The CRP Career Path: Where It Leads and How to Follow
Thursday, June 29, 2006
As customer reference programs evolve, mature and move up the chain within organizations, so does the career path of reference professionals. Many of you started on the journey by quickly filling needs to contact customers and create customer stories. Then, perhaps you needed more hands to help you and, thus, became a manager. As the value of references soaked into your company's culture, more reference managers may have sprouted all over the company-you may have been promoted to a manager's manager; a director of the company-wide reference program. But does the path end there?
Over time, it has become evident that the reference program is a treasure-trove of unique customer contacts; it's a fount of knowledge and intelligence that quenches the thirst of customer-hungry groups and organizations. What used to be about managing activities and recruiting customers is now about capturing and highlighting valuable customer intelligence and partnering with customers to provide joint value. But that's not the end of the path, either.
The next stop along the CRP career path is in a role that manages how customer information bubbles up and how it influences the company. It's in a new office we see on the horizon called the Office of the Customer. The leader of this new office is Chief Customer Officer. As Chief Customer Officer, you will no longer focus on transactional interactions that typically haunt the perception of many reference programs. Instead, you will focus on threading the voice of your company's customers throughout the organization-and specifically and especially in corporate strategy.
Executives are getting it: paramount to retaining valuable and profitable customers is the need to understand them, their buying decisions and why they selected your company. And they're also starting to get this: that loyalty and willingness to refer are as important as you've been saying all along. And who better to manage that most-important function? Who's been there all along cheering and rooting for customers? Who knows just how strategically important the customer is to your company? It's you-the reference professional!Kathleen McBride, Consultant firstname.lastname@example.org
Our Response to the 2006 CMO Council/NetLine Select & Connect Study
a.k.a. What to Do With the Data Now That You've Got It
Part 3 of 3
Tuesday, June 20, 2006
Turning customer data to gold, i.e. the ingredients leadership needs to make smart strategic and operational decisions, isn't as far-fetched an idea as it may sound. Take the following steps at your company-and get ready to see alchemy in action.
Getting Beyond the Select & Connect Study:
Next Steps for Enterprise Marketing Pros Setting Sights on Voice of the Customer
- Take an enterprise- or division-wide approach to voice of the customer efforts. Before you conduct any customer study, or engage a company to do it for you, understand who inside your company needs VOC data, and include them in the process of determining how, when and what to measure. For instance, touch base with engineering to see what customer insight might be important to them. See what's on the near-term agenda of executives with the power to sway the overall corporate-think customer data or insight might add pizzazz to any of their upcoming presentations? Let pertinent execs know you're getting ready to touch base with important customers-and see what the execs want to know and might be able to use. If you gain high and broad interest in the outcome of any one survey, you'll necessarily gain high and broad support for your overall survey efforts as well.
- Link your survey to customer lifecycle milestones or other events; or know something about where the customer is at the time of response. Doing both will help you better understand the resulting data. If you ask 100 people the same question on May 28th, and if all those people are at different stages in the customer lifecycle, then are their responses really comparable? A newly-signed-on customer still might be feeling that new-customer high…and his answers might differ dramatically from that curmudgeon who's been around forever. It's kind of like asking five 10-year-olds and five 50-year-olds the same question without respect to age. You'll get data all right-but what kind of sense will it make? How will it be able to inform strategic and operational decisions?
- Finally, know what you'll do with the answer to a question before you ask it. Customers have only limited time and so will be willing to answer only a limited number of questions. Make sure each question you ask your company's customers are 1) mapped to the objectives of the VOC initiative and 2) linked to post-survey actions. I've seen it too many times where people keep running out and asking unmapped and unlinked questions…which is just a waste of everyone's time and a sure-fire way to burn out customers. Get what you really need to know to help shape decisions at your company-and to connect with customers, positively influence sales and earning your marketing organization the respect and budget it deserves.
The Real Reason Why Leadership Fails to Make Smart Sales and Ops Decisions
Friday, June 16, 2006
Let me pick up where I left off from my last entry when I mentioned how the Select & Connect Study wrongly insinuates that you-as a marketing professional-are to blame for the disconnect that exists between companies and customers. If you didn't read the first post in this series, you can find it here.
The Real Reason Why Leadership Fails to Make Smart Sales and Ops Decisions
Let's not beat around the bush. Leadership at most companies is smart. Leading companies don't get to be "who" and "what" they are by stumbling into a good product, service or solution, or by "guessing" what the market wants and then making operational and strategy decisions based on guesswork. No, the movement of companies is based on "customers." It's leadership's knowledge of what the customer wants-or at least on what they think the customer wants-that drives strategy and operations and, thus, the bottom line. In this regard, the Select & Connect study is correct: the customer (or, as we at The Phelon Group say, the voice of the customer) wields enormous power, which is why marketing organizations, yours included I'm sure, spend hundreds of thousands to multiple millions in efforts to identify, profile and retain customers of value.
But the problem-thus the solution-does not lie with marketing's inability to capture or access this voice of the customer gold. It lies with using customer data to make smart decisions. After all, you can be awash in customer data and dwelling amidst a sea of steadily climbing satisfaction and loyalty numbers and still see little or no impact on the bottom line.
The trouble is that data alone does not a "customer-connected" enterprise make. Most large companies now spend millions each year gathering customer feedback. Surveys and customer intelligence gets doled out across the enterprise, yet independent decisions about how to interpret and apply what customers said are made regionally-or worse departmentally-and are not applied across the business. Promises to improve profits, increase loyalty or stop customer churn never materialize because the customer voice has been fragmented and distilled to the evaporation point.
What most often happens is that marketing professionals fall into the trap of focusing on the "survey" instead of on the "so what". And when marketing misses this key point, it then misses the real voice of its customer. You wind up lacking the very insight you need to effectively brand and position your company. And you are without the right data and intelligence to effectively go after markets/companies/buyers with a winning strategy.
Not having the right voice of the customer can cripple your organization because it creates a dangerous, challenging-to-address tendency: focusing on the wrong customers. Leaders at smart companies know who their most vocal, loyal and profitable customers are and HOW to keep them.
What they don't know-and don't act on-is the sad statistic that every five years most companies have lost a significant portion of their customers. Most companies focus on the loudest customers-the demanding ones-and lose those who are or who could become loyal, vocal and, in many cases, profitable advocates. They lose their promoters.
Marketing is indeed the right organization to build the case and momentum for voice of the customer as a critical lynchpin to the company. But the truth is that without sales... without finance... without operations and delivery... and without senior management... you're really facing an uphill battle to effect change. The spirit and commitment to become customer-led and customer-profitable must come from the top.
Be sure to read tomorrow's post for the meat... the alchemic actions you can begin taking to turn your customer data to gold.Steven Nicks, Partner email@example.com
Our Response to the 2006 CMO Council/NetLine Select & Connect Study(a.k.a. What to Do With the Data Now That You've Got It)
Wednesday, June 14, 2006
By now you may have read or heard about the joint CMO Council/NetLine Select & Connect study that came out recently-you know, the one that said you, as a marketing professional, "lack customer touch" and "have a long way to go" to effectively leverage your company's customers?
That's right. According to the study, you, as a marketing professional, probably find yourself in a situation that looks pretty much like this:
- Your efforts towards "optimal customer insight and intimacy" are, in general, unappreciated; they are likely thwarted by technical, organizational and sociological challenges.
- Your company does not have a customer advisory board or council (nearly 75% of respondents' companies did not), nor do you have a word of mouth program (66% did not).
- You have "little control" over how your company segments or targets its customers (30% of respondents reported that other titles hold this role).
- Most customer touch points are held by sales, leaving you, unfortunately, out of the loop and out-of-touch.
Our experience tells us that the study is correct in its findings; and that the situation at your company may very well look like the one outlined here. You may very well feel disconnected from your company's customers.
But this same study does two things that bug me: 1) it seems to point the finger at marketing professionals, as if you're the one to blame for all problems "customer"; and 2) while it substantiates what you already know is wrong, it fails to show you how to make those wrongs right-as is often the case (and is often the problem) with studies.
Over the next few days, I intend to directly point you to the path along which results lie by providing you a reality check and next steps you can take to begin connecting with customers, positively influencing sales and earning your marketing organization the respect (and budget!) it deserves.
Tune in next time for a reality check: find out the real reasons why company leaders often fail to make smart sales and operations decisions.Steven Nicks, Partner firstname.lastname@example.org
The CRP Buzz:
3 hot-hot-hot topics from the recent AMA CRP Fundamentals seminar continued.Part 2 of 3
Wednesday, June 14, 2006
In part one of this three-part series, I shared Phelon Group insights into reference program charters and stakeholders-a key topic buzzing about during the recent AMA/Phelon Group CRP Fundamentals seminar. Please catch part 1 if you missed it. Today, I'll talk about the second hot topic: the reference program strategic plan.
Hot Topic 2: The CRP Strategic Plan
Where do you see your reference program in 12 months? More importantly, where do your program's key stakeholders see the program in 12 months? The answers to those questions become the foundation for your CRP's strategic plan, which is just a record of how you plan to get to where you want to go by some point in the future. If you can't answer those questions quickly, then spend a few minutes with me now thinking them through…it might make the next 12 months go much more smoothly!
While talking strategy with seminar attendees, we uncovered some truths you can apply to your reference program.
- Establish a wish list of both near- and long-term goals. Don't worry about whether or not they're attainable; just list them in a brainstorming fashion.
- Rank the items on your list by both goal priority and your ability to achieve each goal by asking Which are my program's top priorities? and How likely am I to achieve my priority goals? Coordinate the prioritized list with key stakeholders. Make sure your priorities match theirs. To figure out whether you can achieve a goal, look at the resources at your disposal. (Of course anything is possible given enough time and money; and we likely have little of both.)
- Split your ranked, prioritized list into periods. For example, you will focus on goals one and two in the first quarter, goals three through five in the second quarter and so forth. Remember to leave some slack for all those little hiccups that pop up from time to time.
- Attach resources to each to each prioritized, ranked, scheduled goal. Resources can be infrastructure or people, e.g., someone to build a database or Web site. How much will this activity cost? In a recent Phelon Group study, reference program spending, excluding the cost for human resources, ranged from $100k to $250k annually. This of course varied depending on the corporation's annual revenue with more CRP spending as corporate revenue increased.
- Review the resulting strategic plan with your program's key stakeholders; get their feedback and, most importantly, their buy-in and commitment to seeing your program succeed.
Another hot topic at the AMA/Phelon Group CRP seminar was measurement metrics. How do reference programs measure success? What metrics get commonly reported? I'll discuss this topic in the third and final part of the CRP Buzz series. Until then!Ed Buckingham, Research Director email@example.com
The CRP Buzz:
3 hot-hot-hot topics from the recent AMA CRP Fundamentals seminar
Tuesday, June 06, 2006
A couple weeks ago, I was pleased to deliver a two-day seminar on customer reference program fundamentals through a Phelon Group partnership with the American Marketing Association. I had a great time meeting everyone in NYC and Las Vegas. Some attendees hailed from companies with no formal or informal reference program and just wanted to know where to start; others came from companies with existing programs-these folks posed more advanced questions. A few of the topics, however, came up repeatedly, like those surrounding stakeholders and charters, strategic plans and measurement. It's those topics I'll address in this three-part series on the CRP Buzz.
Hot Topic 1: CRP Stakeholders and the CRP Charter
(Who they are and key charter elements)
Part 1 of 3
Every CRP needs a charter, and with it a strategic plan. Sounds simple, but I was surprised at how many programs out there are just a jumble of thrown together pieces that don't consider the BIG program picture. After all, a formal program foundation is the basis for aligning your intentions with those of your program's key stakeholders. Do you know who your key stakeholders are? Why they are your key stakeholders? What they need to effectively judge the success of your program? And, perhaps most importantly, what they need to continue supporting your program? (Hint: greater program support = greater program adoption = great program respect + greater program budget!) Those of you just starting out on the CRP journey can learn from the mistakes of your peers-always think strategic; think charter; think stakeholders!
So just who are your stakeholders? Your manager and manager's manager are stakeholders, but so are your reference customers. Consider how you would report to them exactly how your program has helped make them more successful. Sales is your program's number-one stakeholder-it's the group your program supports most. Another group of stakeholders is engineering and new product development. These groups need to know, perhaps more than anyone else, what the customer thinks of your company's products or services. And you can learn that by virtue of what reference customers tell prospective customers. What all this means is: seek out a wide and diverse group of stakeholders. Break down silos. Learn what stakeholders want. Communicate your program's successes and feed customer information to those who need to know.
You will solidify and consolidate your intentions toward and your learning about program stakeholders through your program charter. We at The Phelon Group have walked many clients through the charter process, so we know first-hand what works and what doesn't. The best charters, i.e. the most successful charters, include language that outlines a program's intent to:
- Accelerate the sales process
- Support sales in the selling process
- Deepen relationships with key reference customers
It's also best-practice to include secondary, functional issues in the program charter, such as a program's intent to:
- Control and or reduce reference customer burnout
- Locate and fill gaps in the reference customer inventory
- Elevate reference customers as industry thought leaders
And don't forget managerial issues; include in the charter a program's intent to:
- Be strategic and forward-looking
- Recruit and nurture reference customers that align with long-term company goals and objectives
- Capture and regularly communicate the program's value to all stakeholders
Notice: I never mention the number of success stories the program will (or does) produce…or the total number of customers in the program…as part of the charter. You can produce a thousand success stories or recruit a thousand customers into the program, but if they do not accelerate sales or enable sales reps to capture more revenue per sale, your program will have, at best, limited value.
Stay tuned for the next two posts in this three-part series on the CRP Buzz; I'll cover two other topics-strategic plans and measurement-that were hot topics among the reference and marketing professionals who attended the recent AMA/Phelon Group CRP Fundamentals seminar.Ed Buckingham, Research Director firstname.lastname@example.org