All business operations have potential snags and customer reference programs are no exception. We have spent a decade and a half analyzing methods, designing systems, and helping streamline customer reference management processes to ensure client success.
The people who need those references, salespeople predominantly, are resourceful and independent. When a program or project is working well, every component is firing on all cylinders—smooth, effortless, fluid, harmonious, elegant. If processes are too slow, error-prone or unproductive, stakeholders will circumvent official methods to get what they want, just as surely as water will find a way downhill.
Xerox recently published an eBook about the desirable yet elusive state of Flow in business processes.
Flow, the eBook tells us, is the enviable state where “process and people and technology seem to slip into place and make everything feel effortless.”
Flow facilitates performance and success, but what makes flow so difficult to achieve and maintain, flow killers as Xerox calls them, derail processes and functions. According to Xerox, those flow killers can be grouped into three main problems: friction, noise, and drag. Let’s look at these killers in the context of a customer reference program.
Symptoms of workflow Friction are inefficiencies that cause low program adoption, high circumvention, and long lead times (failed SLAs). These are all signs of a combination of three main factors: bad technology fit, defective process design, and poor communication.
The Rx for Friction-caused problems requires analysis and refinement. The more streamlined and natural the flow, the less likely Friction will occur. Limiting Friction requires minimizing the steps in the process, automating elements that could be error prone or cause a bottleneck if handled manually, and leveraging the most efficient collaboration and communication tools. In the customer advocate world, that translates to automating reference searches, reference request fulfillment, post-activity feedback loops, identification of new advocates and advocate profile updates.
Too much data can be daunting. Many companies struggle to identify the most meaningful data to track in order to measure effectiveness. But we find that the absence of data, let’s call it deafening silence (another form of Noise), is the bigger problem for the customer reference programs we support. A laborious hunt for the right reference contact or content leads to frustration, and that is only exacerbated by discovering that the information available is out-of-date, inaccurate, or simply scattered across too many sources. This Noise manifests itself in prolonged decision-making and the inability to efficiently find all the relevant information and share it with buyers, analysts, media, etc.
As a program manager, the failure to monitor and manage the information flow results in program failure. For those seeking customer advocate data as part of the sales cycle, it can result in delayed or lost revenue. To decrease Noise ensure your technology:
Facilitates Data Quality
Data quality is the result of relentless effort, not chance. Customer data is not static. Employing a system to methodically review and update reference-specific customer data helps ensure the information you provide is accurate.
Features Effortless Search
Search should be intuitive and flexible to help users find what they need based on specific criteria (industry, use case, geo, etc.) then easily share advocate perspectives they find with buyers.
Measures What’s Important
If the solution is doing its job then you will have the data needed to measure how the program is influencing deals, marketing campaigns, webinars and more. Be sure to address the metrics deemed important to your organization/leadership team—revenue influenced, win-rates, sales cycle acceleration, etc.
Noise can also come from too many applications and duplicate data. Separate applications for general customer information, customer advocate information and process workflows, and customer content that are separate, or feel separate from one another, is frustrating and bogs things down. Customer reference management functionality should be one with your CRM system.
Different from Friction, Drag is a metaphorical weight holding people back from doing the things they do best. Indicators of drag include increased costs without requisite improvements, people spending too much of their time on nonessential tasks, and bottlenecks in critical processes. Drag slows performance and negatively impacts morale. Drag can be caused by inadequate processes as well as internal politics like turf wars and unwillingness to change. For customer reference programs, Drag cannot just kill the flow; it can kill the program.
Reducing or eliminating Drag is largely accomplished through a vision of stakeholder synchronicity. If the goal is to make use of customer advocates in as many ways throughout the customer life cycle as possible then and only then can the steps to achieving that end goal be defined. Bringing stakeholders together to re-think current practices and processes is step one. In order to reinforce the new model, technology is needed that brings automation to previously manual tasks, adds accountability, alleviates bottlenecks, scales without adding headcount or cost, and frees people to focus on higher value objectives. When salespeople can quickly and easily secure references for their prospect, they spend more time selling. When program managers aren’t continually down in the weeds fulfilling requests or acting as an on-call concierge, they are developing customer relationships and consulting with stakeholder departments in the organization identifying new ways to be of value.
Sharing the collective results reinforces the core vision. Assuming your technology collects the necessary statistics, don’t be shy about making the program’s success public and easily accessed. That is how to win hearts and minds.
Friction, Noise and Drag are the causes of a program’s inefficiency and ineffectiveness. Don’t get caught up in the symptoms of dysfunctional reference management practices because there are potentially many dead ends when it comes to taking action. All roads point to underlying Friction, Noise and Drag. Acting on the root causes leads to real and sustainable change and for what every organization should strive: Flow.
Nice post. These inertia thwart and constrain customer marketing programs from succeeding. Good recommendations for veteran program managers as well as those who are new to the space.
I appreciate the feedback Patrick. These obstacles have a way of seeping in before you know it. Good to take a step back every once in a while and spot them 🙂