Customer Permission: Get It Right to Protect Goodwill - and Your Sanity
Monday, September 25, 2006
The quotes have been polished, the benefits highlighted, the messaging aligned. And now your customer has given you the go-ahead to publish. Sounds like a happy ending, but as you know, publishing a success story - or other original customer evidence - is just the beginning. Soon your sales force will want to put a quote from the story on a big presentation. You marketing colleagues will want to splash that logo on a mailer and call out those benefits in a new product brochure. Maybe your executives will feature highlights of the story when they keynote at your user conference. Hopefully, they're calling you to see if that's OK. Here's how to make sure you're ready with a good answer rather than embarking on a round of customer calls.
First of all, become a well-known authority. Do internal consumers of customer evidence look to you and your team as the arbiters of permissible re-uses of customer logos, names, quotes, and facts? If not, reach out to them to educate them on your policies and explain the importance of caution when publicizing customer information. Misuse can mean angry customer executives, withdrawals from upcoming reference activities, or even scuttled upsell deals. Explain to your stakeholders that they are helping to protect your company's irreplaceable customer goodwill by following your policies on re-use. Go grass-roots and go executive with your message, and be sure to make allies of the teams that create the marketing deliverables, like designers and editors - they'll be your right hand when you put policy into practice.
Next, be a stickler for the basics: An authorized permission-granter, and written documentation of permission. Most of your customer contacts likely aren't authorized to give a vendor permission to use their employer's brand in an endorsement. Even if it means foregoing some "yeses," remind your customer contacts to be sure they've gone through proper channels, like communications and legal. And get it in writing - no exceptions. Get help from your legal department on a form.
Before you finalize that form, get specific and think ahead. Ask for permission to publish, of course, but also get the nod for specific re-use. Collaborate with stakeholders to compile a list of likely re-uses, and distill that into a brief taxonomy of re-use categories that customers will understand, such as "in written materials like brochures and white papers," "in direct mail pieces," "in presentations," etc. Give your customers choices: permission for all kinds of re-use, selective permission each category you've identified, and ask-me-first permission. Specify that the content might be re-used in whole or in part.
Finally, make it easy for everyone to find out what's OK and what's not when it comes to re-use. Keep careful track of permissible types of re-use for each piece of evidence and make it easy for stakeholders to access that information by including it in your reference management system. Encourage - or better yet, require - others to use your permission form and your taxonomy of uses if they gather customer evidence outside your program. Make it a requirement for publication in any venue, and even the reluctant will soon comply.
Whitney Wood, Consultant email@example.com
Self-Service - What Does it Mean for Your Reference Program?
Friday, September 22, 2006
Are there days where you feel like the requests just keep coming in, but there isn't enough time in the day to address all of them? With reference program resources staying flat, and reference opportunities always increasing, how is a program to support its stakeholders effectively? One of the popular approaches right now is to implement a "Self-Service" model. But what exactly is this model and is it right for your company?
The concept of self-service is straightforward: providing a centralized location for program users to find exactly what they need and self-fulfill requests. However, the definition of what exactly is 'self-serve' can vary from company to company. The model could be as simple as a centralized content management engine and could be as complex as providing automated request fulfillment workflow. Which one is right or better? There is no right or wrong way to provide self-service of references. What is important is that your definition of self-service is clearly articulated to program users and the boundaries of service are understood.
When considering a self-service model, the first step is to understand what are the priority needs of your program users - do they want evidence centralized in one place, do they want to automate requesting references? Next, look at what your team can directly manage with your current resources and then identify what might make sense to open up to a self-serve model.
Here are some key considerations for your reference team when defining your self-service model:
- Reference fulfillment workflow. Map out exactly how a program user will interact with your self-service model - from the point of entering a request, to who will act on that request all the way through to who will complete the request. If your self-service model has limits, communicate its true capabilities with program users and advise them how to best use the system to fit their needs.
- Customer contact strategy. Once a requestor finds a good match, who actually reaches out of the customer? Is it the account manager for the customer? Perhaps the CRP manages this process. Again, there is no right or wrong answer to this question; what is more important is that whatever you decide is best for your program, educate program users on who is responsible for what.
- Reference request prioritization. How does the self-serve model gauge the priority of requests? Does every request or program user have access to the entire pool of references? Also consider what permissions has your customer provided your company? Are they interested (or even able) to participate in PR? Are there ways your self-serve model can accurately narrow the list of appropriate target references with reference opportunities?
- Data integrity guidelines. You have a lot of people pulling from this self-serve model, but who is pushing customer intelligence into it? Be clear with program users on who owns populating the system. Perhaps it is the account team, your services organization, or maybe sales engineers. Gain buy-in from contributors prior to launching the self serve model so that the program and its ability to provide true self-service is a success!
The bottom line is that you can deploy a successful self-serve model that works for your company when using effective, reliable data and turning that data into a repository of tools that serve the needs of the field, and clearly defining the best way for the field to leverage "Self-Service".
Kathleen McBride, Consultant firstname.lastname@example.org
Another Good One from BusinessWeek
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
If you haven't already, check out the recent series of articles in BusinessWeek about competitive advantage. The series ties so nicely into the painful experience many of the golden-child corporations are feeling right now. The giants are falling hard and struggling to maintain their market share in the face of competitor chameleons who are agile and continue reshape and redefine their approaches.
How To Hit A Moving Target: These days all competitive advantages are fleeting. So the smartest companies are learning to create new ones-again and again and again. http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/06_34/b3998423.htm. Short and to the point, this article makes clear recommendations. It also points to customers as an anchor of competitive advantage. While I agree that customers are the solution, I want to add a point that wasn't really explored in the article--good ideas, game-changing ideas, new thinking that solves old problems.
Question: do you know how your company comes up with good ideas and ways of strengthening its competitive position? Is it always the same product group or cluster of innovators? One engineer or business manager who can be counted on for leadership? Is it one of your customers or a group of partners?
In addition to the six or so areas the author points out as drivers of competitive advantage, there is one that is not as apparent. Innovation is a strong differentiator. Innovative ways to touch customers, innovative processes that increase profit and share of requirements or share of wallet, innovation in branding, innovation in offerings and packaging, etc.
Competitive advantage can be sustained through a constantly-evolving process of innovation. The Innovation Process is how a company identifies, tests and incubates an idea, takes it to market, and uses that idea to fuel some kind of advantage However, two challenges emerge. First, most companies don't understand and harness innovation. Second, many that do understand the process of innovation play the same record over and over and over again. It too becomes predictable and not something that enables sustained differentiation.
Whether you realize it or not, your company has an innovation process of its own, which is the way things are always done. Because the end-to-end process, like products, can get overused, worn and dull, you might want to change it. In a channel perception audit (where we understand how a company's channel partners perceive the company and gather behavioral information around preference and willingness to refer) we conducted a few years ago, we uncovered several powerful ideas that were served up by the strategic and delivery partners of a major organization. Great food for thought, but how many companies are actually tapping into innovation across the value chain.
There are so many options...
Ever considered a customer survey or insight effort designed to do nothing more than jazz your customer base and have them give you their best thinking? Ever considered partnering with a much smaller or significantly larger company to get a new perspective? How often do you ask your front-line employees to submit their ideas? We know one organization that makes it part of the employee review process... We work with others that have built REAL customer innovation awards.
If you're in the product development arm of the company or running a line of business, this process and the results are assets. The return on those assets are realized when your sales people and marketers can point to an equally compelling unique value proposition or higher-order benefit that is different from what it was three or five or ten years ago.
The Sum Up:
- Know and understand the innovative process. Ask the question-how effective is it?
- Ensure that customers and other key players are essential to that process.
- Experiment with the process-turn it around.
So, now what? It really is about execution.
I will reuse one of our favorite quotes from Wells Fargo (WFC) CEO Richard Kovacevich: "I could leave our strategic plan on a plane, and it wouldn't make any difference. No one could execute it. Our success has nothing to do with planning. It has to do with execution."
Promise Phelon, CEO email@example.com
What the Dell Should They Do?
Friday, September 01, 2006
You've read the sarcastic, company-mocking headlines; you've seen the photos of burned out trucks, trailer homes and houses. Not only are many media reports off-putting…they're horrifying. After reading and thinking about the articles, here's my assessment of how Dell handled the situation:
- Great job, Dell, for announcing the recall in the first place. But now that everyone connected to a television, computer or radio knows about this tragic error, let's hope you also have internal knowledge of who's purchased your systems since many aren't always connected or don't always respond to warnings swiftly. Non-responders might also be the audience that publicly blames you.
- Not such a good job getting in front of the media. As of this writing, I've neither heard nor seen the proactive radio, television interviews or other efforts that enable a control position during crisis.
- Is Dell responding at a grassroots level? I hope that Dell is planning to reach out their loyalists to get a sense for how this incident is affecting their commitment to their brand.
Turning Crisis into Opportunity:
Know your plan, your process, your promise.
Disaster and crisis communication is essential to reputation and brand management. In this universe where word-of-mouth is pervasive and controls the media sway, crisis communication is also something companies should have locked down before anything happens.
Dell, to use this as an opportunity, you need three things:
1) I'm assuming there is a plan to get all the recalls in and accounted for-and the date by which you'd like X% of them in. Set a goal and publicize your plan to get there. Otherwise the problem will linger and your brand will be in trouble.
2) What's your process? To rebuild the trust of your customers, partners and suppliers-and that of future customers-you will need to be clear about you keep this from happening again.
3) Finally, what is your promise? This event is so large that it is now part of the Dell legacy. With that awareness, what will you do to assuage fears of customers? This is the time to proactively integrate a smart and simple guarantee into your company's mantra.
Rather than seeing an embarrassing vanilla recall, use this as an opportunity to rethink your company's promise to its customers and show how smart companies deal with issues… the right way-the Dell way.
Promise Phelon, CEO firstname.lastname@example.org