Reference Point
  a newsletter for customer reference professionals
  May 2011


  1. 10 Procoative Questions to Ask Your Senior Executive Sponsor (second in a 2 part series on gaining executive support for your reference program)
  2. Links to job openings, local reference meetings

10 Provocative Questions to Ask Your Senior Executive Sponsor (second in a 2-part series on increasing your value to senior management)

Last month's issue provided seven tips for better listening to a senior executive--a critical step in gaining her trust and ultimately her active support. Once your senior executive sponsor knows you're listening--and consturctively contributing to the conversation--you can start guiding the discussion to those areas where he or she, and you, can really increase the impact of your reference- and other customer engagement-programs on her goals and ultimately, the success of the business.

The best way to do that is by asking provocative questions. Following is a list of 10 such questions that raise issues that a) are highly likely to relate to her goals, b) you can help with and c) that if needed, I can provide free resources to help you do so (contact me directly on this). Don't just ask these blindly. Pick the ones that relate most closely to the goals she's outlined with you to this point, using the listening skills we talked about last time.

And as I pointed out last time, all of this will assume that you have the RIGHT kind of senior executive to approach in this way: one who is open to ideas, values input from thoughtful people, and welcomes pushback and challenges to conventional wisdom (even his pet beliefs). (And if you don't work with such an executive, you might think about finding another one!)

Following are the 10 provocative questions. You and your reference or other customer engaggement programs can help address these--indeed, they already are at some firms. If your senior executive responds strongly to one or more of these and wants further input from you, feel free to contact me directly and I'll get you some:

  1. Do we know how much of our business comes through referrals? If not, shouldn't we? Shouldn't it be at least one third?

  2. Same questions for influencers.

  3. How are our customer retention rates? Have they been holding or decreasing? If decreasing, do we know why?

  4. How much of our business (or the relevant line of business) is coming through our website? How much should it be?

  5. What impact is our customer community having on our business? If we're touting that we have 500,000 customers in our community, shouldn't we be getting more than 3% / 5% / 10% (whatever the number is) of our business from them directly or indirectly?

  6. We currently sell to mid-level technology managers. Could we sell more strategic solutions to the C-suite at our customer, who have larger budgets,and are less price sensitive?

  7. How is new product adoption going? Are we finding enough early adopters? Are the early adopters helpful in selling to our mainstream markets--or are they too different from main stream buyers?

  8. How well is our new product development going? Do we keep up with the success rates of NPD efforts? If they're low, are we bringing customers into the NPD process effectively?

  9. What is our system for creating quality references vs. quantities of references? How do we tell the difference? How do we spread this knowledge around the organization?

  10. Are we able to measure the impact of individual customers on earnings (not just revenues)? That is, do we know not only how much customers pay, but also how much they cost? Shouldn't we know this in order to better target marketing spend?

Some of these may seem pretty bold, but you'll find that if you start slowly and build up, substantial trust and respect will develop with your senior executive sponsor. And that will be key to your success and his.

All the best,

Bill Lee, President
Customer Reference Forum and Customer Strategy Group
Author of the forthcoming Harvard Business Review Book, The Hidden Wealth of Customers

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email: bill@customerreferenceforum.com
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