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How Private Social Networks & Customer Reference Programs Work Together [Transcript]

Written by Joshua Paul | on August 19, 2012 at 8:30 AM

In episode #6 of the social business podcast, ProCommunity, I spoke with Bill Lee, President of the Customer Reference Forum and author of the new book, The Hidden Wealth of Customers. We discussed the power of customer reference programs and how online customer community provide new ways recruit, manage, and engage customer advocates.

The conversation also included how to get at the untapped value that existing customers can create, the role of online customer communities in managing customer relationships, and real examples of customer reference program success.

ProCommunity #6 Transcript: How Customer Communities Multiple The Power of Customer Reference Programs

Josh: Welcome to episode number 6 of ProCommunity, the show where online community meets business performance. I'm Josh Paul. I am very pleased to have with me today Bill Lee, one of the pioneers in reinventing how businesses view customer relationships.

Bill is the president of the Customer Strategy Group, and the author of the new book, The Hidden Wealth of Customers. He also founded the largest community of customer engagement and advocacy professionals in the customer reference forum and the event, the summit on customer engagement which we'll talk about a little bit later. Welcome, Bill.

Bill: Thanks, Josh. It's good to be here. Thanks for having me.

Josh: Thanks for being here. Your work, your strategy work, your writing, your events, are some of the well-known in the industry. How did you get involved in customer engagement?

Bill: Well, that's a good question. It was kind of happen-stance. I had a business years ago. Really, just kind of a small side business, in which I stumbled into these people through some referrals. People who were running customer reference programs in places like Hewlett Packard, at Lucent, which is now Alcatel Lucent, Intel and some other places. And I didn't really know these people existed. This is about 10 years ago. And that's how I found out, you know, these people are doing something really interesting.

You're cultivating their customers who would be references to help their sales people close deals, to help their marketing people, provide them with good customer content, be interviewed by the media and so forth. They've actually got people who are cultivating those relationships and it's pretty powerful stuff. So I thought, you know, this is interesting. And then I asked a few of them, I said "yeah with professional group or professional association so you can get together with your peers". As I got to the point where they are asking me to connect them with each other, "Hey, do you know the, my counterpart, was the customer reference with Intel or IBM or at some place." And so I was with people. Yeah, I had to say let's put a show. Let's have a party. And so we did. We got a lot more people than we expected. This is in 2005 and the rest was history.

Josh: Wow. So you've seen a lot of changes over the past decade plus.

Bill: Yeah. I mean, in that time, social media is taking off and coming to its own. You know, the problems with traditional marketing had become more and more serious. There's just a lot of, we got new technologies that are very interesting. Automated customer content, applying gamification, technology to the advocacy process.

Josh: Now, one of the basic, you know, foundational ideas in the hidden wealth of the customers is that the traditional model of growing businesses is slowly dying. Slowly fading because it's not working. Why is that?

Bill: Well, at some cases, it's slow and some cases, it's pretty fast. And to be more precise, my position is that marketing, traditional marketing is dying. In fact, it's some cases, in some industries, it's pretty well dead. And there's 3 reasons that I think it's becoming particularly true now. One is that we're seeing studies from Forster, from the McKenzie, about the buyer's decision journey and they're making up their mind about buying your product in service before they ever engage with your marketing efforts, your advertising, your POR, the reason your sales peak. Secondly, there was a devastating study publishes last year by a group in London, showing that CEOs have lost patience with traditional approaches, to marketing, and with their CMOs. It was just devastating. Something like 3/4, and average of about 3/4 in each questions about "do you think that your CMO is credible? Do you think marketing provides a return on investment? What do you think about the marketing's approach to social media. In each case, it was horrible. It was 3 and 4 CEO said we don't think marketing is credible. We don't know where or when it goes and they need to start telling this. We think that they're pursuing social media like they would need other fad and they're still not showing us what's our return in these investments. They're trying to brand it. And hearing about brand equity and other branding concepts that can't be tied to any return on investment. So that's the second reason. And then third, marketing doesn't make sense if you think about it in today's environment, because you're asking people. You are in marketing communications people, agencies, sales people, contractors, and so forth, don't come from the buyer's world and you're asking them to persuade the buyer to do something. That's a fundamentally flawed model. So that's why I said marketing is dying, traditional marketing.

Josh: When most business people think about engaging their customer or, you know, developing a strong reference program, I think the paradigm still focuses on the very end of the sale cycle. You know, I'm going to have some people on the hook that I can, you know, send their contact information to my prospect, so the prospect can reach out to them to validate that we are real people, we do good business and, you know, it's basically references.

Bill: Perfect.

Josh: You know, describe the broader view in the pieces that a lot of business people are missing in terms of the value that existing customers can bring to the table.

Bill: Yeah. You're right. The reference model where the broader, the sales people scouring around to find the reference they need to close their deal is just not really relevant, anymore. It's still an important part of the overall sales process but you want to bring your customers into the whole buyer's decisions or any process as early as possible. Because when buyers are looking for solutions now, they want to talk to, you know, they want to talk to their peers, and that includes your customers. So you want to bring them in the awareness growing phase, in the education phases as much as possible, to let them learn from your customer's success and experience with solving problems that your buyers understand and give away to, as supposed to trying to get them interested in your features, in your benefits, and these sort of things. They're just not interested.

Josh: So I suppose the natural extension to the benefits that a company can see, the tangible, benefits by doing this are shorter sales cycle, more wins?

Bill: Yeah. Leads that are generated. Deals that are closed, awareness in your market. Yeah. All the above. You can show, for example, one of my favorite examples is when Mark Benioff was starting Salesforce.com, and tried to figure out his little tiny venture funded farm is going to compete against, you know, Oracle or SAP or multimillion dollar advertising bushes. And almost an act of desperation, he said, "You know, we got to come up with something different."

He realized that a customer event that he was hosting, this was in Philadelphia, really are, his company was just starting. And he was playing this presentation to a pretty small group, this is back when nobody knew who he was or knew salesforce.com was, is making this presentation. And he was like, Okay, that didn't seem to go all that well.

But then during Q and A, as he was responding the questions, he found his customers would weigh in on the answers. And then he realized the prospects and the customers, they start talking to each other, he realized that his prospect wanted to tell to his customers, more than they did him, and he realized that they were selling. They went back and ran the numbers and they found that events like that where prospect can engage with customers in that way, 80% of those prospects became customers themselves. That's in the fact that 80% closer rate.

Josh: That's interesting. We see the same thing in the customer communities that we work with. One of the things that we encourage people to do is open up parts of that community to prospects, you know, with limited functionality. They don't need to get overwhelmed with everything that you offer, everything that the normalization offers customers, but to be able to interact with customers and get a sense not only of the value that the company brings but also have some interaction with customers in a controlled environment.

Bill: Well, that's right. And you raised a good point that it's, you know, seriously, early on like that at these battings in office holding. I would guess that most of those prospects showing up were intrigued by this new model of, you know, of hosted software, what we call Cloud Computing now. They were intrigued by it. What they really wanted to was talk to people like them, who are solving problems that they had. And then the features and the benefits and so forth with Salesforce.com's platform were incidental. What they really wanted was connection with somebody facing the same issues and challenges that they were and were solving them. So it's important. When you build these communities or bring customers together with prospects, focus on your prospects issues, not your product concerns.

Josh: I think that's important in community building, in marketing in general. I mean, you really see a shift from product oriented marketing or in successful marketing from being product oriented to educational, insightful and helpful, and you're saying carries over to, you know, the sales process and...

Bill: Yeah. The sales and the marketing process. What is your customer, you know, I think a referral should be able to sit down and decide what are the 4 or 5 issues, you know, our customer, you know, prospects or a buyer's terms, what are the issues that they're dealing with that we can help them solve? Then focus your sure communications on those issues, and they'll get the message that it's your product that's solving these issues. Trust me, that will happen. But focus on those issues. That's how you get their attentions.

Josh: So I mean for most companies, getting their community of customers to market and sell and create products for them seems like a myth. Seems like it's too complicated or out of the norm of what they're used to doing. How real is this?

Bill: Well, yeah. It's, if you haven't, you know, I've lived with these programs and these efforts for years now. So it's like, everybody know this, and you're right. That people haven't seen this or lived with it, it's like you got to be kidding. But, I'll give you a few examples.

You know, the best are example, rather than theory or whatever. So there you got Salesforce.com. Putting customers together with buyers early on the sales process, and conferring them into buyers. Turning those buyers into those prospects and the customers.

Another example - SAS Canada had a problem with customer retention. Their customer retention rates were, which are usually high for that company in the high 90s, it started falling off pretty precipitously. And you think, well, can we get our customers to help with that, that seems like a pretty unusual problem. What can our customers do to help with that? Well, SAS organized their, what they call Customer Champions around in Canada. They organized, they have 250 of these plus another 50 with what they called Super Champs. These are customers that understood the power, the benefits of SAS Canada solutions, they were using them every day. Well, they organized an executive council. They started putting on live events in 21 cities around the country. Newsletter was started, online forum, and they started bringing customers together who were in danger of defecting or who were wondering how to address issues that they think SAS Canada's software could address. They started getting them together in all these ways. Long story short, that retention problem was completely solved. It went right back up the high 90s.

Josh: That's a great example. And I like that you're using examples too because that's exactly what we're talking about here. We're not talking about a company, you know, spouting off the benefits of a program. Saying here's how it actually help solve an actual problem.

Bill: That's right. And in similar stories, in innovation. There are similar stories, you know, sales, retention, in marketing and awareness building through your social media efforts. Intel found they had number on this. Some of which they share and some of which they won't. But they share enough to give an idea of how powerful customer content is and their social media efforts.

They learned that we got to stop talking about ourselves. We got stop talking about products. We got to stop talking about our features and benefits. They don't care. Let's put customer stories up there and customer videos. Brief customer success stories. Let fire engage with our customers. And there are the things that just sky rocketed their demand generation success, awareness building and so forth. So this...

Josh: That's powerful.

Bill: ... is all over the place. It's happening. It's not just there. It's really happening.

Josh: Now that's powerful. I think, I mean one of the takeaways of this conversation is, you know, read the book. Like these examples, a lot of these examples are in your book and really bring it home. How has the role of online customer communities emerged in both managing customer relationships and unlocking this additional value in those relationships?

Bill: Well, there's a couple of other things to keep in mind with online communities. Online communities, I think some companies regard these as a potential answer in themselves. And these are in my experience and observation, they are powerful part of the answer. When they're in conjunction with some of the relationship building, sometime in personal relationship building I've been talking about, in corporation events, are extremely powerful. And then, now I'd be curious, sir, about your experience with your clients. But what I'm observing is that the online communities are a powerful way to keep people in touch. And then the in-person wants are powerful way to bond and cement those relationships. So when you can have the live events to bond people and then have the online events to keep them in touch and to keep them active.

Josh: We see the same thing. We work with, you know, large companies and user groups and associations. So we see the entire spectrum of the ways that online communities, online customer communities are being used. But one of the things that we realized early on in this, you know, before social business was coined, before social media was even a term, was the importance of live events in community building. So, you know, the one of the most feature rich areas of our platform is the conference management and events management system that's integrated with the rest of the online community software, so that going into the conference, you have your most engaged members aware and attending the live event and then coming out of the conference, the discussions can continue pretty smoothly and most of our customers in all 3 of those areas and, you know, for profit, user groups and associations are using that, those elements.

Bill: You know, Salesforce.com kinda fast forward their story. Now, you know, first, they were called City Tour Events, the one I described earlier. And the first one that Mark Benioff did, I think they got 15 people. They did 50, you know, 15 showed but he learned. Now, Dreamforce is getting, you know, I think the one last year got 45,000 registrations or something like that. It takes up half of downtown San Francisco. It's magnificent. They're doing very clever integration of their online with their live. And they've got this kind of Facebook like interface that attendees like, when do you want to get know, you know, if you're going to an event, it's like 2 weeks before you. You go, I have to go to this event. I don't know anybody. How can I, you know, look at the attendee list. I'd like to connect with him, I'd like to connect with her. Well, this online platform they've developed which is around their chatter platform, it's a Facebook like interface. You can go online, start hooking up with people before you ever get there. It's kind of the storming part of the relationship building. Instead of wasting time with that on site, you get that out of the way and once you get there, boom, you're ready to go to the next step of the relationship.

Josh: Right. You can't stress enough how much that ongoing engagement is important, you know, before, during and after the event.

Bill: Exactly.

Josh: The combination and community and events together is just very powerful for the overall, you know, unlocking that hidden wealth of customers that we're talking about here.

Bill: Yeah.

Josh: So, keeping on the topic of events. You host a big event around customer engagement and advocacy. What goes on at these summit on customer engagement? How did that start, and what are companies going to find there?

Bill: Well, what goes on, I had to kill you before I get, if I told you, Josh. Just kidding. It's a blast. We had a lot of fun. You get a conference for advocacy professionals. We get them from all over the world. We do in the bay area, we've been doing it in the bay area for the past few years. We get the top practitioners in the world. These are people that are running customer advocacy and engagement programs. They are at great companies like Intel and Salesforce.com and Wells Fargo Bay and Oracle, Microsoft. This year, we're going to have, one of our key noters, I'll give you an early heads up, senior vice president for an $11 billion division in the health care services company, AmerisourceBergen, is going to be key noting about how customer advocacy built that business. We've also got another key noter that I can't tell you about, but I'll just say stay tune for the one. So we got great practitioners. We got great companies.

We've also got a very good group of sponsors. Some of them have been in this space for years. They're very credible. They're very well respected. Then we have some of the newer ones who are bringing technology solutions. I think I mentioned earlier the gamification platform has been developed by a company called Influitive, that's doing extremely well. It's kinda, they're getting great clients and they're providing a really valuable solution to enticing advocates into the advocacy efforts. We've got another firm, TechValidate, creates automated customer content and does incredible things with this. That bypass the usual success story process, lengthy and far with legal parts and all these stuffs. And then there's a new one, new company called Zuberance. It allows your promoters, people who say they would be likely to promote you on surveys to promote right there and there. As soon as they say "yeah, I'd be likely to recommend to a colleague or friend". Boom. You can do it right here. There's a box to fill in. You know, they guide them through that process. Then it populates immediately to their social media outlet of choice. In Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn. So that's going to be there. We've got the best practitioners, great companies, the top vendors and suppliers in this area.

Another thing we do is we keep of ration of practitioners to vendors very high. Generally by 3 to 1. So that you're not sitting there, feeling like you're surrounded by vendors. You have just enough vendors there to give you perspective and idea of what the solutions are out there. And they also, and they become very good at this. They signed an agreement. No sales, no pressure. You're there to help and contribute knowledge and your expertise. You're not there to store anybody anything. And they're taking it to such an extreme. It's like I'm going, you know, this is great. So that's what goes on there.

Josh: It sounds like a great event. I actually followed it last year on, actually the past couple of years on Twitter as it was happening and some of the insights coming out of it is very helpful. Things that people can, you know, put into practice pretty quickly.

Bill: Thank you. We also had a lot of fun too. We've got some wild sponsors who host things like we've had go cart races, we've had, you know, when you ask me what goes on there, this is probably, some of the stuff I probably can't talk about. I'm kidding. But it's a lot of fun and then they come back the next, leave on the first night and then they come back with some great stories to tell. So we had a lot of fun too.

Josh: It's also underscores how much this community, how tight knit the community is and how much they trust each other and really look forward. It's not just a chance to get away from their office. It's, you know, these people really valued their relationships that they have built.

Bill: Hugely. Relationships and the knowledge they gain. They stay in touch with each other afterward. So yeah. It's, we have a great time and I think it is a valuable event.

Josh: Wonderful. What I want to ask you about now is the value proposition that companies can create to help entice customers to partner with them to grow their business. And that, some, you know, we talked about this concept being foreign to a lot of companies. What are the components of a value proposition that would get customers to help you grow your business? It seems intimidating to me on some levels.

Bill: How so?

Josh: In that, you know, maybe it's an old school marketing approach. Where there's a marketing funnel and the customer converts at the top and then converts at the middle and then converts at the bottom or their prospect converts. Asking, you know, I come from a model or a background where we serve the customer. We serve our customers. So asking our customers to help us is difficult on some levels.

Bill: You know what, that's a great point. That has a great point and you're right. It's like asking a favor. It seems that way, and there's an approach that first of all, people coming from that approach sometimes laps and we got to give them a reward. We have to give cash prizes or we have to give them discounts, or, you know, we're asking these favors. We got to give elaborate gifts or something. And I would caution you about that. Would you want your friend or your colleague to refer you to a company because they gave you a gift or they gave you a leather jacket or something or who knows what. And no, you wouldn't. It destroys the integrity of the process.

A way to think about getting customers to advocate for you is to think in terms of an expanded value proposition. And here's how it looks. First off, price of admission. You do a great job for the customer. That's a given. And if you're not doing that, then fix it. Then once you are doing a great job and you're getting better, you know, let's say you're doing a quarterly review or discussion wherein you keep, you know, notes that, I'll say it's a technology solution. No technology solution goes perfectly from the get go, it takes a while. But the customer tries, they're doing really good and they're fixing the problems as they go on. So that's a given. You got to do that.

Then once you do that to entice this customer to reference and to tell the story that she has that she can tell which is a good one, focus on helping her build her social capital. That's what advocates, what I call your rock stars or SAS calls it's MVPs or what SAP calls customer champions. Whatever name you use, they want to build their social capital. And that means expanding their network and their opportunities to affiliate. It means improving, helping them improving their reputation, and then it also, you know, status, give them status, give them recognition. And then also, third is giving them access to knowledge that they've done. Those 3 things.

For example. Let's take one of the companies that I've talked about. Let's take SAS Canada, their customer retention problem. What got those champions do all these, those customer champions, doing all those things to get the word out about, you know, SAS Canada, yeah, their software is still solving or their keeping up with their problems, they're doing a great job. You shouldn't defect. What go them to do that? Well, these customer champions receive recognition. They receive leadership positions in this executive committee. They were front and center at these forums, these live forums they put all around the country. They receive designation, these customer champions, They get interviewed at SAS's customer events as if they were, and they are, very important people. So that's how doing effect get customers to promote you. It's by making it as an exercise in building their social capital.

So part of the relationship building and the value proposition expansion process, is to find out from your individual customer etiquette how they would like to build their social capital. And, you know, you don't have to phrase it that way. They even don't know what that even means. But find out if they're interested in speaking. Find out if they're interested in greater affiliation. If they'd like to get to know more people like them in your community. Find out if they're interested, if there's knowledge or information that you could provide them. And chances are your company has a lot of expert knowledge within the bounds of the company. And it's not coming from your marketing department, it's coming from your experts. Your process and your technology experts. Find out if they have knowledge that your customers would value. So you could get a sense of what they would value and you craft a customer advocacy process for those customers that helps them build their social capital in ways that they find compelling.

Josh: I think that makes a lot of sense. I'm sold and much more comfortable in the process just from hearing those 3 or 4 steps in the process, to move this forward. What are some of the common challenges or pitfalls that an organization might encounter when transitioning to a strategy like this?

Bill: Well, there's, probably the main one, there are several. But the main one is the traditional approach to marketing, that gets ingrain that your planning and your strategy and your budgeting process. And when you boil it down, the way marketing often looks like, what it often looks like in a company is all right. We go this product launch. You know. We got to decide how much to put in the PR, how much to put in to advertising, how much to put in the more comps, how much should we put in the dimension and, you know, these very sprockets. And then we'll try this mix and see how it does and well, it's not quite getting us the growth we want so let's just call somebody over here. And then customer advocacy tends to get put into one of those buckets. That's not going to work. And I think the wise start successfully is to designate somebody, a powerful executive to be directly involved in them. Some powerful executive who's passionate about this and I think one who understand the value of advocacy. Put them in charge of this. And then have groups, they have a group of people they can cultivate these advocacy relationships. If you leave it up in sale, for the counter ups, bless their hearts. They are great at developing, well, some of them are great in developing relationships, but they just tend to kind of go away once the deal is signed and the customer seems happy. And you need somebody to cultivate the advocacy side of that relationship. So I'd say those 2 things. You can also start small. You don't have to boil the ocean to do this company wide. Find a market, find a product line that's important and just start with that. Just start cultivating advocates there, put this organization together as I have described, and start racking up some success and proofs of concepts for it, and then build it up.

Josh: Have you seen some overlap between the role of kind of the person who champions in advocacy program and cultivates those relationships and a community manager?

Bill: Yeah, sure. There better be. There better be integration between those groups because what you, you don't want to get into a situation with your advocacy program like you do with your overall product organization or, you know, customer buys a product or a service, and whenever they have a problem, they don't know who to talk to, they could push off to people, different people handle different aspects doing it and they can't get a straight answer from a single person. You don't want to replicate that over with your advocacy efforts. And advocacy includes communities, it includes referrals, it includes advisory boards, your reference programs, and so forth. All of those are part of your, you want to present a total advocacy picture to your customer. We had a very dynamic dream customer from any technology firm. Her name is Penny Morrison. She's now chief information officer at Cardinal Healthcare and she's been the  CIO at Motorola, and Office Depot and one of the GE businesses. She's successfully dynamic. And she complained about it. You know, I had her at one of our advance, you know the fire side chin and she talked about this. You know, don't you show off when you need a reference request, you know, from somebody over here and somebody else is coming at me about the advisory board meeting or seeking advice for the (?) we can sit on. Give her a holistic view of what the reference in advocacy, what the advocacy possibilities are that you can provide. Design a holistic advocacy value proposition and activities for her. And she lined what it would be for her in particular and it's going to different for everybody. So you want one person that the organization can provide that. Does that makes sense?

Josh: It does. It does. And, you know, that approach, you know, say a good approach for a lot of different programs. And what I'm hearing is that you don't want your advocacy program to go to a direction that's not aligned with other programs and strategic initiatives within the organization. You don't want it to become an outlier...

Bill: Right.

Josh: But at the same time, a lot of times, this is a pretty progressive program within the organization. So you need that stake holder who can keep everybody on board.

Bill: Yeah.

Josh: So we've talked about kind of the strategy and some approaches and the way to overcome some of the hurdles that someone might run into. Walk me through how an organization might measure the "return on relationship". Is it through the, you know, traditional, you know, leads, opportunities, sales, measurement or are there specific measures that people need to bone up on?

Bill: Well, that can be one. Though, if you got a reference or an advocate or a referral source, it obviously will depend on what they can do. But let's say you have, I've got in my board, I've got this composite customer advocate, a rock star that I call Kathy[SP], who is kind of a compositive, the kinds of advocates you see in these companies. And she has a blog. She's got a good following. She's active in a couple of social networks. She wants to speak. She's in a very interesting professional association. So as you tailor activities to her and with her, you might give her material for her blog, you might give her a speaking opportunity in one of your conferences, you might partner to speak with her at her professional association. So in all these activities, obvious, he want to be set up to be able to say okay, you know, like for example, if you do a webinar together or  you do a speech, you want people there to, and give them an opportunity in your audience to follow up. You know, here's a landing page to go to. Here's where you can go for further information, and so forth. So you can get start to get an idea of what kind of leads were generated and track them and see how many deals you closed. And then you have to use your judgment. In some cases, the lead will be all due to her credit. In some areas, she's played a part but there are other factors as well. So you give her a score and so forth. So that's a fairly straight forward process. Then another situation is that she's providing referrals again. There's 2 kinds of referrals for measurement purposes. One is a referral that comes to you and would have otherwise known about you  and you can ask them this. And so she'd get full credit for that. Another one of your referral is oh yeah, I've been meaning to check you out. I was probably going to do it anyway but this has prompted me to do it soon.

So it would be a bit of a difference for it. So you try to score these pretty carefully and you score her contribution to that laid in a way that reflects, you want to give it more credit than deserves but you want to make sure you get a sense of the value that she's granted. And then there's other things like sales productivity. For example, one of my advisory board members who I cannot name. I can only, I like this story and honestly that she has developed tremendous information about how having a reference, just a reference program for your sales people, how much it improves their productivity. Sales people in some companies spent a lot of hours looking for that reference you talked about earlier to close that deal. Spend 5 to 7 hours in some cases. Well, if you start putting that back into their time banks so to speak, later you won't have to waste your time doing it, that makes your productivity shoot up. So that's another measure that you can do.

Josh: All right. We have had, we have a large software company customer that uses an online customer community to manage just their thousands and thousands of customer references. Keeping them engaged, keeping them informed, and keeping them accessible to the sales team and people who need them in the company.

Bill: Yeah. Think about what productivity boost that is. When you're, if it really does work. If it really does, allow that sales person to then go and forget the concierge service. you can go online and find that, you know, find the best possible reference for that deal. That's huge.

Josh: Right. So, if I'm a company. I don't have, you know, a good advocacy program built, pretty traditional B to B company. How can I get started in engaging my customers and creating customer advocates. What are some small steps and some first steps I can take?

Bill: Well, do some triage. Start by saying let's go pick a business where we think there's a lot of potential for advocates. You know, we're not getting the traction we thought we would. It's an important business. It maybe a new line of business. It's strategic. So let's go, let's start over there. And then start looking. We're not that hard to find. Start looking for your best potential advocates. If you're doing net promoter store or at least asking on surveys or asking your customers, the net promoter score question, would you refer us to a colleague or a friend, it's very easy to ask. Well, there' a candidate. They just said they'd do it. So get strategic about the line of business you started with, get strategic about the product that you start with and then start looking for customers that like I say, net promoter or promoters, maybe a marquee brand. Sometime they'll provide some referral reference activity for you. Be sure that you're looking for customers with a great story to tell. Your sales people can tell you this. You know, we implemented, there are new solution you should see what these customers done with it. Are they really knocking down some really great results here? You want to have access to that kind of information. Your sales people need  to be giving it to you. Some references, some customers like Patty Morrison. And you see this overlooked a lot. They'll have a huge, you know, what we used to call Rolodex. They have an incredible contact list. And if you've approached her in the right way, she might be willing to open that up to you. So you want to find out who those customers are. And if you'll use the value proposition approach I described earlier, that's how you get them to do so. They want, your customers want you to succeed. Believe it or not, they do if you're doing a good job for them. And to help you succeed, they will provide you those referrals. So find those customers. So again, you know, use those 3 or 4, 5 criteria, find whatever number, whatever size of business you have and how many customers you have. Find a small but effective number that can start moving the meter on sales and do a proof of concept. Figure out what it takes, organizationally, training-wise, what value proposition your customers need, get this all figured out on a small scale. Get the results, then you've got something you can take back to your senior management and say yeah, this is something we can roll out here.

Josh: I think that's some really useful advice. And you know, it's not just theory, it's, you know, here's how to do it. Is there a specific department or individual role within an organization that you see getting this program started more than another department?

Bill: Well, you know. Mostly, I think that existing departments like your existing, say your existing marketing communications department, your social, you know, others, pretty much social media and social departments and groups, have skeptical volumes. I think it needs to be it's... and because, for example, when you have the social media folks taking these programs, they don't know, they're forte,  their expertise in the technology, not in the relationship building. And I think that at companies that have experienced building advisory boards and reference programs, that might be a good candidate to take the whole customer advocacy role. Those might be folks to do it because they're the ones with experience building those relationships. So I would put it in part of an existing program like making its own and probably there's a good chance your reference or your advisory board people are those who've had experience building these advocacy relationships are probably the ones you want running it. Plus, the strong senior executive.

Josh: Absolutely. And you make a good point that, you know, these strategies are really most successful when they're strategic and deliberate. You know, people don't fall into or rarely fall into successful customer engagement programs, customer reference programs. You know, you really have to think it through, dedicate the resources and the time and integrate it into your business whole heartedly.

Bill: That's right. And your business strategy, that's absolutely right.

Josh: So you do a lot of speaking and a lot of people listen to what you have to say. So if you were speaking to a room full of business executives, what is the one thing that you'd want them to take away regarding unlocking the value of customers to help you market, sell and create product? What's the one thing you want them to walk out of the room with, on idea.

Bill: Well, looking at your own company, that you forget all these other examples of other companies, all the ideas we've talked about. Look at your  own company. How well is your growth engine working? How well is your organic growth engine working? And if you're one of those 75% of CEOs who thinks that your marking just doesn't cut the mushroom, then ask yourself this question. Among all the resources at your disposal, all your employees, all the agencies you work with, all the consulting firms, if you use consultants that you work with, all your partners. Among all your resources, who are the most credible to your buyers, who are most persuasive, who would you buyers be most interested in getting to know and learning from. Those are the key capabilities that you need to grow your company. And the answer to all those questions is among all your resources, it's your customers. So start figuring out today how to get your customers marketing and so on and even developing products for you. That's a take away deal.

Josh: I think that's a really good note to end on. So, Bill Lee, I want to thank you very much for these really tangible tips and approaches today. Thank you for being on the show and  I hope we can do this again sometime.

Bill: Sure. I'd loe to, Josh. And thank you. Those are excellent probing questions that you bashed. I don't always get those on these kinds of things and those were really really good. It's been a lot of fun.

Josh: Good, good. I think the people listening to this podcast of watching this video will really get a lot of think about coming out of it. So maybe we can connect again after The Summit on Customer Engagement. That is...

Bill: March 4th through 6th. It's not for several months. March 4th through the 6th in San Francisco at the Sofitel Hotel. And by the day. If I can be of any, if you get people with questions or whatever after this, feel free to forward them along to me. Happy to respond to anything that you...

Josh: Where can people find you on the web?

Bill: There is the Customer Reference Forum site, CustomerReferenceForum.com. And then we have a consulting group that we set up, called Lee Consulting Group, that to help people do some of the things we've talked about and that's at Lee-consulting-group.com.

Josh: Great.

Bill: And you also get information of course about my book which was just published  a couple of months ago. So it's still pretty out off the presses. You can get information there as well.

Josh: It is a great book. It's called “The Hidden Wealth of Customers”. Bill, I want to thank you once again and have a great day.

Bill: Great. Thanks, Josh. It's been great.

Tips for developing a great online customer community strategy.

Topics: Associations, Online Community

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