Start With Turning on the Faucet

I have all sorts of blog ideas stuck in my head and some I’ve even put in draft form, but I just haven’t written a full one in a while. I have time blocked out every evening to write, but every evening I find something else to do and move the calendar slot to the next night. I love writing but for some reason, I am fantastic at procrastinating when it comes to writing.

I just got an email from IMPACT and it was a list of quotes to get someone past the writers block. This one in particular, got me motivated enough to writing something. “Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.” – Louis L’Amour, Author.

Everything I write doesn’t have to be perfect, ground breaking or even interesting to everyone. I have to accept that and move on. As I write this, I realized that the same thing applies to my relationships to my partners, coworkers, friend and family. You don’t have to have a reason to talk to someone, just talk. Start by saying “Hi, how are you?” or “Hi, how was your weekend?” and the water will flow.

We get so caught up in our daily to do list that sometimes we forget to be human. I have to talk to this person about this, and that person about that. How about talking to someone just because you want to, not because you need to? Crazy concept, but when you go to someone for the heck of it and not because you need something, you might actually build a two-way relationship and get a lot more out of the conversation than you ever thought you would. Stop thinking about what you need from someone and start thinking about him or her. People aren’t action items, so make sure not to always treat them that way.

Turn the faucet on and the water will flow, relationships will build and in the end you’ll get all the water you need.

Check out the IMPACT blog here which will give you some quotes to get you writing…it worked for me.

“10 Provocative Questions to Ask Your Senior Executive Sponsor”

I am stealing this week’s blog post from an article that Bill Lee wrote in his May 10th “Reference Point” newsletter.  I think it’s worth sharing the 10 questions so here you go…

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10 Provocative Questions to Ask Your Senior Executive Sponsor (second in a 2-part series on increasing your value to senior management)

Last month’s issue provided seven tips for better listening to a senior executive–a critical step in gaining her trust and ultimately her active support. Once your senior executive sponsor knows you’re listening–and consturctively contributing to the conversation–you can start guiding the discussion to those areas where he or she, and you, can really increase the impact of your reference- and other customer engagement-programs on her goals and ultimately, the success of the business.

The best way to do that is by asking provocative questions. Following is a list of 10 such questions that raise issues that a) are highly likely to relate to her goals, b) you can help with and c) that if needed, I can provide free resources to help you do so (contact me directly on this). Don’t just ask these blindly. Pick the ones that relate most closely to the goals she’s outlined with you to this point, using the listening skills we talked about last time.

And as I pointed out last time, all of this will assume that you have the RIGHT kind of senior executive to approach in this way: one who is open to ideas, values input from thoughtful people, and welcomes pushback and challenges to conventional wisdom (even his pet beliefs). (And if you don’t work with such an executive, you might think about finding another one!)

Following are the 10 provocative questions. You and your reference or other customer engaggement programs can help address these–indeed, they already are at some firms. If your senior executive responds strongly to one or more of these and wants further input from you, feel free to contact me directly and I’ll get you some:

1. Do we know how much of our business comes through referrals? If not, shouldn’t we? Shouldn’t it be at least one third?

2. Same questions for influencers.

3. How are our customer retention rates? Have they been holding or decreasing? If decreasing, do we know why?

4. How much of our business (or the relevant line of business) is coming through our website? How much should it be?

5. What impact is our customer community having on our business? If we’re touting that we have 500,000 customers in our community, shouldn’t we be getting more than 3% / 5% / 10% (whatever the number is) of our business from them directly or indirectly?

6.  We currently sell to mid-level technology managers. Could we sell more strategic solutions to the C-suite at our customer, who have larger budgets,and are less price sensitive?

7. How is new product adoption going? Are we finding enough early adopters? Are the early adopters helpful in selling to our mainstream markets–or are they too different from main stream buyers?

8. How well is our new product development going? Do we keep up with the success rates of NPD efforts? If they’re low, are we bringing customers into the NPD process effectively?

9.  What is our system for creating quality references vs. quantities of references? How do we tell the difference? How do we spread this knowledge around the organization?

- Are we able to measure the impact of individual customers on earnings (not just revenues)? That is, do we know not only how much customers pay, but also how much they cost? Shouldn’t we know this in order to better target marketing spend? 

Some of these may seem pretty bold, but you’ll find that if you start slowly and build up, substantial trust and respect will develop with your senior executive sponsor. And that will be key to your success and his.”

Bill can be reached at the contact sources below.

email: bill@customerreferenceforum.com

web: http://www.customerreferenceforum.com

“Why Forrester is Bullish on References” – an interview by the Customer Reference Forum

Bill Lee manages the “Reference Point” newsletter which is a monthly newsletter discussing customer reference ideas/topics/issues. The September issue recently came out and I was intrigued by the title of one of Bill’s articles “Why Forrester is Bullish on References”.

I’ve been in the business of customer references for quite some time now and this is the first time I’ve seen analysts talking about customer references. I’ve given countless customers to analysts for Magic Quadrants and Market Scope reports and research reports but I’ve never seen them talk ABOUT rather than TO references. I know the importance of references – especially when giving them to analysts – but am happy to see that what I’ve been taking from my programs is exactly what Forrester sees as being important too.

Below are some highlights I have taken from the interview that Bill did with Merv Adrian, Sr. Vice President, and Laura Ramos, Vice President, Principal Analyst, Forrester Research. To read the full interview, check out to the September issue of the Reference Point newsletter. I have taken the liberty of highlighting comments that I have made before that are being reinforced by Forrester.

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Q. Forrester is getting ready to publish articles and conduct research in the area of Customer Reference Programs – which will be presented at the 2009 Customer Reference Forum. What prompted your interest in this field?

A. Our clients: Marketing, Sales, and AR professionals – are all deeply interested in customer reference programs. Customer testimonials are deeply connected to how B2B firms market their products since the most popular source of information to inform and validate product or service purchases is peers and colleagues. B2B marketers must focus more on their installed base – leveraging customers they have is much more cost-effective than attempting to build on new names alone. Our research shows that many vendors are not leveraging higher value programs that can create loyalty retention and advocacy the way that effective CR programs can.

Q. A lot of Reference Managers think that the rise of Web 2.0 — social media, online communities, customers controlling conversations about companies – will completely change the nature of Reference Programs. I know this is one of the things we’ll be researching, but what are your early thoughts on that?

A. We don’t believe it will “completely change the nature” of the programs – but it will expand the ways customers can meaningfully participate. Not enough customers are engaged in these efforts – many hate participation in programs that chew up their time. Social media gives vendors other avenues to make participation easier- like creating a blog post on the vendor’s behalf, but expressing the customer’s unique perspective done at his/her convenience. Or customers could participate in a podcast conducted over the phone from their office, contribute to a wiki or other threaded discussions, participate in online surveys – all these take less time and effort than conventional reference tactics. Web 2.0 technologies enable these and other avenues – and they can be tracked, measured and managed much more precisely with the emerging technologies.

Q. Forrester is, of course, one of the leading technology analyst firms in the world. What are the three most important things a Reference Manager should know about working with analysts?

A. Customer references are used a lot in analyst programs, of course. And the same guidance applies in other uses:
1.) Ensure freshness – an old, untested reference may not be a good one. CR Managers should always know the state of a customer before using them.
2.) Manage appropriateness, defined as fit to need. Most analysts are looking for references for a specific reason – just like sales prospects or press are. Get the fit right – know why it’s needed.
3.) Follow up. How good was the reference? And how did the analyst, or press, or prospect talking to them find the interaction? Was it useful? Measure results, not activity. And as long as you’re following up, give the reference a stroke – check in with them, ask them the same questions, uncover any current or outstanding issues, and thank them.

Thank you Forrester for bringing customer reference programs to the forefront.  Hopefully more companies will realize the importance of loyal customers and having a program to support them rather than having someone spend a minimal amount of time on references – time that is, if they have nothing better to do.  Reference professionals need more support so again, thank you Forrester!

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