|How To Launch A Successful Customer Reference
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As companies ramp up for the coming
new-new-new economy, customers are on radar. Executives want to hug
customers; engineering wants customers to beta test; sales wants to
up-sell customers; and reference programs are emerging to leverage them.
However, launching a successful reference program is easier said than
done. This article shows you how to launch your reference organization
to-be with a powerful and positive start; or how to kick start an existing
FIRST AND FOREMOST, KNOW THE BUSINESS
Before launch, step back from tactics: Hiring, recruiting
and writing success stories. Become a company expert. For instance, know
which organizations and people are laden with ripe customer intelligence;
know your customers -- who they are, what they buy; know everyone in sales
-- especially super stars; know the operations people and systems
engineers; and know what the engineering team has on its roadmap for the
next several quarters.
Not only will you gain insight to drive your
programs strategy, but also, youll establish relationships with
people who will act as champions when someone inevitably asks, "What
are we doing about enabling the field?" or "What are we doing
about customer references?" The truth is, reference organizations
influence and touch so many functions across a company that they cannot
exist successfully in a silo.
SECOND, IDENTIFY KEY PROGRAM STAKEHOLDERS
AND THEIR REQUIREMENTS
Reference organizations serve various groups company-wide -- from
sales and services to public relations and product management. However,
very few reference organizations build "stakeholder"
relationships with the two to three groups holding the greatest influence;
groups vested in the programs success. Identify and cultivate
relationships within those groups. Discover how they define success.
Gather their requirements, then assess and meet them.
THIRD, DEFINE THE PROGRAM BEFORE OTHERS DO
A critical success factor for building and launching a
reference organization is defining and positioning the program before
others do. Otherwise, you might find expectations are too broad or narrow
for your programs mandate.
One of my clients recently shared a story with
me; it highlights that a program will be defined -- whether you do it or
not. When my client launched his customer reference program in 2000,
no one cared about the organizations charter or mission. Most were just
happy to see customer content, success stories, return on investment data
and the occasional reference call.
However, in early 2002, when the market
shifted, people began beating down his door with requests. Engineering
insisted that the reference group, now 50 percent of its original size,
provide it with two dozen companies for its customer advisory board. Sales
demanded funding for free consulting resources to fix their customers
ill-fated implementations. Marketing executives wanted to enact a customer
loyalty program and determined it was the reference organizations
charter...and, by the way, where are those loyalty reports? We need
them for next months board meeting.
Its hard to be successful if everyone else
creates your metrics. Define and publish your organizations
charter. Be sure your boss, your peers and your team can articulate it.
Not only will this extend your sphere of influence, but also, it will
avert miscommunications and misinterpretations, build credibility and help
other organizations identify holes in the customer lifecycle.
FOURTH, CARRY A MAP IN YOUR BACK POCKET
Organizations without a clear vision -- whether customer
reference, engineering or order management -- find themselves either
unfocused or too focused on tactics. Successful organizations work
with a map -- a defined plan and directions. They regularly share
this map with influencers, advocates, champions, stakeholders and team
members. The "map" includes, at least, the definition of your
organization, as well as its short- and long-term strategy, complete with
drivers and milestones.
Once you create your "map," rather
than posting it on a server somewhere, keep it in your back pocket as a
reference and note-taking tool. An effective way to manage others
expectations is to demonstrate the impact of decisions. For instance,
while meeting with peers or management, neatly jot (dont scribble)
requests onto your "map." If a request is out in left
field, show its requestor the map. "Plot" their request,
and metaphorically (but gently) explain the impact of flying to Chicago
when the caravan is cruising to Dallas.
While you dont want to appear indignant or
unsupportive, the frank reality is that your reference organization is
most likely understaffed. According to our recent Customer Reference
Program Benchmarking Study
of 23 enterprise solution companies, reference organizations within
mid-size and small companies are 42 percent and 150 percent understaffed,
respectively. This is significant. It implies your program may be one
of those overstretched. So, rather than reactively saying no to
everything, note valid requests on your "map" and share it with
other groups. Try this for one quarter and notice how your peers and boss
treat you differently.
FINALLY, MAKE BIG DECISIONS SLOWLY, WITH
If youre going to do anything that touches sales or
customers, think twice or even three or four times about it. If youre
unsure; if a new idea, process or campaign is not "fully baked,"
pilot it to a select, forgiving few who will hold discoveries or
challenges in confidence. Get sales to weigh in -- if it touches the
customer, dont hesitate to ask their advice. Yes, proceeding slowly and
seeking support is a longer path to success, but one that will help your
team avoid mistakes that may affect your credibility.
Heres an expensive mistake: Building a
reference database from scratch with a single-user desktop application. An
enabling system that does not enable; a system that is inflexible, not
scalable and not integrated with other corporate customer data sources is
doomed. Instead, contemplate how your team will access and manage
information now and in 18 months, execute reports and extend the system
over time -- before anyone starts coding.
with your companys strategy, identifying stakeholders and defining your
program before someone else does is helpful advice, in general. My hope
though, is that you actually put this guidance to work for you; that is,
before your team begins to recruit customers, qualify reference leads,
write success stories or fulfill requests. If you do, I imagine your
path to leverage will be smoothly paved.
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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 email@example.com.
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