I’m Good. I’m Not God!

As a reference manager, some of us are tasked with a huge amount of deliverables.  Case studies, press releases, PR references, Marketing references, Sales references, analyst references, customer snapshot slides, logo slides, video testimonials, maintaining a database…. the list could go on forever.  Even if your list just includes finding references for Sales, Marketing and other groups within your company, it’s a huge job.  We have to guarantee that we are providing the most appropriate customer for the each request.  We need to carefully watch the balance of over using a customer as well as making sure that we balance the customer vs. prospect size and the customer contacts title vs. the title of the prospect.  There’s a lot more than goes into a reference than just giving a customer name.

If you’re like me, you’ve probably been hit with Sales folks (or others in the company but for the purpose of this I’m targeting Sales) asking for a certain number of references that fit X, Y and Z (not X, Y or Z) and of course the reference needs to be delivered in a few hours or, if we’re lucky, tomorrow. 

Julie Tung, Vice President of Global Customer Programs at Oracle spoke during the 2010 Customer Reference Forum. What resonated with me the most during her presentation was when she said “We provide references. We don’t create happy customers.”  Have you ever found yourself in a situation where someone says, “Just get a customer!” or “Just find a happy customer!”  It’s almost as if the requestor thinks we snap our fingers and it’s done.  Little do they know!

We have to remember that as Julie said, we provide references and references have to come through Sales, Marketing or other folks in your organization.  We can’t be expected to know every single customer that has ever bought something from us and thier satisfaction or loyalty level.  It’s not possible because for the most part, we’re not in front of the customer as often as other folks are. 

Running a reference program is a two way street.  Sales must work with you and you must work with Sales.  It’s a cyclical process that everyone benefits from.  Get in touch with your Sales team. Have lunch with them. Go to happy hour. Anything you need to do to get face time and to build a good, solid, trustworthy relationship with them.  Once they trust you, you’re job will become much easier. 

For those of us running a program by ourselves, we have to keep in mind that we’re good but we’re not God.  We can’t always do it all but we’ll do our best at all times.

For those who aren’t reference professionals, please remember that not everything can always be done and in the time frame required.  We do our best and sometimes we win and sometimes we lose.  Not all Sales people win their deals.  Not all quarterbacks throw touch down passes – sometimes they get sacked on the field.  So please, treat us as you would others.  We’re only human so treat us like humans!

As a reference program manager, we are a service group within any organization so as you would with external customers, set realistic expectations with your internal customers.

Why Running a CRP Isn’t Like Starbucks – and That’s Okay

Go into a Starbucks any day of the week and you’re bound to hear someone order some crazy concoction…a grande no fat, extra hot, double shot, low fat whip, two pump….you get the idea. Starbucks prides itself in giving you the exact coffee you want – no matter if it’s a plain drip with room or a twenty five word description of you coffee.

Running a customer reference program is similar yet can be vastly different from Starbucks. Although in both cases the customer/prospect may make a very specific request, when running a reference program it’s okay to not give 100% what the prospect is looking for. Sounds pretty crazy huh? Here are some reasons:

Set expectations: Let your prospect and/or sales person (whoever comes to you with the request) know that although you will aim to get exactly what they’re looking for, it might not be possible. Many times I’ve received very granular requests – even down to the area code! Seriously. When it gets that granular, I go to my next step…

Find out what’s the most important thing(s): We’d like to give everyone exactly what they want but it might not happen. After you’ve set the expectation, find out what the most important things the prospect is looking for. Maybe it’s the same type of deployment or someone with the same vertical yet the deployment doesn’t matter. Still, it might be the product deployed that’s more important. Find out exactly what’s going to be the deal breaker and work from there.

Get timing: If you have 3 hours to get a very detailed reference, it might not work. However, if you have two weeks, you might have time to get exactly what’s being asked for. The timing of the reference can make all the difference.

I’ve said over and over, running a reference program is about finding the most appropriate customer for each opportunity. That doesn’t mean it’ll always be a 100% match, but you can get close enough that the reference will be a great match.

Types of customer references

Doing a quick search on the Internet for blogs regarding customer references, I noticed that a majority of them ask how to find a reference for a particular software application or some other product. Most of these are from the perspective of the person (generally sales or a consultant) looking for answers for their customer/prospect. Very few of the blogs talk about how to run a Customer Reference Program and how to pull one together from scratch. I’m hoping to help answer some of these issues with this blog.

Types of customer references
When starting your reference program it’s important to realize the many different types of references. Start with basic 101…is this is sales or marketing reference? Although they might seem like they are the same and ultimately will affect one another, they are generally two very different types.

Sales references include:
Customer speaking with a prospect over the phone/email
Prospect wanting to visit a customer to see how the product works
Name dropping in a prospect call/meeting

Marketing references include:
Press release
Case study
Speaking with analysts
Speaking with the media
Website listing
Use of name and/or logo in Marketing material

In general, it’s usually easier to find a Sales reference than a Marketing reference for one basic reason…Sales references are generally not going to be made public. It’s that simple. Marketing references are used for..well, marketing reasons which means letting pretty much the world know that customer XYZ is a customer of vendor XYZ.

Because it’s a public reference, most customers will have to get approval by their Legal and/or Public Relations team if not more people. This extends the approval process and scares some people away as more time and effort is needed.

Rule #1: When using a customer for a public reference such as logo use on a Website or in a press release always get the customers approval at least once before doing so. If a customer has approved a quote and you want to re-use it, that’s generally okay. But for the first time usage, make sure to get approval!