a conversation with...
Jennifer Ells
Manager of Customer Advocacy
Could you describe your program?Our reference program resides with the Community and Advocacy team which is part of the Customer Success department. We are a team of two full time professionals and one intern. Our team is responsible for four different systems and programs. The reference program specifically supports our Sales, Marketing, Analyst Relations, Product, and Customer Success teams around the world. Any department that wants to proactively communicate and gain feedback from our current customers often starts with us to narrow the options. We strive for our teams to have a self-sufficient reference program with minimal involvement from us. We are fully deployed in North America and EMEA and are working on APJ right now.
Where did the initiative to start the program originate, and why?I’m not sure the history of the program. I have been at Ceridian since 2017 working directly with customers as part of our Customer Success team. At that time, the reference program was owned by the Marketing team, but I have no recollection of how we did references prior to launching ReferenceEdge in 2019.

In 2020, the reference program was taken out of marketing and moved to the Customer Success team. And the expectations were different. As such, the Community & Advocacy team was created in 2021. My direct leader moved into this role mid-2021, and I joined as reference manager in 2022. We both came in with years and years of customer success experience working directly with customers, understanding their needs and other things from a customer perspective which was a difference from how it was before. Also, because I was on the customer success side, I had worked with Sales a ton, so I had automatic credibility with that team.

I knew ReferenceEdge from the CS side, but I had no idea from the Sales side. I didn’t know what they saw or what the gaps were. So, when I came in, the first mandate I gave myself was to stop the bleeding, talk to the Sales team, understand where the reference program was failing them because that's what was causing many downstream impacts. If we can understand the problem from a seller's perspective and solve it, then that will have a trickle-down effect and resolves the several other issues. That's how I discovered we needed to do a relaunch—and it wasn’t a relaunch on the ReferenceEdge technology or functionality, but an internal relaunch—we have new leadership running this program; we're making new training, new splashy stuff, new documentation. It's all new, it's going to run differently, let's move forward.
Who are your internal
I feel as though I have stakeholders from nearly every area of the company. As mentioned before, any department that wants to connect with our customers proactively to gain feedback often starts with us. We have a menu of advocacy opportunities ranging from Sales References Calls to Charter Programs. Sales Reference Calls are most common as there are new Sales happening every day. But we also work directly with Marketing, Analyst Relations, Product, and Customer Success employees.
What were your top
3 challenges before
I can speak to the top 3 challenges I identified when I came into this role which resulted in an internal relaunch: credibility of the program, accuracy of the data, and user adoption. Previously, the program was being run on points and clicks, and relationships were not being built with stakeholders to achieve credibility. These challenges resulted in inconsistent experiences for the reference contacts and our internal teams. As mentioned, I knew the customer success side of ReferenceEdge but I didn’t know the Sales side. I sat with several people from Sales to better understand the gaps and why they weren’t using the program, mostly around data and lack of responses to requests. We closed some of those gaps, cleaned up a ton of data and relaunched seller training. We also created audits, reports, and dashboards to keep the data clean and show success. From there it was a PR campaign to show the ease of use and value. It was also critical to be highly responsive to requests to regain the credibility. Additionally, we’ve had a lot of new sellers join our company and their previous employer didn’t have a robust reference program. We spent extra time working with them to drive home the process and how different it is from where they came from. Soon we noticed more sellers starting to use the system consistently which resulted in a more cohesive experience for everyone. Last year was very much focused on relaunching the program to the sellers, while this year is focused on customer success and expanding globally.
Since launch, what has changed in terms of your
company’s reference
Since the relaunch, the program is much more organized, and the experience is more consistent for everyone involved. The biggest change is for our advocates who are getting the recognition they deserve. We use the ReferenceEdge/Influitive integration, and Influitive gives points for doing the references; the points are allocated when the feedback form is submitted. That process is being followed more consistently and we have an audit to ensure they are not missed.

We are also rebranding our advocacy program and creating a new program specific to our uber advocates so those in that very top tier, they're going to get special benefits—that would have been really hard to track before because the data wasn't there. We are also rolling out a few other things this year where we're sharing influenced ACV (annual contract value) more readily to our CS team so they can have a call (with an advocate) and simply say "Hey, thank you so much for participating in that reference call—it closed this month." "Because of you, we got a deal closed—you did it—that's amazing!" That wasn’t done before; I never knew how my customer's reference panned out—so, in turn, they never knew either. We're trying to close that loop, too.

Reporting on the program success has also become easier. There are less fire drills. Additionally, there is a higher percentage of closed-won deals with references than there was before the relaunch.
Since launch, how has your job changed?When I first took on the role I was advocating for the program and helping sellers identify references nearly every day. I felt like 75% of my day was spent on the phone with sellers helping them use the system. Since we relaunched, we're able to push them to a location: "This is where the training is; here's the process guide." We're currently creating short videos—we're calling them “FAQ videos,” which are six 30-second videos that show the most asked reference search questions, this will enable us to point the teams to those mini trainings to get the information needed. Now, I probably talk to a seller maybe once a day if it's a busy month-end, quarter-end, something like that—but otherwise, I don't hear from them as often as I did, so I'm able to be more strategic; spend more time focusing on other initiatives like nurturing the accounts, expanding to other regions, and assisting other areas of the business in connecting with our advocates more proactively.
What feedback have you gotten from stakeholders? Leadership?Prospects want to hear from our current customers. They NEED them to help validate their decision to move forward with us. The fastest, most efficient way to find those happy customers is through our reference program. I’ve had numerous occasions while talking to sellers where they say “this is really easy; I had no idea! I wish my old company had this.” I even had a seller send me a holiday card…in the mail! That’s the impact the program has made for him. The more our Sales team is successful, the more our company can be successful.

At Sales kick off this year, our Chief Revenue Officer stood on stage and said, “big things are happening in the Reference Program.” Later, directly to me he said this program is “a hidden gem helping our company be successful.”

I think the first thing in getting executive buy-in is understanding what is most important to them, and most of the time it’s listening to their team. If their teams are saying the reference program sucks—the executives aren't going to believe us when we challenge that—we didn't have the data to prove it. I had to roll up my sleeves, talk to sellers multiple times every day. Truly understood their pain points, actioned them and slowly got them to believe. Soon I was able to start reporting positive data while also acknowledging the data behind their sentiment. That data is now driving strategy through KPIs and how we're moving forward.

So as much as I like to say "You have to focus on the executives"—which you absolutely must do—you also have to get into the nitty gritty with the people that are using the system, because their feedback goes straight to the top. If they're not getting what they want—you can't change the mind of an executive if their own team is telling them something different.
What aspects of ReferenceEdge do you value the most?As we fully utilize Salesforce, having ReferenceEdge work so seamlessly is essential. Many people don’t know where Salesforce stops and ReferenceEdge starts. That is so important too because it helps us keep the data updated.

Another big benefit is the Influitive integration. We're making it almost an onboarding platform for our customers—they get onboarded right away when they sign a contract, understand how to be a good Ceridian customer, and start earning points. This is also where we plant the seed of an advocate journey. The reference search is super important because our prospects need very specific criteria, and we must make sure we have that search criteria available. We use both peer-to-peer and managed processes, which is very important because the size of our customer will determine how our Customer Success team interacts, so the flexibility to accommodate both is wonderful. This also makes the Workspace vital for our setup. It would be impossible to keep track of everything. If you haven’t noticed yet, we are very data-driven so reporting is key. Without metrics, we have no way of identifying our success and areas that need focus. Without having those numbers easy to pull from the system, it would be very difficult.
How do you measure program success?There are several ways we are measuring success. The one that I really like is what we call the “attachment rate”—it’s the percent of new Sales with references attached to them. That's a good indicator of how well our program is, both how it’s being adopted and how successful it is. The attachment rate is now one of my KPIs.

This also validates another thing—how important references, and ReferenceEdge, are to new sales. If 65% of new deals require a reference, we must have someone to manage that as well as a system to help with it—that's a no-brainer!

Another way we measure is percentage of book-of-business that's referenceable. This is a CS team KPI. Before, it was an overall number that needed to be referenceable, now we're switching it to a percentage.
How does Point of Reference service compare with other vendors with whom you work?Our Account Director, Tammy, is phenomenal. We speak every week, but she never hesitates to jump on the phone if I need it or follow up with the tech team when required. Our program would NOT be as successful without her! She is a true partner for us. Because I come from her world—I’ve been in customer success for 15 years—I understand what's important in her job and I know what customers need and want from someone in that role. We were able to build a super great working relationship immediately. Her expertise in the system is essential. For us specifically, reporting—I really needed help with that. I never touched reporting in Salesforce before taking this role, it was so valuable to have her—without her, we would not be where we are today; we would not be as successful! I really feel like she's a true partner for us; I feel like she's almost an additional arm of my team, only sitting with Point of Reference.