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Customer Credentials Done Right…And Learning To Do So October 2, 2008

Posted by gyatman in Customer Credentials Intro.
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I’ve spent quite some time recently viewing written case studies, video testimonials and uncovering customer reference pages found deep withing the websites of large technology companies.  In viewing and gathering this wealth of infomation on the topic of customer credentials/references, I have found many universal similarities in graphical format, corporate messaging and methods of distribution, but I have also found examples of companies that did it different, they did it right…simply and truly hit it out of the park.  Just as a musician may hear a great song and wish they would have composed it…I find that when I see customer evidence done right, I often think to myself “I wish I’d have thought of that!”

In this customer credential blog, I’d like discuss my thoughts on customer reference programs, the development of case studies, c2c references, integration of social media into reference programs, podcasts, RSS feeds and more…both done right and done wrong.  This is certainly a work in progress which I would like to share and debate.  I hope to develop my thoughts and understandings much more as I research and explore the topic further over time.

I know from my research that there are true experts, thought leaders on this topic, who I look to for both inspiration and guidance in this unique space between marketing and sales, tremendously valuable to each in a variety of areas.  Professionals such like Promise Phelon, Mario Sundar and Bill Lee are setting new standards in the area of Customer References and continue to push for new strategies and tactics to elevate the success of Customer Credential/Reference programs . I hope to discuss new approaches, debate potential solutions and open the forum to discussion on best practices, advice and/or next steps to ensure we all can find the optimal solution to have Customer Credentials Done Right.


Quality Control Issues December 11, 2008

Posted by gyatman in Customer Credentials.
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All customer evidence is clearly not equal…this is not a revolutionary statement…but what can possibly provide the clearest “separation of the wheat from the chaff” is the primary question that should be asked prior to any customer evidence endeavour, but often isn’t for a variety of reasons. 

Q:  What is the quality of this story?
A:  It’s complicated…

It seems like a simple enough question, one sentence to start the analysis…but that is the deceptive nature of this query.  Quality, much like beauty, can be found in the eye of the beholder.  Often there are points of agreement on what dictates standards of quality but there more often various factions internally and externally which provide expected levels of quality from their differing perspective. 

Whether its the product development folks interested in diving deep on products or solutions, sales executives focused on driving home the “selling points” in business terms, marketing executives focused on supporting brand and messaging compliance or customers sensitive to the positioning of their organization and exposure risk…quality is an issue for all parties hoping to leverage the final product.

As mentioned, quality can be highly subjective and somewhat complicated but from personal experience I can only offer up my observations on determining factors of a “high quality” credential.  These typical factors are (please feel free to add the list):

  • Quantitative and Qualitative Final Measured Results
  • Influence on Sales Organization
  • Support of Ongoing/Future Marketing Efforts
  • Support of Corporate Branding Efforts/Standards
  • Highlight of Strengths/Abilities/Unique Traits of Delivery & Customer Organizations
  • Customer Evangelism Pre & Post Credential

This is the first giant leap in the process…but now comes the second sticky issue in Quality Control.  Who provides the answers?  It may differ for from project to project, company to company or even person to person.  Ideally, in my experience, it is an amalgam of several SMEs involved in the process, primarily the sales executive(s) and the customer but also involvement of marketing leadership and product/solution development leadership.  If one is lucky….it is simply a matter of reaching out to a highly connected sales executive and a highly motivated “evangelist” customer both willing proactively champi0n the cause to ensure the credential is solid, results driven and comprehensive.  As the eternal optimist…I look forward to this dream scenario…until then, I rely on open lines of communication with all parties, advocating individuals involved in the process to take a proactive, vested interest in the quality of the final product. 

Clearly, the definition of quality will be difficult to pin down from credential to credential but overall I believe it’s possible to create great pieces of customer evidence, providing tremendous value, if we just take a moment to ask that one question, “What is the quality of this story?” before a single hour of writing is dedicated, a customer is interviewed and the fully-baked credential concept is sold to the leadership. 


Down Market = Need For More Credentials October 7, 2008

Posted by gyatman in Customer Credentials.
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As the markets fall around the world during this period of economic uncertainty, investors, companies and the pressured business decision makers found in both (not to mention millions of consumers) need a source of confidence, a trusted voice of experience to know that their current and future buying decisions are sound investments based on prior performance.  Which leads me to the title of this post “Down Market = Need for More Credentials”.

I realize that considering the theme of this forum I am preaching to the choir, but stick with me as I put these thoughts out there for discussion and consideration – or vice versa.

I read today in Techworld that Gartner and Forrester Research are forcasting that IT spend may fare better than the economy as a whole, continuing to grow on a year-to-year basis.  While this is fantastic news for a person, like myself, who lives, breathes and works in the IT space…there is still considerable expectation…perhaps even more so considering the economic situation outlined at the beginning of the post, to identify, develop and distribute more credentials driving home the “business value” and overall “business case” for selecting my organization over another.

So, while I say the “Need for More Credentials” maybe the more appropriate call to action is more quality and quantity around Credentials.  The notorious three letter acronym ROI surely must creep into the discussion at this point as in reality, provided agreed upon metrics are in place, ROI can be measured for everything.  A great customer story, filled with glowing solution/product reviews and happy customers, are the first step in the right direction…but it is the quantitative results which speak volumes to business decision makers.  Illustrate clear cut ROI found by utilizing your product, solution or service and you will stop business decision makers in their tracks, if only for an instant.  But that may be all you need.

Several decisions must be made then when approaching the strategy toward identifying ROI (quantitative vs. qualitative) in regard to customer credentials.  The first decision is where to start.  In my opinion, this starts in the beginning of the sales cycle, when identifying KPIs (Key Performance Indicators or in layman’s terms…measurable business pain points).  The sales force is the first wave of quality control and ROI metric setting.  The second step (again, in my opinion) is mapping your product, solution or service to those KPIs, with the intent on highlighting them when developing the credentials.  Third and finally, is the presentation of the facts to the customer for review and a subsequent interview process (that’s a whole different post) to uncover the “real” business value and impact.  It should be noted that there are plenty of angles to be taken to get to this point, minor steps to be taken and proceedural processes unique to each organization which must be kept in mind…but in theory…from a high level…this is my ideal ROI discovery approach.

Quite a bit of work?  Yes.  A long process which requires open channels of communication?  Yes.  Worthwhile in the end?  Absolutely.

So, as the markets fall around the world during this period of economic uncertainty, investors, companies and the pressured business decision makers found in both (not to mention millions of consumers) need a source of confidence, a trusted voice of experience to know that their current and future buying decisions are sound investments based on prior performance.  It is those who are developing credentials, folks like you and I, who are driving the real “business case” testimonials based on solid ROI and compelling customer experiences, who will allow their organization to stand apart from others struggling to find new customers and/or projects in a down market.

Good luck & Godspeed…it may be a bumpy ride.