“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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