This may seem like the wrong topic for our first newsletter of
the year, since you're probably still digging out from the
season and have a 2-page task list plus 200 emails to get
through. But I'd suggest you step back every now and then -
particularly when you're busy -
and look at the big picture. In particular, look at how your
reference program fits together with the myriad of ways,
many of them new and exciting, that your firm is engaging
Doing so will help you:
- Focus your efforts on what's important.
managers have too much to do. Understanding where your
program fits into your firm's big picture will help you set
- Accelerate your career growth.
And there is
reason to believe that the broader emerging field of
Programs" will become a major new area in marketing (see
the discussion under "A Prediction," here.),
- Enhance your reputation with senior management as
someone who thinks strategically.
For example, take new product development (NPD). The
“Voice of the Customer” – which includes the voice in
particular of your
customer references – is critical to NPD. Indeed, over the
last couple of decades, our understanding of exactly how
customer input can help NPD succeed has grown increasingly
sophisticated. And it turns out that reference managers,
without doing much of anything new, are in an excellent
position to contribute to NPD.
How References Can Contribute to NPD
We now know that it doesn't always work to ask
customers what new
features they want or how they would improve the products/
services they're using. A
better approach is to understand
what "job" they're trying to get done (see
Anthony Ulwick's excellent article on this, particularly pages
6-7). Once you know this, you then turn your
engineers/ designers loose to develop ways to make the
customer's job easier. For example, Intuit's QuickBooks
market share and eventually market dominance with a
that couldn't match - and didn't try to match - the
sophisticated, report generating capacity of rival programs,
which were developed by accountants. Rather, QuickBooks
developers talked to and watched business owners use their
accounting software and found they weren't interested in the
fancy reports. They just wanted a program that would make
sure they didn't run out of cash. That's precisely what Intuit
What does this mean to you as a reference manager?
Your writers are developing success stories and case studies.
In their interviews, have them focus less on the whiz bang
features, functionalities and capabilities that your engineers
and product developers are touting. These things don't sell in
any case. Have them focus more on what
"job" customers are trying to get done with your product or
service; what their desired outcomes are; and, how your
current products are helping them achieve these outcomes.
The answers, of course, will help sell more products. But if
the customer's answers are different from what product
developers think customers are doing, that information will
also help NPD. And if you have your writers also ask
about any constraints that prevent them from achieving
optimal outcomes, that information will also be highly
valuable to NPD. By sharing such information - most of
which you're already gathering - with NPD, you become
the bigger picture.
The Spring 2007 Customer Reference Forum will be
held the week of April 23 or the week of April 30, for those of
you wanting to plan. We'll finalize with the hotel in the next
week or so, and I'll provide the exact dates and location as
soon as I have them.