I had a chance to “talk shop” with Kim Glover, consultant and leader of the customer marketing practice at Porter Consulting. It’s always interesting to see how a peer in the customer marketing provider world sees the current state of our domain, and compare notes. Following is part I of our conversation, which I hope you’ll find insightful as you position yourself and your program for the year ahead.

What do you see as the biggest obstacles for companies when it comes to building a customer marketing program?

Kim Glover (KG): Executive leadership support in my view is the biggest hurdle to overcome in running a successful customer marketing program. Without a “top down” support approach, bringing necessary budget to the table and insisting on cross-company cooperation with the customer marketing team throughout the organization, any marketing program would be swimming upstream. Aligning with Sales and other company leaders makes for a smooth, symbiotic relationship where everyone wins. This means not having to fight for, and constantly justify budget, which allows customer marketing teams to focus their energies on ensuring the company has relevant, compelling, impactful customer testimonial content that can be tapped at a moment’s notice for any need.

David Sroka (DS): I completely agree. I’d add that too few program managers present their mission in terms of the company’s growth goals. That leads to a disconnect, which causes executives to view the program as perhaps necessary, but not strategically important to achieving the goals they’re tasked with meeting by the board. 

 There seem to be a lot of new customer marketing positions. Has that changed what you do as a consultancy?

KG: There certainly is a lot of flux in the industry right now, and honestly this is an agency’s sweet spot. We’re here to scale to a company’s needs and fill in gaps left behind when an employee departs or prior to a new hire getting completely up to speed. We have folks who can fill roles from junior “extra arms and legs” to get stuff done, to senior, strategic roles helping to take a company’s program to the next level. We can be in position for a short-term, or longer term, based on a company’s needs. Losing momentum with a customer reference program can be the kiss of death in terms of customer relationships. Our team can fill that gap and not only “keep the lights on” while a FTE is sought, but we can also gain traction and bring program efficiencies into play to help the new hire, too. In some cases we are asked to remain involved in the account, continuing to support the program’s success in a variety of ways. So this hasn’t actually changed what we do as an agency, but our clients have certainly mentioned they have an increased appreciation for the value of having an agency partnership. 

DS: I imagine you’re doing more education of the hiring managers and the new replacements, where applicable. We anticipate a new crop of program managers with little or no prior customer marketing experience. I haven’t researched this, but my guess is there aren’t customer marketing classes in most college business programs. There’s going to be a lot of learning on the job. 

 What do you advise clients when it comes to obtaining executive support?

KG: The best way to secure executive support is having real world, concrete examples of ROI. Being able to point to leaders who place incredible importance on customer references, and see the value of having customers willing to “go to the mat” for your company is critical. Customer reference marketing is all about relationship building: with your executive leadership, with your Sales teams and their leaders, and with your customers. 

DS: It’s important to speak the language of executive stakeholders. With Sales VPs and Chief Revenue Officers, for example, the program’s efforts must support revenue stream optimization and Sales and Marketing synergy. Establishing program goals that clearly correspond to the CEO’s goals creates a different perception and gives them a reason to care about the program’s success. 

 Our prospects often ask when it’s time to move from spreadsheets to a technology like ours. What do you think is the decision point?

KG: The time is now! Get your customer content out of a spreadsheet and into a solution that can actually help your program gain momentum. The more you enable your team to do their jobs efficiently, the more justification you’ll have to prove the investment in a customer reference database is a solid one. For those who say “our program is too immature for a database expense” or “we don’t have enough customers to justify a customer reference database,” I say this is actually a perfect time to lay a solid foundation for success and implement a database that will help you achieve your program goals sooner rather than later.

DS: I like your thinking 😊 We ask prospects if they have the bandwidth to manage their programs using spreadsheets and achieve the goals they’ve either been given or they set for themselves. Initially program managers are in the middle of every advocate activity, and that’s a white glove approach that is awesome, but not so scalable. When they find they can’t sustain this service model the manager needs to decide where their time is best spent vs. what can be delegated to other people (like Porter Consulting) or automation (Point of Reference). 

 Do you find the areas where you’re providing support have changed over the past 5 years 

KG: Yes, definitely. I’d say (and I think everyone acknowledges this), video is much more prevalent and requested now than it ever was. Previously, budgets often just couldn’t support showcase, on-location video shoots, and while these are still important and have a place in customer marketing, one of the biggest changes we’ve seen is the move to more “authentic” and less flashy videos. Home grown videos being produced from Zoom calls or platforms like Vocal Video are now seen by many as being more relevant (Covid and work from home situations have certainly played a huge role in this shift) and genuine. There’s no scripting so the end result comes across as being more legitimate and less marketing-y.

DS: It’s great that video need not be highly produced and expensive anymore to be effective. Ironically, authentic customer interviews (first audio, then video) were the first incarnation of Point of Reference. We called them “TruPoints” and we had to do a lot of convincing of prospects that it was okay to do away with Hollywood flash, and even leave in “less than flattering” answers to interview questions. We always felt that made them more credible, not less. 

 Has anything changed (trends) in terms of customer content/events in the last 2 years?

KG: Further to the trending video platforms available, the pandemic has forced so many companies to think about their event planning and how to move away from those large venues and still keep their customer audiences engaged and attending. Webinar hosting platforms (while not content specific) are being pushed to greater limits—and many are pushing the bar higher—and customer collateral tends to be more interactive now than ever before. Technology is improving and really taking things to a new level, and customer reference professionals need to stay attuned to the latest and greatest platforms out there that help make running your customer marketing program efficient and relevant. 

DS: Watching the event function go from decimation to reinvention has been very cool. Companies quickly determined that the sense of community provided by events could not be ignored. One surprise was that the level of time and effort seems to be about the same, minus travel. Perhaps that will decrease as these teams get more “reps,” become more proficient.

Continue reading and visit part II of my conversation with Kim. We welcome your comments!