Customer Reference Programs: Time To Embrace Social Media/Web 2.0

Laura Ramos [Posted by Laura Ramos]

Customer reference management has moved from the sidelines to the
mainstream of corporate marketing activity. This is good news for the
dozens of customer reference management professionals who attended the February Customer Reference Forum in Berkeley, CA and
participated in the 2009 survey. Why? Because authentic customer
references help sales close business and marketing persuade analysts,
press, and investors that corporate positioning and product claims are
legitimate.

Yet, with dedicated budgets, headcount, and ties to business goals, now is not the time for customer reference managers to rest on their laurels. Customer
reference management can play a vital, new role in executing a
community-centered, socially-savvy communication strategy — one based
on emerging Web 2.0 tools that blends online/offline experiences. This
was the theme of the keynote presentation I  gave at the conference, revisited again in research published today on Forrester's site, which you can access.

In the survey of customer reference professionals, jointly conducted by Forrester, the Customer Reference Forum, and Point of Reference,
we found that -- while meeting expectations and goals today -- customer
reference professionals need to tune up their Web 2.0 skills and take a
more active role in setting social strategy because technology
customers are a socially active group. Unfortunately, as you can see in
the figure, B2B customer reference managers aren't thinking along
social lines today.

Less than 1/2 of respondents use social approaches in programs
Less than 1/2 of respondents use social approaches in programs

Customers
want to engage in peer communities that help them successfully
implement technology, produce new business capabilities, and gain
competitive advantage. Getting customers to reference out of goodwill
gets difficult without something to offer them in return. Combine the
two, and watch private, gated business communities grow.

To get started on this path, I suggest customer reference managers take three key steps to socially-enable their programs:

  • Step 1: Create more opportunity for customers to engage socially.
    B2B marketers must encourage reference customers to interact with
    prospects and each other, share stories, and talk about the facts —
    like problem details, numbers, and specific steps they took to solve
    their issues. Social applications like wikis, ratings, and widgets give
    customers more ways to share ideas, content, and information in a
    structured, controlled manner without the overhead of formal
    publication and approval processes.
  • Step 2: Help references testify in virtual venues. To take
    advantage of emerging social business behavior, customer reference
    professionals and marketers need to move beyond the group setting and
    let references engage outside the boundaries of the formal program.
    Less than 30% of respondents let references build profile pages, guest
    blog, rate community-contributed content, or author wikis, activities
    that permit customers to strut their stuff in the online, virtual world
    and create broader connections.

Step 3: Use metrics that focus on engagement, not just activity.
For creating new leads or enlisting participants, social tools earned
accolades from less than 10% of respondents and make the social media
effort seem hardly worth the effort. To capture the real value of
social media in customer reference programs, customer reference
managers should focus on how social touchpoints increase the quality
(not quantity) of customer-to-prospect interactions, bump up
participation intensity, and amplify topic discussions by prospects and
references alike.

Check out the report and
let me know what you think of my analysis and advice.  Are you engaged
in customer reference management? Is social a part of your plans? Is
this an area of research I should continue to pursue in 2009? Looking
forward to the dialogue.

[Cross-posted from B2B Marketing POSTs by Laura Ramos.]

Comments

re: Customer Reference Programs: Time To Embrace Social Media/W

It's surprising to me that only 50% of the respondents utilize social marketing. I think people tend to forget that even though it is B2B selling, there are still people at the business and you have to connect with them in order to sell to the business.

re: Customer Reference Programs: Time To Embrace Social Media/W

Laura,Reference programs are critical especially in hitech and complex sales. The more complex the sale and the size of the investment the more important references become. There are some sales organizations who still have to resort to sending out an email asking the question: "do we have any reference customers in x industry where we implemented x solution?".Marketers can add value to the sales organization by putting in place a reference program that catalogs the key accounts that can be referenced, what work was done, when it was done, the solution type implemented and what industry the client is in.This catalog/dbase now establishes a reference list on demand and eliminates last minute emails. It also helps sales reps when talking to prospects on the phone during an initial call. They now have reference information they can talk about that is relevant to the buyer. For example, they can refer to the fact that their company has in fact implemented x number of solutions in a specific industry. They can, with a high degree of confidence (very important for reps) that their company has sold this type of solution before, that they have been successful and there is proof in the form of references.References also become a good source for formal case studies.

re: Customer Reference Programs: Time To Embrace Social Media/W

Chris,All valid points. The Customer Reference Forum brings together marketers who share your same perspectives on the value of reference programs. You should check it out; I think you will find the membership extraordinary even though the Web site is a bit thin.Laura