Reference Point
a newsletter for customer reference professionals
in this issue
-- How SAS is Turning Customers into Sales People: A Preview of the Next Customer Reference Forum
-- Don't Miss Early Registration

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How SAS is Turning Customers into Sales People: A Preview of the Next Customer Reference Forum

The theme of our next Customer Reference Forum in October is "Turning Customers into Sales People." Following is a terrific real world example, as well as a preview of one of the presentations you'll see in October by Mary Beth Robinson, who manages the customer reference program at SAS Institute International for Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA).

In particular, Mary Beth and her team have turned the annual EMEA customer conference, "SAS Forum International," into a high-powered sales machine. The numbers bear this out: sales resulting directly from pre-arranged meetings at last year's customer conference covered barely a fraction of the cost of the event. Sales influenced by reference meetings at this year's conference covered 100% of the event costs within the first month after the event.

And the customer conference is getting tremendous notice and touts throughout the SAS International field sales and marketing organizations, due to its success in speeding up sales cycles as well as expanding the scope of contracts. The General Manager of one of the country sales offices said, "Talking Point helped enormously in broadening the scope of these projects and even turned around one customer from a SAS-skeptic to a SAS advocate."

Here are some highlights of what Mary Beth and her team did and what they accomplished. She'll give us the full story plus updated results in Boston.

Conferences That Turn Customers Into Sales People

- Start by performing triage. Before the event, Mary Beth works with sales and account managers in the field offices to collect and qualify requests by prospects for meetings with SAS customers. Like doctors performing triage in a field hospital to determine those patients who are most in need and most likely to benefit from treatment, Mary Beth and sales pursue those prospects and customers most susceptible to influence during the event. She then asks, "What can we do to make the time these customers spend at the conference as rewarding as possible for them?"

- Organize for customers. "We make it clear that the conference is about them, not us," says Mary Beth. "This includes business-focused presentations by other customers and a generally casual and friendly atmosphere, featuring a mixer during the event, where customers can talk openly and comfortably with each other. Some people may think it's na've of us to give customers such free reign, but we encourage it, because it enriches the experience for everyone."

- Focus presentations on business results and benefits. Many user groups turn into geekfests, with technology people discussing the finer points of coding. SAS Forum has little of that. Event organizers make sure presentations focus on the business value of SAS solutions, and that they are delivered (preferably) by business decision makers. That's why an eye-popping 40% of the delegates at this year's SAS Forum were executives - i.e., decision-makers.

- Play matchmaker! Before the event, Mary Beth and her team play the role of matchmaker, working with customers and their account managers to book private, face-to-face meetings between references and prospects at the conference. This is literally where SAS customers serve, in a real sense, as sales people. "These are becoming increasingly popular with our customers," says Mary Beth, "and it moves deals."

In such ways, Talking Point at SAS Forum International creates value all around, both for SAS AND its customers. Here are a few examples:

Talking Point's Value Proposition

- Faster and expanded deal flow for SAS. Mary Beth says, "There is no question that Talking Point accelerated the sales cycle for these deals, and, according to immediate feedback from the field, has led to substantial cross sales, up sales and broadened scope of projects." In Boston, she'll have more to say about ROI to SAS from the event, when more data have come in.

- More customer references. Talking Point has the salutatory effect of prompting customers who see other customers talking about the value of SAS solutions to do the same. "Why should we be reluctant to ask customers to speak out about their experience with us," says Mary Beth, "when they're delighted to do so, if approached in the right way? Seeing other customers present their fabulous results has this effect. We are in the fortunate, if bittersweet, position of having to turn down many customers who also want to do this."

- A Compelling Case for Attending the SAS Forum. Once people realize that SAS customers at the conference will talk about real business results rather than technology gizmos, and that they'll have ample opportunity to speak frankly with their peers, they have a strong business case for coming to the conference. "Think about it," says Mary Beth. "If your firm is considering one of our solutions, there's no faster, more thorough or ultimately less expensive way to do due diligence than to attend SAS Forum.

Don't Miss Early Registration
If you're "reinventing wheels" in your customer reference program, wondering how to make it work better, trying to gain executive respect and budget dollars, or looking to develop a support network of peers in this profession whom you can call on for advice - join us in Boston on October 24 and 25 for Customer Reference Forum.

Please visit our website to take advantage of our early registration discount.

For more information on the event, including infor mation about presentations such as the one by Mary Beth previewed above, please click here.

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