Friday, March 16, 2007

References aren't all good

I've heard a lot of concern from marketers about "the dangers" of exposing negative customer comments as well as positive ones. This concern is obviously heightened in today's social media age. However I think that the approach of encouraging an open conversation between customers has long been recognized by sales people.

Last week I interviewed a sales rep as part of a consulting engagement with a hi-tech company. During the interview he mentioned a sale that he'd won by asking a current customer to have a direct call with his prospect. This is nothing new, and isn't unusual at all, except this was a competitive bid against another hi-tech vendor. The competitor also arranged a reference call. However, the sales rep at the competitor insisted on sitting in on the call! My interviewee was convinced that his openness to letting his customer discuss their product, warts and all, contributed to him winning the deal.

Customer Advocacy and community marketing

One of the areas that I work on is customer advocacy. In particular, Metia (the company that I work for) designs, implements and manages customer advocacy programs for a number of high-profile tech companies.

We've recently been working with Bill at the Customer Reference Forum and Jeremiah over at PodTech, talking about customer advocacy 2.0 (that's pretty rich really, cause most people didn't know there was a CA 1.0).

I've long thought that customer advocacy is just one end point of the word of mouth marketing activities that have become so popular today. In particular, customer references are asking to be integrated with social media. If one of your customers is blogging positively about you, then why aren't you aware of it, or asking them if they'll help you in other ways? My gut feeling is that most reference professionals don't know what's being blogged about them. The "community managers" within the company might be keeping on top of the blogs, but I haven't seen much communication going on between the community managers and the reference professionals. Perhaps I'm wrong? I'd love to hear that this is already happening.

Maybe the reference professionals are already hanging out with the community guys? Jeremiah's posted a question on his blog to see if this is true. I'm really interested in the results.

Monday, March 12, 2007

What is customer advocacy?

I've been doing some work with a tech company in silicon valley, helping them to review and improve their customer reference program. I've interviewed a number of people around the organization, and every person that I speak to has a different take on what constitutes a customer reference.

When I'm planning a new system, I use three different terms:

Customer Advocacy: A programmatic approach to using the positive experience of your customers to support your sales and marketing activities through references and evidence. In some programs, Customer Advocacy is also extended to deal with neutral and negative customers – aiming to convert neutrals into promoters, and negatives to neutrals.

Customer Reference: Using a customer's time to discuss the benefits that they gained from the product/service. This may include a visit from a prospective customer, a phone call, press interview, analyst call or conference appearance.

Customer Evidence: This is the recorded material that results from a customer agreeing to be a reference. This may include logo use, quote, case study, video, podcast etc.

Why do I separate them in this way? Mainly because references and evidence are typically managed by different groups of people. References are typically controlled by the sales organization, and evidence is typically owned by marketing (with the blessing of sales).

If you're producing a system to support your customer advocacy efforts you should start by definining which types of advocacy you want to manage.

Organic chocolate ice cream!

I was over at Google's mountain view campus on Friday, and got to experience their legendary food. It lived up to all expectations - even their vegetarian offerings were amazing. I particularly fell in love with their organic chocolate ice cream! I can see why their engineers would never want to go home.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Now this iLike

I've only just discovered this wonderful little plugin for iTunes and Windows Media Player called iLike. It posts your music playing history to a community site that you can then use to find new music, or simply see what your mates are listening to.

 If you're at all interested, my recent plays are all here.