One of our contacts at Microsoft came to us with a terrific idea last year. He was trying to engage some of their most high profile clients in reference activities, and wasn’t having much luck. As those of us in the field know, sometimes it’s just a matter of timing and relevancy.

What I mean by relevancy is finding that one thing that gets a customer’s attention, that means something to them. It may be a personal angle (donations to charities), a professional angle (raising their professional profile publicly), or perhaps a company publicity angle (coincidentally, a career advancement opportunity for the reference).

The idea our customer came up with touched on all 3 of these angles. The CRM group zeroed in on a set of awards in their space judged and coordinated by a tier I analyst firm. So the question was: Would customers respond to an offer from Microsoft to assemble the award nomination for them—do the heavy lifting—so that all they had to do was review and submit the final document?

The first customer approached, from a Fortune 100 technology company, returned the inquiry from our client in a few hours. Previous to this tack the customer hadn’t replied to any inquiries for months. The answer was “Yes!”

By the end of the week 4 clients had responded affirmatively. We coordinated the interviews with the clients to gather what was needed for the nomination. The average interview took about 45 minutes. Again, the customers didn’t push back on the time commitment at all. In fact, several volunteered to gather more detail and follow up with us. Which they did.

This idea really worked for everyone involved: 1) Our client was able to break through to customers who hadn’t engaged the program previously, 2) the customer contacts were able to have documented his/her success with CRM and reaffirm support for the investment, and 3) the customer company got great exposure with the analyst community specifically,and the market in general.

Yet another way of how customer reference programs impact a variety of marketing functions in the enterprise in very tangible ways.