Launching a customer reference program successfully involves setting up the right conditions so that all parties involved have a common understanding of processes and end goals. A recent example of a company doing all the right things came to my attention, and I knew it had to be shared. That led to a conversation with Bethany Hostetler who leads the program at NAVEX. NAVEX is quite mature in its approach to rolling out new tools to the sales team, and beyond. They incorporated many of the best practices that we’ve observed over the years, and really hit it out of the park with their recent program launch.

As a sales analyst, Bethany ensures Sales leadership is apprised of the ROI of various tools and programs that are in place. Owning the reference program was a role that came about organically.

There is so many great insights that this blog post has two episodes. This E1 we’ll discuss:

  • How Bethany came to lead the customer marketing program
  • How she views and coordinates with IT
  • Gaining exec buy-in
  • How exec buy-in leads to manager buy-in
  • Customization of Sales team training

Without further preamble, here’s my interview with Bethany, enjoy!

D) How did you become the leader of the NAVEX reference program?

B) Over the years it’s evolved to become part of my role and something I manage and I love it. I work with customers that have elected to be part of the program, along with Sales leadership and many of our sales reps. As I work closely with them on other initiatives, I have built close relationships that makes it easy to move into the realm of approaching them with another thing that could really benefit their work. It makes it easy to work through getting the process up and going.

Takeaway: Having insight into and empathy for the world of Sales pays big dividends.

D) IT can be a be help, or a hinderance in the process of getting new enterprise technology. What’s your approach to working with them?

B) I work with IT on multiple aspects of my job. It’s been great because—already having the people that you know within IT—they’re super helpful. It’s a matter of just getting on the docket of when they can help us because there are just so many different projects going on across the company. Our IT department, when they look at bringing in a new technology, needs to know how much work it’s going to be for their team. Is it going to take a lot of extra coding, or what’s going to be the lift for them? Bringing in ReferenceEdge, was a huge win for us; because it is native to Salesforce, made it much easier to get IT’s buy-in.

We looped them in from the moment we decided to look at solutions. IT is very important to us, especially in those early stages where they bring experienced guidance and can provide early sign-off. Knowing this, we had them on each of the demos that we participated in, so they could ask questions that we might not have even thought of such as how third-party software was going to interact with our systems. This gave us a more realistic view of what we were really looking at, knowing we’d want our program to adapt and evolve over time.

Takeaways: Develop strong relationships within IT, and an appreciation for their world. Include them early in technology evaluations to avoid surprises or push-back later.

D) Too much cannot be said about having executives in your court when bringing a program, and technology to the field. They’re essential. How did you get buy-in at NAVEX?

B) We focused on the need for an executive sponsor, who would be willing to champion the technology and sponsor us. Essentially, we sought an executive advocate. And once we got his buy-in, we fully shared the roadmap. We explained where we had previously fallen short with technology and explained how ReferenceEdge would fill those gaps. We wanted to make sure we were aligned with the state of sales, and the direction they’re going. This provided our reasoning, selling ReferenceEdge to leadership, aligning with other technology platforms they were bringing in. As a result, it was really easy for us to represent how the technology would give us the ability to significantly expand our reference program in parallel with Sales. I think it’s especially important for leaders to hear that we were already thinking down the line and how this was going to factor in, provide flexibility and scale. It helps to be on their level, to understand what they’re trying to do as well.

Takeaways: Cultivate your executive sponsors as early as possible. Present your program (and technology) in the context of leadership goals.

D) How did you leverage that executive backing to get the partnership needed with managers to reach the end-users, who have plenty of competing demands on their time?

B) We looped sales leadership back in. We put together a presentation for them prior to our launch date saying, This is how we can partner for mutual success. We were in the process, during Q1 of this year, of launching several other applications to assist our reps and their sales processes. We didn’t want to bombard them with too much technology at once—and there’s a learning curve to everything. We didn’t want to take away too much time from selling; we wanted to be mindful about how we rolled this out to everyone.

As a result, we had a conversation explaining our plans for the initial rollout to all sales, followed by short individual meetings. Our message was that for the program to be successful, we needed manager participation in helping us to get [customer advocates] nominated into the program. While that could be a large sticking point for any company, we reinvigorated the process, and that got sales more excited about it. They also saw all the energy we were putting into it on our end and in marketing as well.

We kept focused on making processes as efficient as possible so reps would have more selling time. This helps ensure that [prospects] have good references to talk to when they need it for that portion of their deal to move them forward in the sales process. So, it really helped being very upfront and clear about, ‘This is the time that we’re going to be requesting from your reps and this is what we need from them—does that work for you guys?’ Approaching it as a partnership, we did not have much pushback. With a combination of reasonable asks and our ability to address their concerns, the flow of everything went really well.

Takeaway: Sales leadership will back you up if you’re clear about your plans and needs, and explain what’s in it for them and their teams.

D) You had a very pragmatic and hands-on approach to educating users, which seems to have really paid off. What came next as you rolled out ReferenceEdge?

B) The next step was the full launch, and that went great. Training was provided in a more formal style meeting. That happened through our monthly tech meeting to our entire sales organization. We introduced it and gave a high-level overview of where sellers could find all the resources they might need. Then we conducted individual team meetings, which was really important as we learned from an earlier software launch. This approach allows us to tailor the conversation to their market segment—whether it’s an enterprise market; a small business market, international —and audience which could be existing customers or prospects. It really changes the way that they might utilize the system, requesting a reference or nominating a reference. It was really important to get on a deeper level with the teams, have more of a conversation and let people voice their concerns—what they do like about the program, but also how we can help tailor it to their market segment.

We ended up getting some great feedback from our international team. For instance, a rep in the China market starts nominating people that he can use in his territory as references; he doesn’t really want someone from London or even from the U.S. being able to tap into those. He said he had some concerns about wanting to actually put those in the system. He wanted to keep them more as like back pocket references.

Being able to have conversations with them and explain how, ‘Yes, we can definitely put notes on those accounts in the system so not just anyone can request them. It’s important to make sure you’re giving us all the information when you nominate them in the system, for the next person who goes into territory, and so that we’re tracking their usage and activity, and not overusing the account.’ It was important to have open, one-on-one conversations and really explain to them that as our organization grows, our program must scale with it; we really need something that has trackability and allows us to stay very customer-centric.

Takeaway: Salespeople appreciate being heard, and programs being tailored to meet their needs. When it’s built “for them,” it’s more likely to be adopted and change the way they work.

That’s it for episode 1 of this interview with Bethany Hostetler. You can find episode 2 here.

We recommend the Institute of Certified Customer Advocacy Professionals (ICCAP) for training and certification.
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