Mario Sundar

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

5 Questions w/ Bill Lee of Customer Reference Forum

Customer Reference Management is the branch of Marketing that aims “to improve and enhance the level of advocacy a set of customers displays related to a vendor’s products & services”. The Customer Reference Forum (CRF) is the premiere event that brings together marketers from across the globe to share best practices on customer references.

I recently had an opportunity to ask Bill Lee (President, Customer Reference Forum) 5 questions on the Art of Customer References. If you’d like to find out what exactly is the value of customer references to a company’s marketing teams, read on…

Q1. This year’s CRF event seems to be focused on topics such as citizen marketers, customer communities, social media, etc… In your opinion, how has social networking impacted customer references within Corporate America? Is 2007 the year, social media will reach a tipping point among the customer reference community?

A: We’re going to cover a broad array of topics at the CRF, but yes, we are definitely going to explore social media and its implications on reference programs. I think social media will indeed reach a tipping point among all marketers, in terms of awareness. Corporate marketers of all types are very concerned that they are losing control of the conversation about their firms’ products and brands. But among all marketers, I think reference professionals — many of whom have spent years building close relationships with customers — are in a great position. With social media, they’ll simply take these relationships to new places using new forms.

Q2. How are enterprise customers adapting to the newly evolving paradigm of social media?

A: So far the lone users and bloggers who can send shockwaves through a major corporation seem to be getting a lot of the attention. In comparison, I think enterprise customers are going to find lower-key, but more systematic — and very effective — ways to use social media and other community tools to exchange information about vendors. If I’m a CIO contemplating a major technology implementation, for example, why should I limit myself to talking to the references provided by the buyer? When you’re talking about 6, 7 or even 8-figure implementations, I’d like to be part of a community of other CIOs who regularly exchange information in a sophisticated, systematic way about vendors

Q3. A few examples of evolutionary/revolutionary customer reference programs (maybe using social media) that you have been impressed with lately?

A: One of the best models for a reference program is SAP’s. In the last couple of years, Coleen Kaiser built it into a sophisticated global operation. Among other things, the SAP reference program has incorporated Fred Reicheld’s Net Promoter Score (NPS) into its operations, developed a reference program with its partners that created roughly a thousand new references in a matter of months, and is at the forefront of establishing the connection between references and revenue. The SAP program even trains sales on how to use references! As for reference programs making the best use of social media, stay tuned for our upcoming forum in Berkeley on April 23!

Q4. I’d recently written a post on the 5 New Rules of customer references, in which I spoke about the level of control that users of a community should have? Do you think there should be a difference in the level of control provided to B2C users vs. B2B users?

A: Both your post and the Creating Passionate Users post you refer to provide some valuable perspective. The rise of social media does not mean users will take total control. They don’t want total control. But they do want more information and more transparency than they’ve been getting, and I think they see social media and other community forums as a way to get these. That means that marketers are going to have to get used to giving up some control — a very scary thing for us! But the ones who don’t panic and find the opportunities to get their message out in this new world are going to thrive.

Q5. In the years past, there has been a perception that customer references “especially in the realm of big enterprise software projects like ERP and CRM—have ceased to have much real meaning” (Source: CIO Magazine). How do you think that has changed since the article came out in 4/2002?

A: I linked to that article shortly after we started our newsletter. It was a clarion call, in my view, to avoid the tendency we have to sugar coat everything that is said about our products and services — even to the extent of rewarding a customer in exchange for acting as a reference! That, of course, destroys their credibility. In the years since, I’ve sensed a growing movement — particularly among the leading programs — to move away from rewards, points programs, free consulting, etc, in exchange for acting as a reference. It’s OK to provide a reasonable “thank you” gift to a customer who’s spent a day presenting at your industry conference. It’s not OK to provide a quid pro quo.


Thanks for your candid responses, Bill. So what do you think will be the greatest takeaway for corporate marketers from Customer Reference Forum — Spring 07?

A: The greatest takeaway will be the relationships participants establish and build with their peers. With respect to social media, the great takeaway will be that this phenomenon, scary as it may seem, will present tremendous opportunities to reference programs and the professionals who run them.

Feel free to leave a question for Bill in the comments section below.

Filed under: Business Blogging

2 Responses

  1. Honanneme says:

    Hey Forum-

    Thought I would Introduce Myself and say I am excited about being apart of the Forum. Looking Forward to providing good input and reading some as well.

    Like

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