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Using Live Events To Turn Customer References Into Sales People
Bill Lee -- Expert on Customer References, Advocacy and Engagement Bill Lee -- Expert on Customer References, Advocacy and Engagement
Dallas , TX
Monday, March 22, 2010

The rapid growth of social networking is making it not only more essential, but also easier, to engage with your customers--as well as have them engage with your prospects and markets. But there's nothing like face-to-face interaction at live meetings and events. Combine those two is key to creating powerful customer communities.

Today we'll focus on the in person, up-close-and-personal interactions, with a case study. Here's how a global software firm turned it's international customer conference into a high-powered sales machine. The numbers bear this out. For years, sales resulting directly from standard pre-arranged meetings between sales people and prospects at the annual conference covered barely a fraction of the cost of the event.

Then they tried a new approach: at its next conference, the firm arranged for its customer references to meet with prospects. Sales influenced by those meetings covered 100% of the event costs within the first month after the event.

Here's some lessons learned from the firm's new approach:

- Start by performing triage. Before the event, the EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) customer reference manager worked with sales and account managers in the field offices to collect and qualify requests by prospects for meetings with their customers. Like doctors performing triage in a field hospital to determine those patients who are most in need and most likely to benefit from treatment, the manager and sales people pursued those prospects and customers most susceptible to influence during the event. Then they ask, "What can we do to make the time these customers spend at the conference as rewarding as possible for them?"

- Organize for customers. "We make it clear that the conference is about them, not us," says the EMEA manager. "This includes business-focused presentations by other customers and a generally casual and friendly atmosphere, featuring a mixer during the event, where customers can talk openly and comfortably with each other. Some people may think it's naive of us to give customers such free reign, but we encourage it, because it enriches the experience for everyone."

- Focus presentations on business results and benefits. Many user groups turn into geekfests, with technology people discussing the finer points of coding. This company's forum has little of that. Event organizers make sure presentations focus on the business value of their company's solutions, and that they are delivered (preferably) by business decision makers.

- Play matchmaker! Before the event, the EMEA manager and her team play the role of matchmaker, working with customers and their account managers to book private, face-to-face meetings between references and prospects at the conference. This is literally where their customers serve, in a real sense, as sales people. "These are becoming increasingly popular with our customers," and it moves deals."

In such ways, the firm's global forum creates value all around, both for them AND their customers. For example:

- Faster and expanded deal flow. The EMEA manager says, "There is no question that one-on-one meetings accelerated the sales cycle for these deals, and, according to immediate feedback from the field, has led to substantial cross sales, up sales and broadened scope of projects."

- More customer references. The one-on-one meetings have the salutatory effect of prompting customers who see other customers talking about the value of their software solutions to do the same. "Why should we be reluctant to ask customers to speak out about their experience with us," says the EMEA manager, "when they're delighted to do so, if approached in the right way? Seeing other customers present their fabulous results has this effect. We are in the fortunate, if bittersweet, position of having to turn down many customers who also want to do this."

Bill Lee
Customer Reference Forum
Dallas, TX