Sunday, July 26, 2009

Seven Essentials of a Winning Reference Program

It’s 4 pm on a Friday. Everyone else has left the office. The phone rings. You pick it up and someone frantic on the other side asks: I just received a bid and the prospect is asking for names and addresses of companies we’ve done similar work for before? And oh BTW, the response is due back to the prospect on Monday.

You panic. You berate yourself for picking up the phone. Because you know you won’t have a happy weekend. You’ll be calling everyone you know to try to find some kind of customer reference.

You pull out your PDA or Rolodex or company directory and think: who can I call? You spend the entire weekend looking for the information.

You ponder: shouldn’t someone in the company already have this information?

Don’t we have some kind of repository of customer successes? Surely, some customers want to be our advocates, speak to others on our behalf…right?

YES! You can have a system, a repository of customer successes to make the marketing and sales job easier to turn customers into advocates. I’m sharing with you today seven essentials of a winning reference program based on IT-industry best practices.

Essential #1: Customers
This may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s important to think upfront about which customers you want to endorse your products and solutions. Are there certain segments or geographies you want to target? Certain customers you know have cache?
Most companies don’t have the resources to pursue all references from all customers.

Essential #2: Executive Support
Identify key executives – CMO, Sales support, bids and proposals, sales leads, line of business leads—people who have some stake in the program’s success. Speak with each individually and give them the opportunity for input and support. You may even want to pull them together into a governance council and together, they can be your biggest cheerleaders.

Essential #3: Results Focus and Metrics Tracking
Think about which metrics you want to track and report. Consider four different groups of stakeholders—executives, sales, marketing, and your own team—to whom results needed to be reported. That means possibly different metrics for each group of stakeholders.

What tends to be most important is impact on revenue. Think about how you might measure that. Some companies have proprietary systems, some are using Siebel or Sales, some are using Excel spreadsheets. Whatever you use, think first with the end in mind.

Essential #4: Flexible Options for Customer Participation
You’ll probably find that different customer segments want to participate in the program in different ways. From quotes to testimonial letters to full-blown case studies and industry conference participation, the more options you offer, the more customers will find activities that meet their own goals as well as yours.

Essential #5: Rewards and Recognition
Do you need to incent sales? Do you need to incent customers? Customers of many customers are more interested in peer-to-peer interaction and increased access to your executives.

Consider, too, recognizing your internal resources on a regular basis. Maybe that sales exec who brings in references every month. Or maybe that PR staffer who constantly lines up interviews for you while she’s working on a press release. Pull together your own network of ambassadors to champion the program internally as role models.

Essential #6: Passionate Evangelism
Beyond the senior executives and network of ambassadors, evangelism is still necessary. Dale Carnegie wrote that enthusiasm is the secret ingredient and he was right. If you and your executives are enthusiastically communicating about the program and your references, your audiences will feel your passion, too, and you’ll inspire them to help.

Essential #7: Continuous Innovation
There’s always room to grow—online community, social networking, NetPromoter®- based metrics, reference databases, and more.

Keep listening to your customers and what they want and need in a reference program. What will drive their advocacy? By using these seven essentials, you’ll be able to drive a program that can leverage your existing customers into advocates for your business to bring in even more business.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

NetPromoter® and Your Reference Program

NetPromoter® and Your Reference Program

A prospective client contacted me a few weeks ago to help his organization develop a customer loyalty program. His firm has a vibrant customer sat program and I was thrilled to learn “The Ultimate Question” is part of the customer sat survey.


The Ultimate Question, made famous in marketing circles by Fred Reichheld, is allegedly the most effective and efficient way to determine customer loyalty. According to Reichheld, it correlates to profitable growth.

For reference program managers, there are additional benefits. Respondents to a customer satisfaction survey in which The Ultimate Question is posed could make excellent prospects for your reference program. For example, someone who responds to The Ultimate Question, “Would you be willing to recommend us to a friend or colleague?” with a 9 or 10, is called a Promoter. If they’re willing to recommend you, they could be low-hanging fruit for reference acquisition. (BTW, Promoters minus Detractors—those who answered 0-6—yields NetPromoters.)

Find out if your company uses The Ultimate Question. If so, that’s good news for you!

Here’s how you can use NetPromoter for your reference program:

  • Lead identification—ask your customer sat folks for the raw data from the survey. Find anyone who has answered The Ultimate Question with a 9 or 10—a Promoter—and check the respondent’s name and organization against your reference program participant list. If that person isn’t yet a reference, he or she makes an excellent prospect for you, and hopefully, an easy one to secure.

  • Account-based marketing prospect—a Promoter might also be a great prospect for a deep drill into how your organization provides value that could be extrapolated to a profitable segment for your product, service, or company. Armed with detailed, specific knowledge, you could formulate a marketing plan for that account to grow the business even more, too, while using the information to deepen relationships—and revenue—with other accounts.

  • Metric for your programNetPromoter, which is a percentage, could prove to be a highly useful metric for your reference program scorecard.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Finding Good—Really Good—Marketing Writers

Recently in Casey Hibbard's Success Story Marketing Linked In Group, a thread occurred on finding good marketing writers. I thought I’d address that here.

Looking for a marcom writer as a hiring manager

There are many good writers out there and one would think it would be easy to find them. But that has not been my experience. As a former marketing director who ran a marcom group, I found my best experience came from hiring talent from a creative agency—freelance writers who were employed by the agency. The agency did the screening according to my criteria. I wanted technical writers with marketing flair. In this way, I brought on at least six writers and assigned each to a different practice area. Each wrote sales support material, direct marketing letters, brochures, and other marketing collateral for the specialized practice area client. The internal client was happy, because he or she only had to provide training once. He or she also received consistency of tone and voice. When I think back on those days, we had a wonderful, creative environment, and our productivity soared.

Looking for a case study writer as a hiring manager

Later, when I changed jobs and established the company’s first enterprise-wide reference program, I needed a writer to:

  • Interview sales teams

  • Interview clients

  • Be comfortable understanding accents from around the world

  • Be familiar with writing about technology

  • Synthesize existing information

  • Write a success story, case study, and/or Powerpoint® profile slide

  • Write succinctly and clearly

  • Communicate our company's value on the page

  • Revise to client satisfaction

This was not as easy to find.

In retrospect, I think I should have gone back to the agency I used as a marcom director and use the writers I already knew and trusted. I knew they could turn things around quickly and well.
I was embarrassed by one new writer who asked a client background information questions he could have asked me or the sales team. This writer also did not have the experience necessary outside the United States to understand other accents. His writing was verbose and repetitive.

Finding creative talent

  • Use word of mouth to find writers your colleagues recommend

  • Check the thread on Success Story Marketing on LinkedIn to see which writers others have already mentioned—like me! (okay, I mentioned myself)
  • Contact an agency like The Creative Group (a subsidiary of Robert Half International),

  • In the New York-New Jersey-Philadelphia metro areas, contact UserEdge (the agency I used in marcom), (tell them Barbara Khait sent you). They know how to write about technology and that’s a rare talent!

  • Contact the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) Freelance Writer Search Service,

Let me know how your search turns out!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Using Your Customer Evidence to Create Word of Mouth Stir

Last week in the "newbie" breakout session of the Customer Reference Forum in Berkeley, I raised a point about how reference programs focus on customers and usually the sales organization as the liaison to customers. But, I reasoned, we need to use the customer information we have and close the loop internally. Are you sharing your info with PR? HR? Product Management? Others in Marketing?
Imagine this scenario...
You come into work and everybody - and I mean everybody - is talking about how Customer A is using your product. Your boss comes in and offers to buy you a cup of joe. Your co-workers invite you to lunch. You've never seen the energy so high! You are so awesome and finally your boss is talking about that promotion...
Okay, so maybe this is fantasy, but wouldn't it be cool if you could get employees talking about customers and the great things they're doing with your company's products?
I saw an example of this in the Gaspedal blog Maybe some of you are members of the Word of Mouth Association, WOMMA.
We are only scratching the tip of the iceberg with the way we're managing references today. I urge you to think less about references and more about customer evidence, customer conversation, and as Laura Ramos of Forrester Research said in her conference keynote last week, customer community.
Till the next post,

Monday, February 16, 2009

Off to the Customer Reference Forum

I'm getting ready to attend the 2009 Customer Reference Forum in Berkeley ( I hope to see many of my colleagues, including members of the LinkedIn Customer Reference Sharing Network, there. I'll have lots to report upon my return, so stay tuned...


Monday, February 9, 2009

Even the Chiropractor Wants and Needs References

As I was signing in at the chiropractor's office this morning, I noticed a new information sheet on the counter. Always interested in providing value to his patients, my chiropractor wanted to hear the positive things his patients had to say about his services and invited them to participate. As a reference management professional, this was music to my ears, and, of course, I told him I was in the business of doing this and could help him, pro bono (although I wouldn't mind some free sessions!) He told me his friends think it's a good idea to video testimonials and put them on YouTube.
Way to go, Doctor!
My point: even the smallest business can benefit from a reference management system. I don't know if the good doctor ever Googled himself and came across his name on the Rate-a-doctor web site, but prospective patients sure will. Whether he knows it or not, future - and existing - patients are checking him out, wanting to make sure he's providing excellent value (and he does!)
So, if your customers are Googling you, and they are, you might as well help them out and put your own references out there.
How many of you are putting customer video testimonials on YouTube or at least on your own web sites? Holler back at me if you are.
And if anyone's in the central New Jersey area and needs an excellent chiropractor, I know one and can refer you!
Bye for now,

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Are you using customer references to boost employee morale?

Thanks for your great reaction to this blog!
Here's something to ponder this week - how can you use your customers' statements to help boost employee morale in this time of economic woe? Do you have existing relationships with your employee communications department? Could you create a venue for communicating the great things your customers are saying about you? Not only will this help you and your program, but this proactive move could help uplift all your company's employees.