Reference Point
a newsletter for customer reference professionals
JUNE 2005
in this issue
-- A Better Customer-Reference Value Proposition
-- Get the Presentation You Just Read About
-- Coming Up: Our Next Customer Reference Forum

Reference Point is a Customer Reference Point newsletter about reference (CR) programs and how to improve them. To subscribe, please contact me (contact information is below or just respond to this email). To unsubscribe at any time, just reply to this email with "unsubscribe" in the subject line. This email list and your name will never be made available to anyone else, not even to others on the list, unless by mutual request and agreement.

A Better Customer-Reference Value Proposition

Last Winter's Customer Reference Forum in Phoenix provided a tremendous networking and relationship-building experience for those who were there. But the wealth of ideas that emerged provided much more: people took tangible solutions that are helping them excel in their jobs back home. Following is one such story. I'll be presenting others from time to time in subsequent issues. If your boss has questions about the business value of these events, share this with her.

Gaining Fast Experience

When she came to the Phoenix event in February, Kathryn Perkins was new to her job as Senior Manager, Customer Loyalty Programs at SumTotal Systems. In particular, she had no experience running a customer reference program and the person who'd been running it had left the company. After attending the event, she came away with a number of ideas that she began implementing right away. One of the most important was a new value proposition for customer references. When she went back to work, she had the "ammo" she needed to sell the new value prop to senior management, the ideas she needed to implement it, and in the months since, she has tripled the number of references at her firm and improved the program's strategic value in the eyes of that same senior management. From a personal standpoint, her story made my day when I first heard it; I literally got goose bumps. Here's how it all came down.

Quid Pro Quo vs. Personal Growth

Previously, SumTotal Systems used a point system to attract customers to their reference program -- customers got so many points for participating in activities like case studies or site visits, redeemable for services or other value. "But we were always a bit uncomfortable with that, and now with Sarbanes Oxley, there may be compliance sensitivities as well," says Kathryn. Given that she was new to the job as well as to reference program management, she had no ready alternative. "About that time, I heard of your event coming up in February, and decided to go."

In the intense day-and-a -half exchange of ideas from other CR professionals, Kathryn got a crash course in running a reference program, such as Janice Burg-Levi's concept of tiered references at Unisys and Denise Cochrell's ideas on integrating systems to create a robust customer intelligence system. But Kathryn's most immediate takeaway occurred during a panel of four actual customers who were serving as references to various companies.

"What I learned from listening to those customers was that they view participating in a reference program as an opportunity for personal growth. That was a real eye opener. Particularly with those who become evangelists, they get out and speak at industry events, network with key people, and even get exposure to other jobs that may be out there. They like the idea of getting to know their peers at other customers. These things open up a world of possibility for them."

The panel also clarified how custom er view the value to ther firms from being references. It 's not just prospective buyers who benefit from talking to a reference. "Questions from prospective buyers can open a window for our customer references into the latest industry trends and statistics. Interacting with prospects can also help foster a growing user community of users. Such interactions improve risk management for our customers. By continuing to interface with our other customers, they can avoid making the same mistakes."

Integrating with Customer Satisfaction Initiatives

As a result of developing closer relationships with customers, Kathryn is now a player in SumTotal Systems customer support and customer satisfaction efforts. "At times we lacked a feedback loop that let technical support and professional services know the direct impact they had on customer referenceability," she says. "I now participate in the technical review meetings on a weekly basis. It helps me provide visibility for a reference customer that may need to be on our critical care watch list. It is also a great opportunity to provide recognition to individual services and support members whose interventions helped us to get a reference stabilized or whose efforts opened the door to a new customer for the reference program."

Summing up: A New Value Proposition

Here's how Kathryn summarizes the new, relatio nship-based value prop that helped her triple the number of SumTotal Systems' customer references:

Opportunities to leverage your brand name. Customers in the reference program receive special notifications about industry awards, analyst studies and speaking opportunities in Web seminars or at industry events.

Peer-to-peer access. Reference program members have the opportunity to request introductions to other customers in the program in order to benefit from shared learning and industry expertise.

Meet new SumTotal prospective buyers. Many of our reference customers enjoy meeting SumTotal sales prospects, as questions from prospective buyers are often a window onto the latest industry trends and statistics. It also provides the opportunity to foster a growing user community of users.

Gain higher visibility and resolution of issues. Reference customers are closely monitored for any critical support needs and issues are escalated in weekly internal meetings.

Get the Presentation You Just Read About

We are now making CDs of the customer panel you just read about - and that Kathryn Perkins used to help her triple the number of references at SumTotal Systems - available to those who couldn't attend Customer Reference Forum 2005. It's called:

Panel: Perspectives from Actual Customer References
Led by Steve Hurley, Vice President, Learning & Performance Excellence, ITSMA

You can also get other, selected presentations as well as a second panel presentation, including:

Building Systems to Manage a CR Program
Denise Cochrell, Manager, Customer Evidence, Infrastructure, Microsoft

Elevating Customer References to a Key Corporate Strategy
Janice Burg-Levi, Vice President, Global Strategic Marketing, Unisys

Note: This was the top rated presentation at the Winter Customer Reference Form

Panel: Motivating Sales & Customers to Participate
Led by Tami Andrews, Customer Excellence Marketing Manager, NetIQ

To order, please click here

Coming Up: Our Next Customer Reference Forum

If you're interested in attending the Fall Customer Reference Forum (which will be held in October on the East Coast), click here for more information. Or just reply to this email with "keep me updated about the Fall event" in the subject line. We're gong to have some terrific presenters, great opportunities to meet and get to know your peers in the profession, and above all -- to ols that can help you excel in your job.

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