Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Very Influential Asset™ Part I Introducing the Concept

Customer relationship and reference programs have always been challenged with maximizing the contribution of our key client assets on budgets that seem constantly at-risk, with sporadic executive support, wide variance in effective technology, and a confusing array of measurement and success metrics. For the last seven years, I have had the pleasure of working with clients who are at wildly different stages in the maturity of their customer reference programs. Although our answers to the fundamental questions about customer "referenceability", loyalty, rewards, recruitment, etc. are very different, all customer relationship and reference professionals share the same laundry list of objectives: to identify, recruit and produce the most credible and valuable assets for their programs; to protect that collateral from overuse and fatigue; and maximize their contribution across their organizations. Wikipedia's definition of customer reference management and its focus on advocacy elucidate this common theme:

"… to improve and enhance the level of "advocacy" a set of customers displays related to a vendor's products & services. Specifically, a vendor's objective is to gain referrals and positive "word of mouth" from this advocacy…"

The broadness of this definition both as it relates to the assets that are influential in our practices and its agnosticism as it relates to the delivery of assets to various audiences. As innovative and ground-breaking as the customer reference programs with which I have had the honor of working, are, I think that the ability of customer relationship and reference technology solutions and the emergence of social media and networking as agnostic, multi-threaded customer and vendor playgrounds, demand that we take the next steps in the evaluation of our customer advocates and the content that we deliver to them. Customer reference programs have traditionally focused on very tightly controlling the communication amongst our clients and prospects. The advent of Twitter, Linkedin, etc. etc etc, as credible customer conversation forums have rendered this task nearly impossible, but somewhat paradoxically, afford us with an opportunity to identify and leverage the most influential customer participants in these communities. This thought leads me to believe that a new methodology for approaching the challenge of supporting and enhancing our customer conversations is necessary and appropriate. I have developed a concept that I believe will help tune our programs to accommodate and embrace these trends . With no further ado, I introduce the Very Influential Asset ™ or VIA ™ metaphor.

The VIA™ concept, process and methodology is designed to help customer reference and relationshp professionals target those customers, advocates, and materials that have the deepest and broadest ability to elevate and promote our brands and solutions. My definition of "asset" in this context includes any person or piece of collateral that advances our goals of educating, selling, and communicating our products or mission. By the way, although I am primarily interested in the B2B conversations, I think this concept applies to the B2C, non-profit, and even interpersonal dialogues. When we can identify and spotlight those assets that are most influential for us, our customer reference paradigm shifts from mass production of content to very specific messaging.

In previous posts to this blog, I have written about my research and exposure to the importance of identifying clients who participate in the social media and networking space and for a variety of reaosns, influence by a power of x, more prospects and observers of our brands and companies than others. Jim Watson of Razorsfish, kicked off this brainstorm for me when he spoke to the Social Media Club of Seattle and shared this thought:

"The old 'If we build it they will come' strategy is being replaced by reliance on consumer ambassadors, and finding opportunities to augment dialogue. If you have a good product and good service, even negative comments add to your credibility because they prompt other people jump to your defense."

Customer reference managers have always struggled with defending the value of collateral that they produce and present. We all believe that case studies and press releases are key ingredients in our customer reference recipes, but we have only recently begun to measure not just their effectiveness in sales cycles but their perceived value both by our internal constituencies and external recipients. Quite frankly, I think many of us are still succumbing to the belief that sheer numbers are still evidence of a successful customer reference/relationship program. Even as we have tuned our approach so that it contemplates a variety of customer experience and content, we still measure our efforts in terms of totals rather than ability to influence and contribute. We have carried this B2B myth into our participation in the social media and networking world; note the number of tools available to add followers to Twitter, as an example and the difficulty of determining which of our followers has followers of their own that meet our demographic and interest target goals.

Shifting to an emphasis on Influence, accomplishes several things:

  1. Our customer reference resources are strained. In previous white papers and posts, I have argued that social media and networking are not strategies in and of themselves, they are tools. Our customer reference programs are already constrained by budget cuts and the availability of support personnel and infrastructure, if we focus on the number of followers that we have or the amount of content that we post, we are only perpetuating this problem. Concentrating on the customer advocates and content that are most influential for us, alleviates this strain and, has an exponential power to elevate our message.
  2. We suffer from "dusty shelf" syndrome. Because we have focused on volume rather than value, a number of our customer assets are sitting on our virtual shelves, unused and unloved. By identifying what messages and individuals are most influential for our message and brand, not only can we avoid this perpetual archive, but we may very well be able to re-purpose content that up to now has not seemed relevant.
  3. $. If our analysis demonstrates that particular customer advocates and certain themes in our business case, audio/video interview, etc content are more influential than others, we will be able to allocate our shrinking budgets to the VIA ™ materials that are most compelling. As obvious as this sounds, I think that we can all "get" the value of spending the majority of our time cultivating indivudals in our customer reference programs that are better connected to their peers than others. If a survey of our sales team finds that they always use one particular busienss case and that when they use it, they close the most and largest deals, wouldn't we be inclined to produce more documetns that are similar to this most influential one?

We, as customer reference and relatinship professionals, are bombarded with statistics about our customers' participation in social media and networking (see previous posts) and the absolute truth that conversation and information sharing among our constituents is overwhelmingly more important in their decision-making process than demonstrations by our sales teams. It is clear to me that the more astutely we can identify those participants who are most influential for us in these arenas, the more finely we may tune our message and concentrate our resources. In the next several of months, I will be publishing a white paper that delineates the process steps for identifying, soliciting and promoting your Very Influential Assets™. I am looking forward to your feedback on this concept and approach!

As always, warmetst regards,


Copyright 2009, Lisa M Hoesel


  1. Great post and I look forward to reading more! I agree that the ability to identify the most influential refences and be able to leverage them appropriately will be a huge asset to the reference community. As with many things in life, it's quality not quantity!

  2. Hi Lisa,

    Excellent post. Your VIA methodology calls to mind a concept in Malcolm Gladwells "The Tipping Point", which he describes as "The Law of the Few", which essentially states that some influencers are more important than others. Identifying and leveraging those influencers at an early stage will save a lot of time and effort.


  3. As always, great stuff, Lisa. Finding those gems (VIA) is not easy but if you can it is invaluable! When do we get to see Part 2?

  4. All, Part II is in the works re identifying the Assets. It might make it to a pc/laptop screen near you before I fly to Peru on 6/19!

  5. Really enjoyed this one and makes me reflect on the hundreds of references we have, but I can think of the most commonly requested customer's on one hand