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January, 2013                                      Gray

In this month's issue:
  • "Tell Me a Story"
  • Update on the 2013 Summit on Customer Engagement (early registration is still open)

60 Minutes is the longest running prime time show in television history. On the surface, it seems hopelessly outdated, starting with that ticking stop watch and its preponderance of old white guys (though it is finally showcasing younger reporters). 
What explains its longevity, and the large audiences it continues to draw (including younger demographics)? I mean, it's a news show. On Sunday evening. Who wants to watch that?
Its secret goes back to its legendary producer Don Hewitt, who emphasized one thing when reporters pitched an idea to him: "tell me a story." His deep knowledge and expertise in story telling, honed over 37 years, was the key to attracting audiences, and still is.
And that's the key to the central role customer reference programs can and should play in this new world of marketing. Buyers want to hear from their peers--your customers. And what they want to hear most of all is their stories. More than anyone else in your company, reference managers are the ones who know how to tell customer stories.  

But are you telling your customers' stories as well as Don Hewitt did? Following are some tips to help you do so. 
Emphasize the Personal Story
Don't just talk about the impact of your solution and the business it achieved. Talk about the specific customer(s)--the person(s)--involved and their stories. Their challenges, their frustrations, their fears, their stakes in the outcome. Show the journey they went though. When Anderson Cooper interviewed the singer Adele on 60 Minutes, they didn't just talk about her music, they talked about her life and how it impacted--and was impacted by--her music.
Read why reference programs are becoming increasingly important. Share with your sr. leaders. 

"I want to personally thank you for the work you do. "Marketing is Dead" haa profoundly impacted how our marketing leadership views the work I do." 
Deena Zenyk, 

Marketing Manager, Customer Advocacy Programs, SMART Technologies

Find the Emotion
When interviewing customer references, include questions like these: "How did you feel about the situation?" "That seems ______ (frightening, frustrating, scary, exhilarating, personally challenging, etc). Was it?" What did that mean for your career? For you personally?" When you get to the part about their success, it's fine to talk about the ROI, or the costs cut, or the leads generated. But much better is when the customer says, "I could sleep much better at night" Or, "This solution freed up 3 hours a week for me--I've started going to my kid's soccer games again."  
Too many case studies and success stories follow predictable (and thus uninteresting) story lines. Find out what was unusual and unexpected in the story and use these elements for your story progression. Instead of describing how the customer commissioned some research that uncovered the problem and led them to implement the result (boring) focus on where things went in totally unexpected ways (trust me, there are always unexpected things).
Connect the Dots
Marketing content people often assume that the audience will immediately see how the customer's experience is applicable to their situation. Guess what? They don't. Be sure and connect the dots. If it's a video, as the customer says how your solution worked for him, then immediately connect this to the audience. "This approach would work for any firm that has x, w, z characteristics." Or, "Imagine if your firm could reduce data costs by 15%?"

Include Bad Guys
OK, I'm not talking about demonizing anyone, certainly not by name. But every good story requires conflict and struggle, and no conflict is more interesting than those between people. In the fabulous movie, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, the "bad guy" was the mother of the young hero of the movie. She didn't understand the unique (if quirky) talents of her own son. It didn't mean he hated her or she was despicable--just misguided. I'll bet a buck that in any customer success story worth its salt, misguided people at some point stood between her and success. Find out about them. Describe them in ways that readers will relate to. ("Oh, we've got people like that in our firm.")
But Wait. Isn't Business Too Boring?
It might seem that business is really not fertile ground for good stories. Just remember, Hollywood thinks it is. Consider, The Office (comedy). Wall Street (ambition). Jerry Maguire (passion).It's a Wonderful Life (banking for heavens sake!)
Would an Eight Grader Care?
A good test to see if you're really telling a story is to ask if an eight grader, who knows nothing about the businesses or technologies involved, would find the story interesting. 
If You Follow One Piece of Advise, This is It.
Show. Don't tell. Many customer videos these days are primarily talking heads, which don't come close to capturing the potential of video. Use video to show how customers feel. The future of video will be in finding ever more creative ways to show what customers did to be successful (using your products and services). For a glimpse into the future of video, check out this TED talk by founder Chris Anderson (still very prescient, though it's now more than two years old).
It's an exciting time to be in customer reference management. Perhaps most exciting of all is that you're positioned to become your firm's story teller to the world. I hope these tips help. 
All the best,

Bill Lee, President
Customer Reference Forum
Author of
The Hidden Wealth of Customers (June 2012, Harvard Business Review Press)
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March 5-6
Redwood City, CA USA
Now in our 9th year of presenting the world's leading conference on customer references and advocacy, we'll bring you all the benefits from those years of experience and a global community of some 2,500 members.
Early Registration is still open
To take advantage of the $200 early registration discount, please click here. Please contact me directly for additional discounts if you're sending 3 or more people.


Our Theme: Customer References and the New Marketing 

Customer advocacy is increasingly seen as the future of marketing--IF reference and advocacy managers adapt to the new world of marketing. We'll keep you ahead of the curve--as follows:


Keynotes by C-suite Executives 

Customer reference managers who focus only on reference tools and processes are getting left behind by today's rapidly changing world. You also need tools and insights to develop the strategic importance of your program.


So, this year we have not one but three senior executive keynoters: 
  • Chuck Ball, who runs AmerisourceBergen's multi-billion dollar health services business (co-presenting with author and thought leader Sean Geehan) on The Power of Customer Engagement and Advocacy--Up to the C-Suite;
  • Katharyn White, who runs marketing for IBM's highly respected Global Services Business; on From Chasing References to Harvesting Advocates, and 
  • LIsa Arthur, CMO of Aprimo, on Winning the Marketing Revolution (customer reference programs can and should play a key role). 

All are passionate about the value of customer references and advocates. When it comes to building senior management support for your program, you'll learn how to speak the language of the C-suite.


Learn more.



Customer reference and advocacy are the most innovative area in marketing right now. Learn why, and how to keep pace, from leading reference and advocacy practitioners on topics such as:
  • Creating Apple-Like Customer References and Advocates (KACE)
  • Getting Marquee Brand Customers To Reference (panel)
  • How Customer References + Communities Create Supercharged Advocacy (Jive Software)
  • Aligning Customer References with Corporate Strategy (Infor)
  • Measuring-and Increasing-the Full Value of Customer Advocacy Programs (SMART Technologies)
  • Meeting the Reference-and Advocacy-Demands of a Rapid Growth Business (Box, formerly Box. net)
  • Getting Serious About Reference Program Automation (Marketo)

Learn more.


Deep Dive Workshops

We'll have 4 deep-dive implementation workshops on topics such as 

Arming Your Sales Force: Right Content, Right Time; as well as Reference Database Management: Applying Technology to a Relationship-Driven Programs, and more from top experts in these fields sharing their years of experience with a broad range of customer reference and advocacy programs. 


And More ...

Attendees at the Summit will have full access to all 11 webinars of our Master Class Series on Reference Customer Programs (see below for more information on these). That's 19 total presentations (Breakouts and Master Class webinars) on reference programs that will keep you fully up to date on best practices and latest trends in this field.


Plus we'll share the latest research findings relevant to customer references and advocacy from IBM's famed Global Services Research group, PLUS two research projects that Customer Reference Forum is conducting, in partnership with the CMO Council and SiriusDecisions.


And that's just what you'll find at the Summit...  We're also conducting the new ...


Master Class Series on  Customer Reference Programs (free for Summit participants)

In addition, we've added a monthly teleconference series, the Master Class Series on Customer Reference Programs, to provide you with more critical concepts and tools for running a reference program in today's world. 


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