several months, too many
companies have become embroiled in what I call the "customer perception"
quagmire. Enterprise companies, especially those that promote satisfied and
successful customers, may easily find themselves compromised by an analyst
or other organization that attempts to validate customer loyalty statements,
deployment successes or return on investment (ROI) data.
You may have heard
about four rather high-profile cases over the past year in which,
unbeknownst to the enterprise vendors involved, third-party analyst firms
contacted customer "references" to ask specific questions about
implementations and service quality, and to collect actual ROI and payback
Although this is a
valid method for gathering unfettered customer intelligence, the affected
enterprise vendors were shaken to discover their supposed gold "customer
references" were actually silver bullets. Not all felt an equal negative
impact on marketing and sales activities, although one vendor in particular
found itself in the midst of a public relations disaster.
How did this happen?
And what can your company do to make sure your customer references do not
become weapons? Since you cannot control who talks to your customers,
focus instead on your selection of customer references and on what those
selected customers say.
FOUR STEPS TO
CUSTOMER REFERENCE ALCHEMY
Follow these steps to ensure gold
customer references: Those that allow marketing to garner positive awareness
for your company and enable sales to close deals more quickly.
your customers are saying about you and how they perceive your
company, its solutions and services. Invest time and resources to
understand not only who your customers are, but also to find out if they
are satisfied. Learn for yourself what your company, as a strategic
vendor, can do or give to contribute to their successes. Obtaining
customer insight and feedback is an ongoing exercise. Customer success is
not static and should never be taken for granted.
customer reference “laundry” list. Based on our interviews with
senior IT decision makers, we’ve discovered there is little to no value in
listing every customer on your Web site. When it comes to customer
references the cliché stands: Quality is more important than quantity.
Why? A list of customers on your Web site is a potential
liability. Aside from consuming an enormous amount of Web real estate and
appearing in five-point type, you may find it challenging at best,
impossible at worst, to maintain the integrity of that list. Invariably,
your list will include customers who are temporarily less than 100 percent
satisfied. The longer the list, the higher the probability it will contain
less-than-ecstatic customers, and the greater the likelihood a third-party
might find them. So, rather than giving you credibility and support, these
potentially negative customer "references" could, in principal, disqualify
you from a deal and create irreparable image damage.
references emerge from successful, satisfied and loyal customers… not from
reference programs. Encourage your customers to
communicate issues about their deployments or services and educate them on
how to do so. Internally, ensure an organization and process exist
for resolving and escalating customer problems. Then, ensure
that customers know how to access the organization and use
importantly, have clearly-defined reference management processes
so your customer references recognize when a request is outside the scope
of your program. This way, when an intelligence-seeking
competitor or other third party calls to ferret out silver bullet-type
information, your reference will know you did not approve
the request. And your reference will have guidelines to follow in such a
TACTICS. TACTICS PRECEDE GOLD
Reference programs today are highly
tactical. That’s not such a bad thing, as long as tactics follow sound
strategy. Hidden silver bullet-type customer references inevitably show
themselves when strategy is reactive -- when strategy is the result of the
success or failure of tactical decisions.
Because gold customer references don’t just “happen,” Phelon Consulting
works with its clients not only to help them act more
strategically and to up-level their customer reference programs, but to
ensure that all parties involved are aware of the impact on and
responsibility of references to an enterprise company.
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Promise Phelon is the
founder and principal at Phelon Consulting, a consulting firm focused on
enabling enterprise software companies to shorten their sales cycles by
leveraging sales and customer successes. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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