I’ve started reference programs at a few companies now and on my first day I always ask “Can I have a copy or access to the customer database?” The answer, in all the companies, has been “No – we don’t have one!” Can you believe it? Besides the standard support database and possibly an application like Salesforce.com, I have found that most companies don’t have access to a master customer list. This is shocking to me. But, the shock eventually wears off.
How do you go about finding the customers? Talk to people outside of Marketing. I’ve spoken to sales people, sales operations people, customer support, contract owners. Anyone that would have any information on a customer is valuable. Granted, sometimes that information is just a company name but at least it’s a starting point.
It’s not uncommon for me to spend the first week of a new job talking to these folks and then combining lists and lists and lists of customers – all in different formats. Spending a week or so going through 100,000 Excel lines might not seem like the best use of your time, but in the end it’s invaluable.
Although somewhat archaic, I keep my customer list in an Excel spreadsheet. Not ideal, but the companies I have worked at haven’t wanted to invest in the money for tools such as Boulder Logic or haven’t had the budget to do so and for me, Salesforce.com doesn’t have all that I’m looking for. It’s an easy tool to use and sorting generally isn’t a problem. It’s also nice to be able to send new sales guys a list of his/her customers in the area when they start – a little brown nosing goes a long way.
So take the time to find out who knows what in your company. It might be a long process but a customer list that you can work with needs to be created and then updated daily when you find out new information.