Learn to Speak the Language of the C-Suite
To make this case, you have to speak the language of the C-suite. No more bringing a PPT deck that's all about your reference program, number of references, number of reference requests filed, customer content assets created, etc.
Instead you must start with their agenda--those of your CEO as well as your most important executive sponsor. Most likely, at or near the top of their agenda is "growth." Do some more digging and you'll learn more specifics about their growth goals. These might include better new product launches, penetration of new markets, or perhaps shoring up declining retention rates.
Make the case that customer advocacy--with your reference program at the center--are keys to growth today,using the research from last month's issue. Also use case studies not only from within your firm (if you have them), but also from other companies, showing how customer references have helped generate leads, launch new products, penetrate unfamiliar new markets, boost sagging retention rates and the like. This will position you as an expert in the field. (I've compiled dozens of such case studies--feel free to contact me on this.)
Place Your Reference Program in the Larger Context of Customer Advocacy
"Customer advocacy" means the full range of activities customers can do to market and sell your business. In addition to traditional references, these include referrals, co-marketing, participating in your communities, advocating and defending you online and in the media, speaking on your behalf at your events or other events, posting favorable reviews, spreading word of mouth, responding to surveys or "challenges," and so on--the possibilities are numerous and growing in number. It's the most innovative area in marketing today.
If you can only talk about "our reference program," you'll get left behind in this new world. If you can talk about business growth in today's world, and how customer advocacy is critical to it (with your reference program playing key roles in this) you'll thrive.
Make the Case For Playing a Central Role
Why can reference programs play a central role in this new world? There are lots of reasons. Better than anyone else in your organization:
- You know how to build the relationships with such customers.
- You know how to draw out the real value they receive from your products and services
- You own the data on them and know how to manage it.
- You (or at least, many of your peers) know how to draw information from them of critical importance to your firm, such as how they're really using your product or service, when they're unhappy with something they won't reveal to their account manager, and the like.
Make this case, and reinforce it when you communicate with your senior management and other stakeholders.
Provide a Vision of the Future
There is a great deal of uncertainty in C-suites around the world--and possibly in your firm as well--about how to grow businesses in this new world, where buyers are increasingly using their own resources and networks to check you out, bypassing your marketing and sales departments. How do you grow a business in such an environment?
But the future isn't really that hard to see--and you (yes, you!) can provide them a compelling vision. Buyers are increasingly recreating the community buying experience we naturally use in our local neighborhoods and associations. What do we do when we buy a new smart phone, laptop, refrigerator, a new roof for the house, find a family doctor, and so forth? We don't go looking for sales people to talk to or marketing materials to read. We ask our friends, neighbors, colleagues--our peers--"what are you using?" Forward thinking firms aren't fighting this phenomenon. They're helping buyers recreate this community buying experience, even on a global scale. For more on this, see my article, Marketing is Dead (in the right margin).
Keep Abreast of Innovation and New Technology
Finally, customer reference practitioners must keep up with their field. It's an area of great innovation today. Venture funding for exciting new technologies is coming into the area. We're planning research this year with SiriusDecisions and the CMO Council. IBM has published research in the area of customer advocacy--which Katharyn White, IBM"s head of marketing for its global business services unit--will share with us at the Summit. You can find more research in last month's Reference Point.
It's an exciting time to be in customer reference management--and somewhat scary as well. But if you adapt along the lines suggested above, you'll not only thrive, you'll find that the the sky is the limit.
All the best,