Live From the Summit On Customer Engagement, 2011 Edition

This is my third time attending Bill Lee’s annual summit for customer reference professionals.  This event expanded beyond reference programs to include a variety of ways to engage with customers and help drive business. You can follow the Tweet Stream at #2011SCE for live reactions. This post describes the value I see this event deliver to the B2B marketing community that worries about what customers say on their company’s behalf.

Setting aside popular social media definitions for a second, this group truly embodies a cohesive, thriving community. Looking around, I recognize a many attendees from prior events. The key theme, using customer engagement to expand the value delivered to customers, remains current and persistent. Bill recalls a conversation with CIO of Cardinal, Patty Morrison, that defines why customers, particularly those in the C-suite, care about how they engage with vendors.  Unlike the common belief that customers references are difficult to acquire and maintain, Patty said that she wants to engage. But, in return, she wants value from that engagement.  As marketers, we achieve this by helping customers like Patty to:

1) Improve how you (as a vendor) deliver service to me (as a client).

2) Measure my participation and report on the value this activity delivers to your firm.

3) Engage me in developing best practices together.

4) Make it easy for me to partner with you and drive business together.

5) Give me new, simple, or different ways to engage in marketing with you.

6) Present new opportunities for me to engage with my peers.

Companies represented in this room, including Saleforce.com, Hitachi Data Systems, Infor, Citrix, Cisco, HP, Microsoft, SAP, Siemens, Intel, and many more, do this — with varying degrees of success — through formal reference programs, social media, online community destinations, events, advisory boards, user groups, customer media (case studies, videos, testimonials, etc.), and knowledge centers. This last approach is interesting because it begins to cross the line between customer engagement and customer support/service.

Why does an event like this attract over 180 participants, and about a dozen sponsors, during these times? By speaking to the key issues that business executives worry about.  Need proof? The IBM Global Survey of 1500 CEOs showed that “reinventing the customer relationship” is one of the top 3 issues concerning top executives.  CEOs know that social media gives buyers more control over the message and dialogue, and company leaders need more advocates to help spread the good word in burgeoning social channels where buyers turn.  CEOs also see great value when their teams involve customers in product development, marketing, and support functions to spur new levels of innovation and to get better intelligence on what the market wants and needs.

Here are the highlights of best practices shared today:

Tom Wong, VP of Customer Mojo, at Salesforce.com shared how the Dreamforce team created an app that engaged over 14K attendees and helped them to network by “matchmaking” their interests with other conference participants.

Asim Zaheer, VP WW Corporate and Product Marketing for Hitachi Data Systems showed how Hitachi blends new social channels, social monitoring, and virtual events into the myriad of traditional customer engagement programs they support. He summarized with advice that reference programs should focus on finding value for customers in participating, simplifying your messages, providing more flexibility for customers to participate in different ways, and moving the sales process along.

Surprise!  Bill collared me to join Leif Pedersen (VP Marketing, Siemens Industry Automation) and Salim Ali (Global VP, Marketing, SAP) on a panel discussion on what customer reference managers should do to become more engagement focused.

Jeanette Gibson, Director of Social Media Marketing at Cisco, shared the enormously rich set of social activities that Cisco uses to engage their customers around user events (physical and virtual), communities, and integrated media/PR.  Cisco enjoys a social-savvy audience, social corporate culture, and a few key executives who are social natives.

Karen Newman, Marketing Director, Global Customer Advocacy, Siemens shared real-life, tactical, practical experience around managing a reference program at a 500K employee company with over $100B in revenue. Challenges with getting sales and executives to support reference/engagement programs was the hot topic.

There’s more to come tomorrow, so I hope you will join in the conversation. #2011SCE

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