Things Companies Do to Leverage Their Customers
The Feast Continues
of this two-part article in our Beyond References Series, we served you a
banquet comprising the first five of 10 smart things companies are doing to
leverage their customers today. Here, we serve you our final top five
things smart companies are doing—things you can feast on and emulate today.
6. Know your game plan.
Capture, articulate and formalize it.
Does your strategic plan enable actionable objectives? Do your
stakeholders understand it? Do they know what it means to them? Can you
measure its outcome? Since your strategic plan underlies everything else
you do, it must be sound and solid for the resulting tactics to impart
All too often strategic planning
yields esoteric plans that may well be meaningful to management but are not
understood by those who have to implement them. Customer leverage is no
exception. As the owner of a customer leverage strategy, you must consider
the requirements of many stakeholders, show management that you are more
than just a fulfillment organization, and develop plans that allow local,
regional and global teams to align their work with your strategic direction.
“Our strategic planning process
is not only about crafting and articulating a vision for Intel," says Wendy
White, Director of Intel’s Customer Marketing Program. "It’s also about
ensuring that the members of our team and other organizations know their
roles and how success will be measured. In other words, our strategic
planning process is about creating an actionable strategy."
One of our clients implemented
this smart strategy by charging its North American organization—the more
mature part of the customer reference program—with brainstorming and
articulating their strategic plan. Global reference teams then locally
implemented the strategy. The key was ensuring that global teams had ample
input into the strategic plan. By charging one organization with strategic
planning, the company maximizes resource usage, and organizations previously
competing are now coordinated and working together.
Whether you formulate a strategic
plan yourself or seek outside assistance, keep these points in mind:
Think globally, act locally.
Be visionary; tell others
what you want to be and help set the bar for your company.
goals and then translate them into actions your team can be accountable
for. A strategy that doesn’t translate down to the individual level
will seldom succeed.
Manage by your strategy.
Recognize that in our fast-paced world things will change and that none
of us is clairvoyant. If your strategic plan is just sitting on the
shelf collecting dust, it is either off track or out of date.
Strategic planning is not an annual event; it’s an ongoing exercise.
7. It takes a company to
nurture customer relationships.
Your ability to leverage--and to
experience the benefits of leverage--is directly tied to the relationships
you have with customers. Seem obvious? Well, what happens when a key
reference manager or, even worse, a well connected sales rep (the only
individual with direct customer contact) leaves? How do you cope with
inevitable turnover? Will the company-to-company relationships you’ve
worked so hard to create survive? If you institutionalize the relationships
on both sides, they will.
Not wanting to let relationships
with customers be dependent upon the relationships of only two people,
several of our smart clients have developed formal processes for up-leveling
and extending relationships, both internally and externally.
Internally, this means that
everyone who touches the customer actively participates in developing the
relationship. Rather than the sales rep or the reference manager being the
only individual who embraces--and touches--the customer, everyone
participates. Of course this requires effort on your part. Every
individuals within your company
who affect the manner in which customers are leveraged for marketing, sales,
product development and other strategic activities--must be educated and
must understand the rules of interaction. But the effort is well worth it.
Externally, this means you must
develop concrete plans for key accounts by which you extend your reach
within the customer’s company. Don’t leave relationships to chance. Put an
action plan in place and execute against it. Get to know more than one
person by developing multiple touch points.
8. Tune in to technology.
Successful customer leverage requires the orchestration of many players and
disparate activities; keeping track of everything is no small task. If you
want your reference program and customer leverage to ring like a
well-practiced orchestra, we suggest you tune in to technology. Technology
will transform your organization from a right-brained creative studio to a
left-brained business, where efficiency, effectiveness and scalability
reign. And the more your people are free to focus on customers rather than
on paperwork and details, the more your customers will love you and share
the word about you gladly.
Several of our smart clients who
are tuned in to technology have either built or are building automated,
comprehensive reference management systems, which includes several key
components. The systems:
Are self-service to allow
each type of user (sales, marketing, administrators and even customers)
to manage their own system interactions.
processes and task lists to track and ensure a smooth coordination of
Are searchable across
organizations and regions.
Other of our smart clients, who
have less demanding needs, use simpler databases with web-based interfaces
to meet their requirements. While these solutions are not as fancy, they
are much easier to plan and finance, while still easing the pain of tracking
and figuring out who, what, where, when, why and how.
We learned during our 2004 Benchmarking Study
that of respondent companies, not one used off-the-shelf solutions for
customer leverage purposes. Forty percent reported using custom-built
applications and the remainder used SFA, CRM or PC-based solutions. And 60
percent reported that the systems they used do not integrate with other
customer information systems.
Although it was no surprise that our clients don’t use off-the-shelf
solutions today, several companies are working to address the issue. And
several new, innovative services are available. Regardless of what you
decide, tune your organization in to technology, either on a large- or
9. Stretch your customers without
breaking them. You
may find that demand for references exceeds supply if you are just starting
a reference program, or if few valuable customers are available to speak on
behalf of your company’s emerging products. Our clients have faced these
problems, too. The typical response when demand outpaces supply is to
stretch customers by asking for call after call after call, until the
customers, like Gumby, break. And broken or even frazzled customers never
appear credible to prospects.
Several of our clients are
solving this problem by implementing a smart, cost-effective strategy that
enables leverage, meets excess demand and protects valuable customer
relationships. The strategy in question is hosting one-to-many events.
Although not a solution to everything, these events do help you get around
scheduling problems and reduces the load on your customers.
Now before you stop reading,
realize that one-to-many events can exist on a much smaller level than most
of us usually think about. For example, one of our clients who expanded
into a new market discovered that periodic one-to-many sales reference calls
are extremely effective. Their customer appreciated being able to speak
once instead of 17 times, and their 17 prospects got their questions
answered. Our client saved lots of money, and reports that sales’ response
has been overwhelmingly, “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” And sales’
initial concerns about out-of-control questioning were resolved by hosting a
professionally moderated call.
Beyond conference calls, several
vendors use technology to help enterprises mitigate reference demand issues
by storing and serving content. The customer records a success story, which
is classified, stored and served through a portal to relevant prospects.
Again, the customer speaks only once; you leverage that customer many times.
10. Communicate success through
clearly defined indicators.
Ultimately, success at customer
leverage will be dependant on support from senior level executives with your
organization. You can gain and maintain such support through regular,
targeted communications that highlight the business value of customer
leverage. And don’t be afraid to communicate metrics that are less than
optimal. Highlight shortcomings and explicitly tell others what they can do
“Setting and communicating clear
performance indicators is critical to how we manage our program,” says the
Senior Director at one of our key clients. “Gauging how a program is
performing, and understanding why it's performing as it is, gives us two
unique opportunities: first, to highlight how other organizations impact
success; and second, to provide specific guidance as to how to improve
The metrics you choose should
directly relate back to your strategy and the goals you’ve set out to
achieve. They should demonstrate value and not highlight your tactical
performance. Although you might need to know how many reference customers
or success stories you have in order to effectively manage your program,
don’t report these figures outside your team. They will cause
management--and sales--to focus on the wrong areas and position your team as
simply a tactical fulfillment group. Instead, report on how you use
customers in leverage activities. Demonstrate the breadth of activities
customers engage in and their impacts on concrete outcomes like new sales.
Link leverage activities to closed deals, marketing campaigns or
corporate-wide initiatives. And ask your senior executives directly how
they measure success. Knowing the answer to this question will help you
choose among the multitude of available metrics.
It’s a tough market out there,
and it’s going to get even tougher as buyers increasingly look higher in the
credibility pyramid for objective proof points and assurances that your
solutions will perform as promised. But smart companies needn’t worry.
Smart companies need only create and implement holistic customer leverage
strategies--strategies that go beyond recruiting references and developing
static stories about them to building genuine, mutually beneficial
relationships that result in more market-aligned solutions, more insightful
marketing, more effective sales and more customer-aware organizations.
Throughout this two-part article,
we mentioned various technologies and strategies that you might like to
learn more about. Please e-mail us at
email@example.com, or phone 1-877-717-9210 x508 for more
information. We welcome your questions and comments.
We also wish to express our
sincere thanks to all the companies, organizations and individuals who
contributed their valuable time and insights—your contributions made this
In the next article in our Beyond
Reference Series, Dianna Sadlouskos will bring you even more insight and
more actionable strategies you can implement right away to leverage your key
success customers for more effective sales.
Steven T. Nicks is Partner of
Phelon Consulting. Steven T. Nicks brings over 15 years of experience
helping companies build and successfully deploy strategies and the
technology necessary to support them. Mr. Nicks, formerly a Principal at
PricewaterhouseCoopers and Senior Consultant with Ernst & Young, has helped
companies understand their customers and developed innovative approaches to
strategic decision making and communications. He may be contacted at
Promise Phelon is the founder and
Partner 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