Where can you find a discussion raging about shooting videos in the Swiss Alps through to customer’s being nominated on the Queen’s honours list?

That’s right, it can only have been at the second instalment of Riffs and Rants 2; Reference Rehab held in the UK earlier this year. Find out about what else was discussed including customer communities, engaging sales, customer voice in case study content etc. 

The evening was kicked off by Emma Caine from HP, with an introduction to the company’s Software reference programme. This looked at engaging and rewarding customers directly once an initial agreement has been granted by sales, and then veered towards the development of a new online customer community.The second Riffs and Rants Reference rehab session was held in May at Heston Blumenthal’s Hind’s Head Gastropub restaurant in Bray, UK. A plethora of reference professionals attended including new faces from the likes of Oracle, Hitachi Consulting, Vodafone Global Enterprise, CommVault and Cisco.

This sparked similar stories about how the likes of Cisco, Research in Motion and BMC use communities to monitor customer interaction and help solve customer problems online. It was agreed that a ‘build it and they will come’ strategy is never enough and customers need greater encouragement to join a built community. However, when participating in customer conversations online, organisations must consider the implications in trying to engage in all conversations (don’t solely employ the intern to this task!).

The topic quickly turned to sales engagement and how this can be best achieved. BMC made a great point in that they openly promote to sales that they will make every effort not to contact sales during the end of each quarter when they’re looking to close business and make bonus. This rationale helped prove the reference team are in-line with the pressures associated with sales teams and not just from the ‘other side’ of the sales/marketing divide.

As the wine started to flow some interesting tales from the reference ‘frontline’ were revealed. These included; interviewing an IT manager named Paula (previously an army major called Paul), sending a video crew half way up the Alps to shoot a customer not-so-successful story and how the great work from one company led to their customer being nominated in the Queen’s honours list! This last point may be unique but it sparked ideas of how reference professionals can make superstars of their best customer advocates.

The night was rounded off with an interesting discussion around case study content and trying to ensure a case study can be used by all areas of a company’s business. The general consensus seemed to indicate that case studies must portray a true example of the ‘customer’s voice’ not just another piece of advertising brand jargon. Evangelising this methodology and balancing the needs of the different marketing/PR and sales teams is a prerequisite of any reference professional.

As the night drew to a close it was great to see like minded individuals bouncing ideas off one another and hopefully seeing the value that this kind of community can bring to their daily grind in the reference world.

To see pictures of the event click here

Key takeaways and points to consider

  • For online communities customers need a reason to be involved, don’t follow a ‘build it and they will come’ strategy
  • Consider the scale and implication of entering into online conversations with your customers – its harder work than you think
  • Think like a salesman when chasing for reference requests – at the end of the quarter all they are focused on is closing business, if possible try and plan round this or at least make them know you are aware
  • Think of unique ways to make heroes out of your best customer advocates to delight them
  • Ensure case studies portray a true ‘customer voice’ and are not simply more marketing speak
  • Make product managers and comms a part of the reference relationship with customers – involve them from the start
  • For smaller programmes or ones focusing on a limited number of customers, visit your customers face-to-face to establish what reference activities they will take part in on your company’s behalf (increases chance of customer take-up)
  • Make friends with legal to help try and become a guru in regards to trade-marking and branding guidelines
  • Humanise technology through your customer references
  • How far should you go in seeking customer approval (a high number of companies seek customer approval from customers to use their logos internally as well as externally – is this a step too far?)
  • If you’re based in UK come and join your community for the next Riffs & Rants, Reference Rehab!