I love presenting. I’ve not always been very good at it. My first outing was at a christmas party I had organised years ago, and I was told I had to introduce the evening. Legs shaking, I was nearly sick with nerves as I prepared to talk to 100 or so people. I can even remember holding the microphone with both hands to stop them shaking.
Also, unbeknownst to me, one of the exec team had been suddenly struck down with severe appendicitis and was on his way to hospital with a couple of others. But, all I knew, was that none of the exec team had showed up. I was a bit fed about it, but not that bothered, and thought I would make a joke. Turns out that was a bad move…this is how it went…just imagine this coming out in one big, nervous breath:
“Thank you all so much for coming, shame the others couldn’t bother, still, you’re better than nothing”
Then I realised what I’d said. Cue a bit of silence, and frantic introduction of next people and a large gulp of wine.
So, since then, I have been trying to improve my skills, the good news being that there was nowhere to go but up! I’ve made progress since then, but have struggled to make it interesting and captivating.
I read a great article a few weeks ago, by HubSpot, called “7 lessons from the world’s most captivating presenters“, I’ll let you read it, but it crystallised for me where I’d been going wrong. I used the advice at an event last week and it worked brilliantly – I’m no Steve Jobs, but am one step closer! The key lesson for me was:
- 30 hours planning
- 30 hours putting it together
- 30 hours practice
A lot better than that Christmas of 1999!
In my last blog, I mentioned the importance of increasing transparency into the reference pipeline, and providing ease of access across your business for new and existing references. Please believe me when I say that this advice is borne from painful experience of what happens when you get it wrong!
After many years of juggling reference requests and working from long convoluted spreadsheets, trying to keep track of the references we had, let alone the ones we were creating (and often not doing a great job!), I’d had enough. After living in spreadsheet hell, I was desperate enough to learn basic HTML (long-since forgotten) and call in many favours to develop a simple, searchable database of customer references. It wasn’t pretty, it was far from perfect, but it did make it easier to share information across the business. And when you are a reference team of one – as was the case then – it made life just that little less hectic.
Nowadays, there are many more reference solutions available on the market, and I’m currently working with a system called Reference View (others include Boulder Logic and Point of Reference to name but a few). The beauty of these systems is that not only do they share existing customer references across the business and enable in-depth reporting, they also allow you track and monitor the health of your reference pipeline. Companies like Ice Blue Sky can also help with managing your customer reference program from start-to-finish, or handle specific parts of your program such as asset creation, and act as an extended part of your team. This is particularly helpful when you are working on your own, as part of a small team, or just need some clarity and wisdom around strategy and execution!
Whatever your approach, having a clear and easy-to-understand overview is invaluable in making sure that your strategic vision around the types of references you want to create, is tracking according to need. It has the added advantage that you can share this with people across the business so they can see exactly what you are working on, and you can highlight gaps where you need support. After all, as a reference program manager, you can’t be solely responsible in developing the pipeline and this is a useful way of reminding other areas of the business their responsibilities in helping bring references to fruition. It also helps keep reference stories to the forefront of peoples’ minds; ensuring that the materials you develop are being used and brought before the right audience.
How do you manage your references now, and what are the challenges you face?
Goals. You gotta have goals….
Although customer reference programs rarely operate to a ‘one-size fits all’ model, you now know some of the key areas you need to consider to gear your reference program for success. So what next?
Presumably (arguably?), your reference program is being built to increase the number of customer proof-points available for use across sales, marketing, and possibly PR and analyst relations. The strategy for any program should be aligned to where you want to take your business; not only supporting sales and marketing/comms with their current opportunities, but also mapped to future need. Often strategy and tactics get confused or are treated as interchangeable, but it’s incredibly important to get your strategy correct, before setting goals and objectives to deliver against it. Here’s the indomitable Jeremiah Owyang’s view on the two areas: Difference between strategy and tactics
Once you’ve determined your overall strategy, you can set clear goals to ensure focus across the business. Here are some pointers to help you develop these:
- Create references in support of business objectives (short-to-long term)
- Provide an emphasis on quality, not just quantity
- A focus on thought leadership/strategic is often helpful in elevating your message above that of your competitors
- Map your information alongside your customers’ journey and align to future aspirations
- Increase transparency into the reference pipeline and provide ease of access across your business for new and existing references
- A Collaborative approach – development and consumption of references – often pays dividends
I hope this has been helpful, and I look forward to meeting you at Ice Blue Sky’s Customer Reference event [https://events.icebluesky.com] on the 16th April. In the meantime, watch out for my next blog!
This week we have a guest blog from Claire Grove, EMEA Customer Reference Manager from Juniper Networks.
Claire will be dipping in and out of our blog with some handy tips, in the lead up to our event on April 13th – look out for an invite or email me.
Welcome to the big time!
Look at the jobs on LinkedIn and a host of other jobsites; listen to the voicemails from recruiters. Yep, Customer Reference Programmes (CRP) finally seem to have made it to the big time, and are coming into their own as a recognised marketing and communications discipline. To be fair, it’s certainly been a part of many organisations’ marketing departments for a while, but dig a little deeper and you’ll often discover poor budgets and a junior-level person running the program (and for this I am truly grateful; it’s the way I fell into customer referencing), without much real support from elsewhere in the business. All of this is sometimes accompanied by scratching of heads by Execs, and a lofty wave of the hand with a murmuring of “we need case studies”.
Of course I’m being flippant, but certainly when I got into customer referencing this was more the rule than the exception. However since then, it’s been great riding the crest of a wave with other CRP managers, feeling our way from ‘just’ case studies to where the best CRPs are today:
- Providing a mutually beneficial platform for company and customer alike (without resorting to bribes, err I mean incentives)
- Adding value to an organisation, by first understanding what that value actually looks like and then delivering against it
- A philosophy of ‘Think Customer First’; you are the gatekeeper, funnel (for multiple requests from across your business), and salesperson all rolled into one when you are a CRP manager
In this guest blog series for Ice Blue Sky, I’m going to give you some (hopefully) handy tips and insight – garnered through 15 years of customer reference experience in one guise or another – to help demonstrate how CRPs can move from being a ‘nice-to-have’ to a commercially imperative programme.
So, how do you gear for success from day 1?
1) Find out what your company’s business goals, objectives, strategy and tactics are (GOST model)
2) Do a Gap analysis. Speak to stakeholders, find out what’s working, what’s lacking and where you need to be within the next year and beyond
3) Set expectations. Show what you intend to deliver; have a 90-120 day plan in place in addition to your yearly objectives. Short-term wins are important in establishing a trusted programme
4) Design your programme to scale and flex to changing business needs. Your goal isn’t to have a CRP that works well for the next 1-3 years, but is eventually rendered obsolete by changing priorities
5) Measure results. Not just the number of assets created, but what that has meant to the business in terms of impact to the sales achievement/PR coverage/reputation with industry analysts/social media impact/marketing programmes support, or whatever goals you have selected
6) Communicate those results to all interested parties. Get support for your program. If you have achieved XXX results with the budget and staff you have, imagine what can be achieved with more investment and focus from the business.
It’s worth noting that we rarely work within ideal scenarios 100% of the time. Budgets are cut, people are busy, customers say no; but if you are clear about your overall strategy and direction, these issues are rarely insurmountable.
What do you see as your challenge here?
I look forward to your comments, and look out for the next blog in the series – coming to you soon.
This week we have a guest blog from Sarah Lafferty, director at Round Earth Consulting – Sarah is one of my favourite people – she really knows how to cut right to the point and get results!
Persona based PR – just common sense?
I’ve worked in PR for 22 years now and have always held that Marketing, PR and Sales functions in many companies need to work together more closely towards shared goals, even if it means killing a few sacred cows (I promised Charlotte no horse meat jokes). The closest most companies come to this is sharing so called ‘best practices’. Call me a child, but like, isn’t that the whole point of forming a company in the first place?
Anyway. A trendy new best practice has cropped up called ‘persona-based marketing’ that I would like to rebrand ‘common sense’ or as my people say, ‘motherhood and apple pie’. The idea is that you get to understand the different types of people to whom you flog your goods and services (ideally by actually listening to them) and then you fine tune your marketing activities so that these people trust you, identify with your offer and want to buy it. I wonder how we managed to evolve as a civilisation without having thought of this before?
So what’s the story?
And yet, in the industry I work – enterprise software – motherhood and apple pies have been off the menu since, well, pretty much the whole time. The terminology companies use to describe its ‘solutions,’ the patronising, hyperbolic and hyperactive language used to describe ‘features and benefits’ I can promise you mean absolutely nil to the vast majority of numerate, introverted, pragmatic, fire-fighting IT ‘decision makers’ who are trying to compare your ‘solutions’ to others in the market. I know this because I used to work in Centrica’s massive IT department. Incidentally, the ‘business users’ have only a marginally better clue of what you’re on about.
So call it what you like, I am thrilled that persona-based marketing is coming soon to a theatre near us and has already premiered in Leicester Square. Now, going back to ‘best practices’ and common goals, if you are a marketing executive who is also responsible for PR and has decided on a persona-based strategy, I urge you to support your PR team in this as well. Unless your PR people or agency staff have been hibernating in a cave for the last ten years and managing never to communicate with journalists and other third parties who influence your market, they have probably been trying to convince various authority figures that persona-based PR is the only way forward. Despite this, many PRs are being horsewhipped (sorry!) to meet very siloed and meaningless ‘KPIs’ like ‘sending out x number of press release’ and ‘organising x number of briefings’ when the CMO breezes through London to visit his Aunt and catch Les Mis.
So how do you do it?
Unless you happen to be Apple and launching the new iThing, persona-based PR involves packaging every piece of correspondence so that it is tailored, exclusive, newsworthy, grammatically correct, free of hype and irritating jargon (read this!) and with a concrete offer at the end. One senior business journalist I met on a course recommended that PRs should spend two hours on every major pitch and in my experience if you really want an outcome, that’s about right. It does NOT involve spamming every journalist with the same press release and a lazy introduction in the vain hope that some of it will stick. All this will do is get your PRs ‘blacklisted’ and you’ll never communicate with that influencer ever again. I’m not making this up. Or you might find an irritated journalist talking trash about you on Twitter or on their blog. Do you really want to be featured on the #PRfail hashtag?
When it comes to presenting to analysts it means understanding how they view the market and frame their research reports and adapting your material accordingly; not pushing out the same presentation to each one with the same messages and depending on them to figure out how it fits in to these. Can you imagine if salespeople took this approach with their customers?
So to summarise, here’s a cliche, for all the right reasons: PR needs to measured on outcomes not output and quality over quantity. A big part of this is freeing your PR team to do its job in a professional, persona-based way. Give them time and space to provide your influencers with highly personal service and information that can help them get their jobs done. Your reputation and market awareness won’t grow overnight, but if you stay the course with a persona-based PR approach, the benefits and outcomes will grow faster over time and require less effort.
Now where’s that apple pie? All this ranting is making me hungry!
I love stories. I was reminded a few days ago of the power of stories to communicate the benefits of technology. However sometimes I have trouble persuading clients that storytelling is the BEST way to communicate a complex, potentially boring (sorry!) message, and to persuade people to share it.
What’s my story? I was at a cloud computing conference not that long ago. Why? I love what the cloud can offer businesses, we use many cloud applications ourselves, and many of our clients offer cloud based solutions. I also find it very useful to see how new technology works in practice. Also, the opportunity to meet new people is one of the most enjoyable aspects of my job.
While I was listening to a presentation and Q&A session, I received a text. It was from our virtual answering service letting me know that someone had called asking about our services and requested a discussion. This is always music to my ears! Unfortunately the caller left their name and company, but no phone number.
I wanted to leap on the opportunity before the prospect had a chance to talk to anyone else. Marketing is a highly competitive industry so it’s very important to respond quickly. However, I was at a conference, sitting right in the front row and listening to a captivating presentation. I’d been in this situation before: out of the office, unable to log into the VPN to access my email, only being able access LinkedIn contacts through a frustrating series of logins and re-directsand having to wait to send documents until returning to the office.
Fortunately over the last few months we executed a cloud application strategy, transforming everything from our finance (Xero), to job management (workflow MAX), email (Corporate Gmail), task management (Remember the Milk, Evernote, Skitch) and document management (OpenKM). So I was curious to see whether this, along with the introduction of the new, improved LinkedIn App, would improve my ability to track down this prospect remotely.
Sure enough, within five minutes I was able to find the prospect on LinkedIn, request to be connected, send a message through the app and talk to him on the phone (after discreetly slipping out of the front row!) and firm up a meeting. Over the subsequent five minutes I fired up Gmail, LinkedIn and online search, as well as our cloud-based storage system to find and send some examples of our work. I then summarised our call in Evernote and added in a couple of to-dos to prompt me to follow up more extensively when back in the office.
I was able to manage all this from my smartphone quickly and easily. And apart from the actual call, I managed to catch most of the presentation without missing the business opportunity. So in a wholly unexpected way, this conference truly illustrated to me the power and convenience of the cloud!
Learning from the master storytellers
I hope this anecdote illustrates how powerful stories are in communicating the benefits of technology. If it has piqued your interest, I encourage you to check out this article in Harvard Business Review, which eloquently illustrates how to capture hearts and minds by using stories in business.
One of the best storytellers I have ever heard present was Allan Leighton, the man who sold Asda to WalMart for around £6.7bn. Each of his PowerPoint slides consisted of one word on a white background and brought to life by a powerful story told with energy, charisma and conviction. I have never forgotten any of the lessons he taught that day. I also went out and ordered his book from Amazon that evening.
Why not share your story in the comments or propose a guest blog?
I wish you all the best for 2013 and raise a toast to this year’s stories!
What a week, lots going on, and lots of ideas bubbling away for 2013. Met with a client yesterday who are now sponsoring a premier league football team – unusual for a B2B brand, but in this case absolutely on message. We had a lot of fun exploring ways to maximise the opportunity around upcoming events – now tell me B2B has to be boring!
As usual, we’ve been finding some useful resources for you all – this week we’ve been exploring Pinterest - you can follow me here to see for yourself. It’s great for sharing visual information such as Infographics and SO easy to use. If you sign up, be sure to install the “Pin It” toolbar, makes life a lot easier!
Some useful Infographics to help you build the business case internally!
Upcoming Ice Blue Sky events
(email me at email@example.com if you’re interested in coming along!)
January (yes, we changed it!) – tips to aim for less than 10% drop out rate at events - featuring large software company – name to follow shortly
February – Customer Referral Programmes – SO much more than case studies! Featuring Juniper Networks!
Have a great weekend everyone!
We’ve found a few more interesting B2B resources this last week, even though it’s been hectic running the QlikView Business Discovery Event which happened on October 23rd!
Just so you know, if you join our group on LinkedIn you can see these resources as we find them: Access the B2B Symposium group here!
Read these handy tips for killer call to actions, from HubSpot.
Twitter have launched some great changes, giving you some great creative options for your page – especially if you’re a business. Read this article from Social Media Examiner if you’re wanting to create more Twitter engagement!
We’ve been experimenting with Google +, still early days but there are some great tips here. Join us on Google + here!
So, there you have it – a few resources that make for interesting reading!
Upcoming Ice Blue Sky events
(email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested in coming along!)
End of November – tips to aim for less than 10% drop out rate at events
February – Customer Referral Programmes – SO much more than case studies!
OK, so it’s not rocket science – like most effective tactics, they are mostly plain common sense and attention to detail.
We all know how challenging it is to get people to come to events, and then even more challenging to turn them into leads.
I often get asked how we do it, so thought it might be useful to share a list of tips to help get you to a 10% drop out rate (same as ours).
- Keep it relevant – OK, sounds obvious doesn’t it? Focus – don’t try to be everything to everyone – focus on a group, pick something that’s really keeping them up at night, it might not always be something that you do, but hey, it will get your key prospects all in a room.
- Don’t sell – if they want to find out more about you they will, focus instead on getting them in with great content and showing how they will benefit from giving up some of their time. Sell later, marketing is for creating connections (leads), get them talking to sales in the room, don’t make it the focus of the content.
- Make it easy – make it easy to register, make it easy to get there, make it easy to park, make it easy to find, make it easy to find the room, make it easy….to do ANYTHING related to the event. It’s easy to have blinkers on and miss really obvious things that will lead delegates to say “can’t be bothered”
- Risk assess – honestly, what would you do if the power failed? If there was a car accident outside the venue (happened to us once!), if there is a transport strike, if your speaker is ill? Go to town on your run through and think about what you would do.
- Be regular - the more events you run the more you will build up a following. Simple. Publicise through all channels, don’t be lazy and just rely on email. Talk about your events ALL THE TIME, get sales involved.
- Keep in touch – don’t forget about your delegates the minute they register. It takes quite a few touch-points to remind them they are coming, what they will miss if they don’t and how they will benefit. Don’t overload them, use different channels to mix it up.
Have any to add?
What a great concept. I get invited to a lot of “new experiences” but I have to say this one truly lived up to its billing. We arrived on the second night it was open, so I was expecting a few teething troubles, but was pleasantly surprised.
We were greeted at the door by the two head chefs and had a glass of champagne in the bar area just inside the door and down some steps. The bar was modern and very Scandinavian. Lots of attention to detail created a modern, high end feel. I particularly loved the wooden walls leading to the kitchen area.
We were then led into the kitchens, we didn’t really know what to expect, we just knew there would be some cooking and some eating involved! The place is divided into 5 kitchen areas, some of which link up to accommodate multiple groups. The kitchen was beautifully modern and clean, and had a simple table setting for the 20 of us in our group. There were 4 stations set up, each for a different course. We were given an overview by the three chefs as to what each course consisted of, and how the evening would play out. We were allowed to select which course we wanted to cook, I plumped for the starters, mostly as I figured I could then enjoy the rest of the evening after serving.
As a team on each station, we divvied up the tasks for each course. I was on a vegetable garnish (which was more complicated than it sounds), for a scallop and pike perch dish. One of our team had to create mayonnaise from scratch which was probably the biggest challenge on our table. The chefs did an admirable job of moving between us all explaining what we needed to do, I had to delicately slice root veg and then cook in fish stock.
Overall we learnt some great cooking techniques, had a great time getting to know each other in a relaxed environment, with fine wines and fine food. Each team served their food to the group, and I have to say that the food rivalled that of some of the great restaurants. We all felt very proud to have created such masterpieces!
Masterchef, here I come!
Find out more here: