What a Strategic Customer Reference Program Manager Does

What’s the catalyst for most customer marketing initiatives? From our experience it’s usually something like this from a sales or marketing executive:

“Sales can’t find references because they’re in people’s heads, or spreadsheets.”

“Sales doesn’t know where to find customer videos or content. It’s on our corporate site, Dropbox folders, GoogleDocs or who knows where.”

“As a company we do a terrible job with references. We need to fix it!”

When the marketing or sales executives get behind the idea of improving reference selling it’s typically viewed as a transactional, matchmaking function: a seller needs a reference for a call, reference program sources the reference and fulfills the request. Rinse and repeat.

The Problem

It’s understandable. Most executives worked at other companies where this matchmaking service existed. The idea of this function having strategic value didn’t occur unless a seasoned program manager came into the picture and did some evangelizing.

Why bother establishing a strategic program?

  1. Peer opinions have enormous influence on B2B purchase decisions
  2. Customer advocates are viewed as more credible than traditional marketing material, and salespeople in general
  3. Using advocates correctly and in a timely fashion throughout the sales cycle increases win rates

What isn’t often understood is the caliber of individual needed to build and maintain a program that delivers measurable results that CxOs can appreciate. This is a Customer Reference Consultant position.

Would an intern or newly graduated college student be asked to inhabit a title like that? Would a company hire someone to lead a critical function like the demand generation team with no demand gen experience? Of course not. That would be unrealistic and unfair to the employee. And the program would fail.

The Reality

Many skills are needed to balance the short and long-term demands of a customer reference program:  relationship management, creativity, business analysis, project management, data management, diplomacy & tact, persistence, training; all with an emphasis on continuous improvement. Sounds like a consultant skill set, right?

We routinely help our client contacts hone their program management practices by coaching and sharing a variety of best practice resources, facilitating peer networking, and encouraging the attendance of relevant conferences. Our most recent resource is a diagram that illustrates and describes the many facets of the program manager role. Beyond our own clients, we thought this would be helpful to share with any manager tasked with owning a program (new or established).

Explaining the Role

If you read our Getting UnStuck! eBook you’ll know that a successful program manager must allocate time to the right activities, some daily, some weekly, monthly or quarterly. It’s all about balance.

If you are the program manager today and not getting a lot of executive mind share it’s likely because your manager has a) no idea what running a program entails, and b) you’ve been unable to quantify program contribution to company growth. We hope this helps you explain part (a). This post addresses part (b) and performance metrics.

Our infographic, The Roles of a Strategic Customer Reference Program Manager, provides the specific components of this role and illustrates that, when done right, this is not a part-time or intern-appropriate role.