It’s a new year and a good opportunity to transform your tactical customer reference program into a more impactful (and rewarding), and strategic program. How do you know if your program is tactical? Look at the program’s goals. If the vast majority are “Add X new case studies,” or “Help coordinate X% of reference call requests,” or “Increase referenceable accounts to X” then you have a tactical program.
Growing and adding program members and content aren’t a bad thing at all. But if that’s all your program is known for then it won’t capture the hearts and minds of executives, your customers won’t see the What’s in it for me?, and you’ll be forever short on budget, resources and visibility. Frankly you just aren’t making a big enough contribution to warrant much more in the way of support and resources.
How do you transform your customer reference program? Here are a few key recommendations:
- Get aligned with your company’s primary goals
New product launches, new industries, new geographies, acquisitions and mergers, and brand messaging. All of these common company initiatives and goals stand to benefit from customer references. There will be social media and email campaigns, events, webinars, analyst calls & surveys, press releases and many other marketing and sales events that need the power of the customer experience. The customer reference program should be a core component of each during planning, not in the eleventh hour.
- Coordinate your activities with peers/departments
Work with PR, AR, the social media group and others who frequently search for and leverage customer references. Consider how each will be supporting company goals and how references factor in. Then plan your approach of targeted customers and work toward a single call or meeting to get all the information needed by each group. That’s professionalism that will shine through to your customers, and create synergy between marketing projects that yields better impact.
- Educate and evangelize the program’s assets and services
Truly effective customer reference programs never rest in this area. This involves getting involved in new hire orientation, conducting recurring “lunch and learn” type training sessions for the program in general and tools specifically. Set up periodic meetings with department leaders/managers with a goal of finding new ways to help them with their goals through customer references. A secondary goal is to convert them into evangelists as well so your program is top-of-mind as they do their jobs. That uncovers new opportunities.
- Make the connection between customer references and company goal achievement
Program promotion is just common sense, but so often forgotten. Keeping the program visible and showing how the program is supporting company goals is essential. Don’t assume influencers and purse string holders will figure that out for themselves. There’s too much going on in everyone’s lives. You’ve got to connect the dots and provide the information in easily digested bites (i.e., charts). Establish a regular cadence of program progress reporting be that in monthly all-hands meetings, newsletters, CRM dashboards, etc.
All of this takes time and focus. If you can’t redefine your job and get additional bandwidth or staff to do the tactical work, which has to continue to get done, then start by carving out time from each day, or part of a day each week to spend on these strategic activities. Build on small wins and start the journey toward establishing a truly dynamic and integral customer reference program. Think Strategic in 2013!
Happy New Year!