The push to establish a customer reference program is a big project with plenty of moving parts. When the dust settles, after formal announcements and training are complete, the real work begins. Program promotion, change management, and execution must take center stage.
The Case for Program Governance
At the heart of the change management is program governance. Without it all the other investments in people, technology, and content development are undermined and squandered to some degree. What do “un-governed” customer reference programs look like? The leadership team assumes a laissez faire position on the change management process—consciously or unconsciously—and as a result:
- Salespeople continue using inefficient black market/backdoor methods for finding reference customers
- Marketers continue hitting up the same customers for different purposes leading the customer turn out, and leaving customers to wonder if its the same company calling on them
- Outdated versions of case studies and other customer content to used from local hard drives instead of from a central library of current assets
- No one can get any statistics concerning the value of the program
We have worked with many different company cultures since 2003. Where employees are in sync with top company goals and understand their individual contributions to those goals, less top-down management is required to effect change. But in more than half of the companies we’ve worked with, visible and vocal leadership support of a change initiative, like a formal customer reference program, is a critical success factor.
So what’s the trick in getting that visible and vocal support? Speaking to leadership in terms of the criteria they themselves are measured on: revenue, productivity, customer experience and growth.
Ultimately these are the goals of a customer reference program, but if the program’s contribution to executive goals aren’t clearly connected and articulated the program looks like a cost center to management. If the dots are connected and clearly communicated and the executive team still doesn’t provide the support needed then there are bigger fundamental organizational problems and your skills may be better applied elsewhere.
In Part II of this post I’ll provide some actionable advice for gaining executive backing for your program, whether you’re building one now or have a program that needs a boost.