Mario Sundar

LinkedIn's 2nd PR hire. These are my thoughts on products, public relations, and startups.

Customer References | The 5 New Rules

Before we start, let’s take a look at the Wikipedia definition of what we’re talking about here. Customer Reference Management is used

… to improve and enhance the level of “advocacy” a set of customers displays related to a vendor’s products & services. Specifically, a vendor’s objective is to gain referrals and positive “word of mouth” from this advocacy

Here’s my take on the five new rules in Customer Reference Management:

1. From “creating advocates” to “finding evangelists”

The wave of the future hinges on the ability of companies’ to embrace their customer evangelists and to enable them to preach the benefits of the product/service to the non-believers/in business terms – prospects. So, the goal shifts from creating advocates to instead finding evangelists and helping amplify their “word-of-mouth” message.

2. Focus on community

Once you start utilizing your corporate website to bring together your customer evangelists, you’ve got to create a virtual sandbox to let them interact with one another. This has definitely been the utopia that customer reference managers have longed for, but now technology is enabling that for even the smallest of websites/blogs. On the simplest level, technology like MyBlogLog helps you provide that feature to your community of readers.

3. Keep it real

Speaking of community, Mack Collier in a recent post, laments the use of social media (corporate blogs) as online brochures!

Readers don’t want to come to your blog to hear about your company every day, that doesn’t excite them. But what does excite them, is when you respect your customers enough to tailor your content so that it appeals to them. That builds readership, and loyalty.

Customer reference material too will have to be made more accessible to users based on their specific interests. And more interestingly, I believe customer references will embrace user-generated content in addition to corporate content?

4. How much control?

Now, once you create a community of users, the next question that you may have is: what level of control should users have?. In the era of “more control is good”, I’d recommend your reading Creating Passionate Users’ brilliant piece on the pain-to-perceived-payoff ratio when it comes to defining user control.

To give you some insight into the piece, let me just say that the post is based on the fact that “Putting users first does not necessarily mean putting users in charge“.

5. Video to supplement text/audio/events

Until now, customer reference material was defined as

…participation in a written case study, speaking on a telephone call with a potential customer or the media, or engaging in an event or seminar to share the story of a product or services success.

As you can see from the above definition, the deliverables in all the above cases is text, audio and events. Not that there’s anything wrong with that! However, social media and user-generated content is definitely the wave of the future, when it comes to customer references. Here’s my friend Jeremiah’s blog post on the “Impact of Social Media on Customer References

Want to find out more, you may want to check out Jeremiah’s presentation on the “Rise of Customer Communities” at the Customer References Forum in April 23-25 at Berkeley.

Filed under: Miscellaneous

7 Responses

  1. Steve Ellis says:

    Hi Mario
    We’ve run customer reference programs for some years. Historically, they were designed around production engines for hard copy materials. Increasingly our customers are asking advice about – and exploring – the opportunities you outline for new customer communities exploiting social media (we are already doing podcasts and video etc).
    I don’t see the tools as the big problem, I see the change of mindset required as the stumbling block.
    Over the years, we have also run communities aimed at developers and partners/ISVs, and the classic Early Adopter Programs. Alot of the lessons learned in building those communities and programs are now coming into play in building customer evangelist communities.
    Certainly the mindset required transfers well: if you have the ‘know how’ to build, sustain and satisfy a community of developers online, then customers are not such a scary proposition.

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  2. Mario Sundar says:

    I’d have to agree, Steve.

    Despite the onset of citizen journalism, the mindset of companies needs to adapt to this changing paradigm.

    Another aspect that’s ignored is that customer evangelism varies from product to product. Consumer based products are more popular and easier to evangelize than enterprise products.

    For e.g. I’ve been evangelizing gmail ever since I converted to it, but that’s not as easy when it comes to enterprise servers!

    Thanks for your feedback.

    I just added “The New Marketing” to my Google Reader. I look forward to continued conversations.

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  3. Mario, hey bud, great post

    I subscribed to Steve’s blog too.

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  4. Mario Sundar says:

    Thanks, J.

    I can’t wait to read your commentary on the Customer Reference Forum. I’m sure you’ll WOW them all… Way to go!

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  5. Ron E. says:

    At the end of the day, we can explain consumer evangelism or CRM’s objectives many different ways.

    But I think a constant -very important- way to always keep in mind is to always deliver more than what’s promised. Some brand consultants usually state the obvious “…deliver what you promise…”, well sure that’s perhaps a basic point in business-making; but I believe brands should always go an extra mile (…or inch, depending on how flexible the brand is) to make sure consumers are truly experientially delighted, that’ll make them love the brand en will (rather than not) turn them into excellent evangelists.

    Great material Mario, Keep it up!

    Thanks,
    Ron E.
    http://www.brandcurve.com

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  6. Mario Sundar says:

    Thanks, Ron.

    I agree with your premise that we ought “deliver more than we promise” to our customers, but I’m not sure how we can tie that into customer references. I presume what you’re saying is

    deliver more than you promise = stronger evangelists = better customer references ? Right/Wrong?

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  7. […] If you’re still wondering who customer reference professionals are, check out my earlier post on the new rules of customer references as well as my interview with Bill […]

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