Don’t be; reference pros are not about to become the ghosts in the CRP machine
With the need for customer references growing at an unprecedented rate, and the growth in marketing automation where does this leave Customer Reference Professionals?
The need for customer references (and reference customers) is growing at a huge rate, doubling year-on-year in some cases. Yet the majority of customer reference programmes are simply not recruiting sufficient new references quickly enough to keep up with demand.
On top of this, a multitude of comms channels require constant feeding. The myriad of ways customers wish to consume content means an almost insatiable need for new channel/device-optimised formats. All with flat budgets too, so it does not take Einstein to calculate that:
Flat budgets + Growing need=Disappointment for someone…
Faced with this new reality here are five obvious actions to take:
1) Increase funding (demonstrate the need and programme value – not always easy)
2) Become more efficient (and consider outsourcing)
3) Stop doing some things, or don’t beat yourself up about not being able to do everything
4) Most CRPs spend >60% of their effort supporting sales, can you bill for bid support?
As with any complex topic there is not one single answer, it’s probably a combination of the above and some great ideas I’ve not thought of!
HERE’S THE THING
I believe that some degree of marketing automation is no longer optional for any global tech organisation. Inevitably this must impact CRPs.
Done well, marketing automation takes boring, repetitive or difficult data-manipulation tasks and makes them simple. Tied to business intelligence (BI), marketing automation should deliver financial/time savings, better targeting and means of measurement.
But, before we get a little carried away, just because you can automate a task does this mean that you should automate it? Should you have value and volume approaches that sit side by side?
A CUSTOMER IS NOT A TIN OF BEANS
I recently sat through a presentation from a global tech reference manager. She proudly proclaimed she had automated all touch points with her customers and was no longer required to speak to them. Her automated system sends emails to try to persuade her customers to be references and the system will continue to do so monthly, in perpetuity until they say yes. Note, there is no opt-out option.
Automation at work. I’m sure it’s saving her money (and certainly the inconvenience of picking up the phone); she no doubt has the metrics.
How did we get to the point that the ability to build a relationship directly or indirectly with not merely a customer, but a reference customer is a bad thing? Something so inconsequential we’d rather palm it off to a machine.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some great reference programmes out there where automation is used very well for pre-approved content (Cisco’s Kinetic system, for example). For some lower-level volume reference recruitment survey-based processes bring perfectly acceptable results.
But can we really treat potential reference customer activities like tins of baked beans; logged in an online system and called off for delivery at will?
I’m not so sure this is a sustainable long-term strategy.
WHERE DOES ALL THIS LEAVE CUSTOMER REFERENCE PROFESSIONALS?
I believe this all makes customer reference pros more relevant, important and busier than ever because:
- References are trust and goodwill made tangible but they are only as good as your customer’s opinion of your organisation at that exact moment in time. The customer controls reference use and there needs to be a living-breathing feedback loop within your CRP.
- In the long term salespeople tend not to use any system that does not a) operate by the power of thought alone, or b) compensate them financially. Salespeople may cost more than CRP managers (unfortunately) but they’re not as efficient. Plus, just like senior execs, they do not happily fill out forms.
- When dealing with your largest deals and your most important reference customers, are you really going to do this via automated emails to account teams? Or maybe a call-centre staffed with students? I thought not.
To create a marketing output that actually means something and makes a difference there is a growing need for the services of CRP professionals. These activities will support:
- The day to day box shifting needs of the sales force and local P&Ls
- The aspirational marketing strategies of corporate and brand
- The social, mobile, multi-screen consumption of marketing information by our customers
Far from being the ghost in the machine, good customer reference professionals are becoming the drivers of efficiency. Their role is in deciding when and what to automate.
They are key to delivering parallel yet integrated volume and value programmes that meet the need of increased demand and also support sustainable reference customer relationships.