Recently there was an excellent post on MarketingProfs outlining key considerations in selecting marketing technology. The “Nine Critical Issues to Consider Before You Buy Marketing Software” had a lot of applicability to selecting customer reference management software specifically. Here are 9 technology agnostic “DO“s specific to our customer advocate domain:
1) Know All Your Pain Points
At the start of a demo call we ask what brought the buyer to our virtual door step. The answer almost always includes centralizing scattered customer advocate data and content. That’s a good start, but surely there are other measurable improvements in the minds of leadership. What is the vision 3, 6, 9 months after a new tool is live? Improve user productivity? Include advocates in more sales cycles? Improve win-rates? Integrate customer success and customer reference functions and processes? Take the time to think these things through and make sure the prospective vendor links capabilities to business needs.
2) Be Open to Different
Business processes evolve because of the particular people involved, politics and other constraints. Commercial software evolves with the input of a collective brain trust, which could include hundreds if not thousands of users. It’s important to keep an open mind as to how the customer reference software a) addresses your pain points and b) improves the processes that are already “working” to some degree. An application may get you where you want, but not in the way you do it today. The outcome is what counts.
3) Work Toward an Integrated Ecosystem
A “Walled Garden” is a great metaphor for stand-alone software that doesn’t play well with others. You don’t want to buy into a Walled Garden solution. Today companies are assembling their MarTech stack—a collection of technologies that together meet the needs of the Marketing organization. This is a more holistic approach: these applications need to work together. Customer reference management software should play well with customer success, community, enterprise marketing, net promoter-related apps and any other “feeders” to or “consumers” in the customer advocate ecosystem. We believe the CRM solution should be the center of this ecosystem, the source of all truth. Platforms like Salesforce are designed for this role.
4) Think “Natural”
Sales and Marketing users are asked to use a variety of technologies. Each tool is, in essence, competing for attention. Not only should the user experience be intuitive, we believe the functionality to be embedded in user workflows. We use the expression, “Build sidewalks where people walk.” Look for technology that doesn’t seek to change familiar workflows, but rather, naturally leverages them. Change management is part of all technology adoption, but that change management can be a heavy lift or a light lift. Think about that while going through demos.
5) Buy for Today and Tomorrow
There will always be micro and macro trends that will help drive your decisions. Content marketing, account based marketing, referral marketing, AI, big data…the list goes on. One trend is pervasive, and for sure: automation. In the drive for efficiency, convenience and velocity of nearly every process in an organization, automation is at the heart. Be sure the vendor’s vision includes helping you scale while providing a better experience for users.
6) Rely on Experts
Just like health care, there is a marketing technology trend toward specialization. The reason is simple: to do something really well it takes focus. Ten years ago there were plenty of well-meaning IT departments who promised their Marketing clients they could develop customer reference software that would be customized to the company’s needs and save a bunch of money. While there are a handful of success stories, by and large the application was never finished, or it was finished but contained a fraction of the functional specifications. And getting support to make enhancements? Not likely. Customer advocate software is not a core competency for many companies. Place a value on the domain expertise and IP that a specialist brings.
7) Be Creative with Adoption
Adoption is a combination of a lot of factors. Check out this white paper on adoption of customer reference software. Start by defining how you will measure adoption—one size does not fit all. Use a combination of the carrot and stick, not just stick. To that end, make sure the vendor you select can both report on adoption in terms of desired behaviors, but also has a carrot component to make technology use a game, a contest, something fun for users. That creates momentum that policies, mandates and directives cannot.
8) Measure Like an Executive
Many customer reference programs continue to be justified by number of case studies produced, number of customers added to the program, or even just the existence of a central repository of advocate information. But notice that none of these connect directly to company goals, which is how executives are measured. Ensure your customer reference software provider can correlate to win-rates, revenue influenced and any other metric that resonates with executives. Understanding their priorities and how your program supports those goals is essential to long-term support and budget.
9) Consider the Cost of Status Quo
It’s important to conduct a thorough review of available customer reference software options, but never lose sight of the fact that each day your company doesn’t effectively leverage customer advocates and related content in Sales, Marketing, Product Marketing, Social Media, Analyst Relations and the many other applications, you’re losing revenue. These are missed opportunities that have tangible value. Buyers want more peer opinions and perspectives. If you don’t have it they’ll find a vendor that does.
To get more information about making smart choices for your customer reference management software, check out our other blog posts and whitepapers on MarTech integration, user adoption, and much more.