Transcript: Taking The Long-Term Approach to Working with Customers with Amy Shever

On this episode, I was joined by Amy Shever, Senior Customer Advocacy Manager at Silver Peak. Amy really believes in approaching your customer engagements from a long-term perspective as much as possible and avoiding what she calls, “check-in-the-box exercises.” We talk about why it’s important to know if your customer is involved in other advocacy programs, how to scale your efforts by enlisting other teams to help you talk to customers, and why it’s important to keep things simple—from talking to reps to spreading internal awareness. Without further ado, here’s my conversation with Amy. 

Margot Leong: Amy, I am thrilled to have you on Beating The Drum. Thank you for joining us this morning. 

Amy Shever: Well, thanks so much for having me. I love talking about customer references. As you know, I’m a little bit obsessed with references and have been doing these for awhile. This is a great topic. I really appreciate you inviting me to participate. 

Margot Leong: Yeah, of course. I mean, the love and the passion is just evident, you know, every time I’ve talked to you. So I think this is going to be a really fun conversation. Can you start off by telling us a little bit about your background and just give us a sense of your experience in this customer marketing and advocacy space.

Amy Shever: Absolutely. So I’ve been in the high tech industry for over 20 years and I’ve done a little bit of sales training and different types of marketing roles. And even before there was such a thing as customer references or the term customer references, I was helping find customers for different opportunities. So back when print ads were sexy and cool, we would find customers, we could get their photos and quotes and put them in print ads. Just getting quotes for press releases, all kinds of different things. 

And what I’ve learned over time that it’s great to find customers for these different opportunities. Obviously, having a customer share that proof point is so powerful. But what I’ve learned is that you can’t approach this as a check in the box exercise and, you know, 20 years ago, I think a lot of us were doing those things. It’s like, Oh, we have this great print out opportunity. Or we have this press release that we need quotes for, or, you know, we have a presentation where we need a customer speaker. And over time, I’ve figured out that you really have to look at this strategically. And what that means is, as you have a great customer champion, understanding what types of opportunities would that customer benefit from, would be most interested in, and would also be a great benefit for the company.

As an example, we’ve got customers who have done case studies with us and we’ve turned those case studies into other types of opportunities, whether it’s showcasing them for an industry award or for a video or inviting them to speak at an event. But again, it really goes back to understanding who that customer is and really what makes them tick.

The other piece to that, besides being strategic, is it can be really difficult to secure a great reference. So the goal should be having that customer for life as a great reference, which also means making sure that they’re getting value out of participating in the different reference activities, not burning them out on too many reference activities, and also figuring out what makes sense over time.

As an example, we had a great customer who we lined up to do a sales kickoff event, which was kind of a safe thing because it wasn’t a public event. But he got so much out of that and everybody treated him so well and he made all these great connections, that he was really interested in exploring what other types of opportunities we could invite him to do. And, you know, for several years, he was basically ready and willing and we contacted him because he knew we were going to take great care of him. And we knew that we were going to make sure that there was something in it for him, whether it was promoting him as a leader in the industry or promoting his brand and his company as a thought leader.

 Margot Leong: Another question that I had there, Amy was, you know, you mentioned, right, maybe the more earlier way of thinking about this was, we have opportunities, it’s a bit reactive and then we find customers for these opportunities.  And really what you’re talking about is cultivating champions for life, right. And making sure that it’s a true win-win, they’re getting a lot of value out of participating, and you’re also protecting them, right. You’re an advocate for your own customers, your own advocates, by not burning them out on too many reference activities. Right. Again, thinking about it in a very long term context. 

And so I’m curious about, right, how do you then approach that conversation with a potential champion? Right? How do you frame that essentially? So that it is something that’s not just a one-off opportunity, but something very long-term and they understand what the potential benefits could be.

Amy Shever: So I think part of that process is collecting background information, whether it be from the sales team – I find that sales engineers that have had long-term relationships with customers, they tend to be like the best knowledge source, because they’ve been working with these customers and building relationships with them. A customer success team, might also have some great information to share, but just digging around on their website, looking at their press releases, looking at the activities that they’re engaged in.

Do they have product launches coming up? What makes that customer tick and being prepared to have that initial conversation with the customer to make sure that you’re all on the same page. What is important to them? You know, are you talking to a CISO or a CIO who’s really, their number one priority is getting some publicity around their role and what they’re doing at their company. Or is it a team of people at a company that’s really interested in promoting their project? Sometimes it’s a matter of the customer really wants to have an outside group, like your company, document their success story so that they can then share that internally with their leadership team to justify another investment in technology.

So it’s worth doing your homework before you even have that initial conversation with the customer. And then once you do have that conversation and you can figure out, you know, what makes sense to invite that customer to participate in, again, making sure that they’re receiving value out of what that activity is. Of course, making sure that it promotes your company as well. I think that’s what really makes it cohesive. 

So when it comes to working to secure a customer for a long-term reference relationship, you know, the fact is, is that the higher level the customer is, the harder it is to get on their calendars. And, you know, I’ve talked to CISOs before where, you know, just getting a meeting with them to speak, to, do a podcast or be in a media interview, sometimes their calendars are booked three, four months out. So having that perception on what’s going to happen, what are the important things you want to make sure that customer has on his radar or her radar?

And, you know, making sure that they’re excited about these opportunities, because if they’re like, eh, that’s not really my cup of tea, then it’s important to make sure that’s on your radar to locate other types of things that they are going to get excited about and that they are going to get value out of participating.

As an example, I worked with a customer who was in the financial industry and, their company had an 800 million dollar security breach. And my company was really interested in trying to figure out a way to engage them as a public reference. Of course we don’t want to do anything that’s gonna make them feel uncomfortable. The security breach was incredibly sensitive, so I was kind of looking for different types of opportunities where again, the customer would get excited about participating, but would not feel like he would be sharing information that would be uncomfortable to share.

So, it was kind of an interesting first call. I had a call with him and his PR team just to kind of feel out the situation, what they’re interested in. And we talked a little bit about some different types of awards opportunities that were specific to security and all of these activities did not require a product testimonial. They didn’t require too much information about the security operations. They certainly didn’t require any information about the security breach. So the customer felt comfortable participating in these. And we ended up within a two month period, having this customer recognized as the top CISO in the country and also the top project leader in the country.

Following that, you know, I felt more comfortable having conversations about, well, you know, I understand that you don’t want to talk about your security breach, but how if we positioned it as you know, you’re investing in all these different technologies and you’re investing in people to make sure that this security breach never happens again. So what if we took that angle into trying to identify the right types of opportunities to tell your story, to make sure that your customers and your partners, they know that you’re doing all these things to make sure that they’re never going to have to hear “security breach” again. 

And what was really interesting was within six months, this same customer who was, very nervous about doing anything that mentioned security breach, was onstage at our user’s conference as their keynote talking about the security breach. And again, talking about all of the different things that they’re now doing to prevent that from ever happening again. So, you know, sometimes it’s just about easing into that relationship and making sure that customer feels confident that you understand what their limitations are.

Listening is so important and making sure they know that you hear what their concerns are, what they think is most interesting and most valuable. And sometimes that might mean, you know, the customer’s interested in providing some feedback about the product or providing some input that would help other teams that, you know, are part of my company, and showing that customer that you take that information and that you’re following up on those things and you introduce them to the right thing.

That’s also a big win when it comes to working with references. It’s not just about the case studies and the speaking events and the videos. ll of those things help build that long-term relationship. So that you have a customer who, you know, even if you haven’t talked to them in three months or six months, you can pick up the phone and say, Hey, how’s it going? I just want to let you know that there’s a couple of things coming up that you might be interested in. I just wanted to make sure that these get on your calendar. 

So, you know, having those conversations and making sure that these customers know that you’re thinking about them and that you’re doing what you can to make it a beneficial experience for them is super important.

Margot Leong: Yep, absolutely. At the core of it, right, it’s not just the idea of advocacy as asking our customers to do things for us. It’s also that we are advocating for our customers. A question I had there too, as a follow-up is, around the idea of, you know, making a reference program formal vs. informal. 

Amy Shever: Yeah, that’s a great question. And I’ll tell you just, I’ve learned from experience that, you know, before you invite a customer to participate on a customer advisory board, or before you invite that customer to participate in a executive sponsor program, it’s a great idea to figure out what other CABs is that customer participating in?

I think there’s a statistic. I had read where for every CISO , they may have been invited that year to 11 different CAB groups.  So yeah. I mean, like security is hot and you know, everybody wants a piece of these CISOs to participate and, you know, name recognition and to provide input. So those are some things to seriously take into consideration. I’m not really a big fan of a formal executive sponsor program, for example. I would much rather not have that customer know that we’re enrolling you in another program. Instead we have an executive who, you know, would like to just build a relationship with you, have a conversation every two or three months. 

And internally, we know we have a program. And internally we have a process where we, prime that executive to speak to that customer every two or three months. And we suggest talking points and we suggest topics that that customer might be interested in, but that customer never has to know that they’re part of a program. But in the end, they’ll benefit from having that connection with the leadership team.

And if they do have an issue and for example, they can’t reach out to an account manager. They have that relationship with that leadership team member to help them. And it works both ways because, right. Other than the reference team, being that contact saying, Hey, we’ve got this Network World article, and we’d really like you to be interviewed. That leadership team member who’s been here building this relationship with that customer can be the one that takes that information, shares it with the customer, because that holds so much more weight. So that’s just one perspective on internal programs versus formal programs. 

 The other piece to it too, is customer rewards programs. I mean, there’s a million different types out there. There are some programs that offer rewards, which is great, but they do require a lot of resources to keep track of all the points and issue gifts and all of those things. And when it comes down to it, customers may not really remember these points and these gifts. In the end, what a customer’s going to remember is what value did they get from being a reference for your program? Did they have networking opportunities? Did they have the leadership connections? Did they have opportunities to provide input to the product roadmap? 

So those are some things to consider, but I can say from having hands-on experience with some of these customer programs that I would steer clear and run as fast as you can if somebody says, Hey, let’s do a points program, because again, it’s going to suck up a lot of resources and time to try to manage that. And in the end, there may not be the results that you’re looking for. 

Margot Leong: Yeah, I think it really depends on how you approach it. You know, it’s really interesting to think about how the idea around customer relationships have evolved over time with advocacy and, you know, essentially we have all of these great tools that can help us, but at the end of the day, right, the thing that matters the most is, how are you taking care of the customer? What is in it for the customer? You’re always thinking about what is the value that you can provide. And I think that’s just the core of any really human relationship, right? It’s a mutual exchange of ideas, a mutual exchange of value. 

And so I think we have to be careful about not getting caught up in one tool or piece of software is like, is the answer. Right? And I think that, you know, I’ve actually had the opportunity to launch Influitive, for example, at a few different companies. And when people ask me, I do something like this, I basically tell them something very similar to what you said, which is, it’s a lot of resources that are involved with doing something like this. And it could be a full-time job just to run a points program. 

So you have to know what success looks like. And it’s really interesting because there’s, you know, the gamified aspect of it. And some people really respond well to that. But I think that knowing that there are people that are not going to be as open to doing something like this, but also providing opportunities to connect with them because they’re just as important as people who do like the gamification. Right? I think it’s, it’s a really good point just to be aware that there are all these different ways to connect with your champions and advocates. It’s not one size fits all for any program, but to your point, right, there are core tenets that the customer will remember around the value that they’re getting, which is separate, oftentimes from the specific rewards and points and whatnot, right? 

Amy Shever: Oh, absolutely. And you know, I have seen programs that work with much larger companies where they have teams of people that, you know, some people are dedicated to sales references, and some people are dedicated to marketing references. I know for a fact that there are companies now that have full time people that their number one goal is to secure customers for online reviews, which, this wasn’t something we did 10 years ago. I mean, that’s all brand new. 

And so for every one of us who’s involved in references now, we’re all involved at some point in online reviews. And so that takes a chunk of your time as well. There was something about online reviews that I jotted a note down. I’m trying to find it real quick. Oh, here we go. 84% of customers look at online reviews before even talking to a sales rep and that’s actually an Influitive quote.

So I’m sure that they’ve done their homework to figure out how impactful these online reviews are. And as you know, there’s at least five or six online review vendors now that are contacting reference managers every week, trying to get their business with that goal in mind to, you know, have these online reviews published, which impact somebody’s decision, whether or not they’re going to invest in your technology or not.

So the world has definitely changed and there’s a lot of different ways that the company and groups outside the company are reaching for your time and your resources to make these reference programs work. Before you decide on adding another, you know, a points program or even informal executive sponsorship program, I think it’s really important to understand what the goals are of the company, what actually has to be achieved on a day to day basis and figure out if you can be successful or not. Some people are really good at making 10 things super successful and some can only handle five. So I think it’s, you know, again, critical to figure out what is it that’s most important and that’s going to make the most impact. 

Margot Leong: Yeah, I think that’s a great point. You know, usually, unless you’re at a really massive company, customer advocacy, you know, it’s a pretty lean lean team. And I always wonder, right, how many customers is enough? If there’s a constant yearning for more and more higher percentages of output every single quarter, are we really being strategic about the relationships that we’re building? Are we going after the right champions? Are we thinking about how to align these to our goals? And so I was wondering, right, how do you make that strategic choice? 

Amy Shever: Yeah. One of the important things is just, you know, I’ve been fortunate enough to stay in some roles for a fairly long time. I was with a security role for eight years, which was great because it’s, you know, it takes time to develop relationships, especially with security customers and get you to trust them, get them to trust you. And it could take twice as long to get a case study or, or podcast or a video approved through a security customer because they typically have to go through their legal departments and their marketing departments and so forth.

But having started with some smaller organizations and helping them launch their programs, the first thing I do right off the box is, you know, a week of just interviewing internal stakeholders. You know, what campaign do they have coming up? What types of marketing launches do they have coming up? As an example, the current company I worked for was going to be at a retail conference. I had about four months to plan for that. So having that knowledge about what’s coming up, what the expectations are, you know, is so important. 

And the one thing I will say is, nothing is impossible. Even if there’s a product launch that is coming up, that you know, well in advance, but we don’t have customers actually using the product. There are ways to look at customers that are, for example, are in beta and work with them to just collect forward-thinking statements that can go into a press release, for example. 

So there’s ways to maneuver through, especially some of these smaller organizations that may have a difficult time getting public references right off the bat. But it’s again, going back to internal evaluations, internal interviews. Understanding what people are working on that are going to require customers to participate in and then figuring out how to make that all work. Not everyone has the luxury of lots and lots of thousands of customers to work with. So it’s important to try to figure out where you can place your customers into these right opportunities, but at the same time, you know, looking at it strategically, looking at it as making sure that this customer is going to be a long-term relationship. And again, making sure that there is something valuable for that customer to get from that experience. 

Margot Leong:  I can imagine that longevity at a company, you know, as you said, at one company, you were there for eight years, you start to like know, right, every single quarter or when all the events are coming up. So I’m sure every year, you have developed that sort of long-term experience to be able to start preparing earlier and earlier, and then also leverage some of those long-term relationships. 

Amy Shever: Oh yeah, you hit the nail on the head. I mean, for a lot of companies, they know when Gartner MQ season’s coming up, a lot of high tech companies are now part of the MQ process. So I always suggest don’t wait a month before that’s going to happen. Look for possible customer candidates all year long. You know, the same goes for if there’s a, one time per a year, that they were going to have a customer milestone, press release, don’t wait for three or four weeks before that’s going to launch to start looking for customers that can provide quotes or can agree to participate and be featured in that press release.  

So that, you know, when it comes down to it, it’s not a rush job because that’s embarrassing when you’re going to a customer and say, Hey, I get a decision tomorrow. Now on the flip side, I do prime customers about things like media opportunities as an example. And I’ll tell them, I say, you know, we’d love to consider you for PR and media opportunities, but I will let you know that many types of situations, I’ll get a call from the journalist and they’ll say, we need to interview a customer tomorrow. I let these customers know that this could happen. And is this something that, if it comes up, can we contact you? But as you know, media opportunities are really great opportunities for both the customer and for the company. So that’s basically how that works. 

For the other types of programs and events and press releases, I mean, the more time you can prepare to make those happen, the better. A lot of companies now have user conferences and I’ve been in a position where my task was to get 50 speakers that are customers to present a user’s conference. That can’t happen in three or four weeks. I mean you have to start planning for that way in advance. Because again, a lot of customers, even though they’re really gung-ho and they want to do this. They have to get the internal approvals on their part to do so.

Margot Leong: Yeah. And, you know, I think it’s, you’re protecting the customer, but you’re also sort of protecting your own brand in terms of the experience, right. I think it’s such a bad look to,  you know, know about something last minute and then have to go rushing to your customers for it.

Amy Shever: I mean, we’ve all had to do that, but it’s definitely, you know, it’s not a situation you typically want to be in. 

Margot Leong: So let’s say that you have a product launch coming up and you need to source a customer for a quote that you haven’t ever worked with before, but you know, maybe they’re in beta, right? So I’m curious about, when you get on the phone with the customer, how you approach that conversation, and then how you frame that, like what language you use to also see if, what sort of longterm opportunities they’re open to. I think that would be really interesting.

Amy Shever: Well, in an ideal world, you’re working with the product team and the account team at the very beginning of the process. So as they are lining up customers for the beta, they’re also equipped with the language to talk to these customers at the very beginning to see if they’d be willing to participate in external marketing opportunities, such as providing a quote when the beta is completed. You know, if that happens, then for the customer reference manager, it just makes their jobs so much easier. So when it comes down to the time where, you know, we have some suggested quotes, or can we contact some of the customers that are part of the program, we know which customers have already received the pitch and have already agreed to participate. 

 So, you know, one of the things I recommend is having regular conversations with the PR team and just making sure that they’re on board and you’re working together as a team to approach every product launch, approach every campaign, approach every big press announcement, so that, you know, when you have the luxury of having lots of time to prepare, then you do it right. And there’s no rush job and you’ve got great customers who also don’t feel rushed at the same time. 

Margot Leong: Yeah, absolutely. And I love this idea that you’re also training the product managers, and sales, accounts, whomever, to also have these conversations, basically acting as your proxy. And you’re sort of scaling that out because it sounds like you don’t have to be on every single initial call with the customer to just, you know, say for five minutes, Hey, you know, I’m Amy . I’m on this team. And by the way, like, can you also, would you also to be open to this? So it sounds like you really recommend actually working with, say, PMs to have them include this language, right? 

Amy Shever: Oh yeah. And the other thing too that people know me for is I really push for explaining the value to that customer. Again, you know, you don’t want to approach references as a check in the box exercise. And a lot of account managers will offer discounts to a customer, if they agree during the deal to be a reference customer or to sign up, to do a case study. And I always explain to them, you know, that’s not a good process. A lot of times that’s going to backfire because you don’t have the PR team’s approval or you don’t have the legal team’s approval. You have this really excited customer who, yeah,  is ready to purchase the product and sign on the dotted line, but they may not necessarily have the authorization to approve of being a public reference. 

So when, when account managers say, well, you know, what do I say to them? I sa talk to them about the value of being a reference. Talk to them about things like, yeah, we’ve got these great technical advisory boards, and once you become a customer, you have the opportunity to network with these other accounts. You have the opportunity to provide input into the product roadmap. I mean, there’s different ways to talk to the customer about the value of being a reference and being an important part of the company and an important partner. But the same for PR and the same for the product team, the field marketing team, anybody who’s talking to a customer, I always want to make sure that they understand how to explain, okay, here’s what we really would like to invite you to do. And here’s why it’s going to benefit you or your company, or, you know, those types of things. I think that’s a really critical piece to this. 

Margot Leong: Just to get a little bit more tactical for a moment, I would love to hear how you even train different teams or educate different teams to adopt this. I think that’s something that a lot of customer advocacy people struggle with. 

Amy Shever: You know, I think it’s just a matter of getting on their calendars and just giving them a regular update. For the PR team, you know, I’ll ask for 10 or 15 minutes and I’ll run through, here’s all the exciting new customers we have, and here’s what they’re doing. And here’s when this case study is going to be published or here’s when this video is going to be published and the same for field marketing. I’m actually, I speak to our field marketing team probably once a quarter and talking about things like Gartner MQ and case studies. 

I was able to work with one of the field marketers who did a quick survey at a regional event, and from that survey, we included some questions, very brief questions about reference opportunities. And from just having her survey those 20 or 30 people who were at the regional event, we had three case study candidates and 10 Gartner candidates come from just that quick survey. But none of that would have happened if I didn’t just proactively make sure that they were, informed of what was happening on the reference front and that it was top of mind. So as they’re out talking to customers, they can say, Oh wow, that customer really likes what we’re doing. Let’s see if we can find a great opportunity to invite them to participate in. It’s a team sport. Reference managers who think they can just do this all on their own will probably fail because you really do have to get buy in and cooperation from all the internal stakeholders, especially the leadership team. 

And I think, you know, it really does a company good to have a leadership team who’s really excited about references and wants to promote the quotes and promote the case studies. And seeing that happen is really exciting. 

Margot Leong: Yeah, I completely agree. As we talked about, we’re a lean team typically and you know, we cannot be everywhere at all times. And there’s also just so many teams that have a lot of exposure to the customer that we may not necessarily have. So it’s a natural fit to just always think about how do you prime people to have these conversations? 

You know, definitely easier said than done, but, for example, priming the product team, that makes sense because, you know, they’re looking for customers for betas, right? They’re looking for customers that will, you know, talk about the product launch, right. It looks good for them. 

How do you talk to field? Like, you know, obviously there’s a lot of value in field going out and recruiting customers for us, but how do you frame the value to field for them helping you out with that.

Amy Shever: Well, I mean, you can’t have a successful reference program without having a strong partnership with the sales team. And, you know, I just did a call last week just to give everybody an update. And I talked about our Gartner MQ program. I talked about the recent case studies, the case study process. 

And one of the things that I think is super important is to keep it simple. And so that they understand you’re not going to require a lot of their time. You’re not going to require a lot of the customer’s time. But what they get in the end is these great proof points to help them in the field. So as one example, if I’ve got slide deck arranged by industry, and so if an account manager is going to talk to a healthcare customer, for example, they can pull the healthcare slides or pull the ones that are most relevant. They can easily pull the approved customer quotes from healthcare customers, plug those into their own presentations, send them links to healthcare customers on video or healthcare customer case studies. 

But if you can make it easy and they understand that what they’re getting from this is going to help them close that deal, that’s where it all matters. Now, some companies they say, well, we want to see how the actual metrics behind references and that’s tough. I mean, I really believe that references influence sales, but I don’t necessarily think that you can actually say, Oh yeah, this deal closed because we provided them with this healthcare reference.

 I mean, that’s a little bit tricky, but having the sales team on board and regularly communicate with them. One of the things that I focus on again is making sure that you respect their time. So if I do set up a call with an account manager, it’s 15 minutes, it’s very rarely do I need more than 15 minutes, because I know that they’re super busy. I know that they’re working to close deals and that requires a lot of time and a lot of energy. And I think that once you develop those relationships and they know that you’re on their side, do they feel comfortable handing you their customers and not being involved? I mean, that’s a statement in itself.

Margot Leong: Yeah, absolutely. And you know, there’s so much that you need to do on the backend, right. To even get that, machine, that sort of factory rolling around all these different teams, getting their buy-in, right. Constantly meeting with them. And then, you know, you start getting more and more customers sort of coming in organically, right?

Amy Shever: Right, well you do have to proactively promote what’s happening. I send out an email to the entire company every Friday with a different quote. And that quote goes back to a link, which is a case study, a video, a podcast, an article, a blog post. But I see people taking these quotes and they’re putting them all over social, which is amazing. And so I know people are reading them. I know people are getting excited about them. And I also know that, when I look at the metrics behind what people are seeing and what people are viewing on social, it’s not necessarily the 45 minute podcast or the case study, but a lot of people just like to see these quotes and, you know, it takes two seconds to read the quote and if they’re really impactful, that makes a big difference.

Margot Leong: Yeah. And it’s really good. I think for internal morale, to be honest, right. The more that people in different departments can get a bit more connected to customers, I think that just is exciting. You know, I noticed there’s definitely a theme here around simplicity. So sort of keeping it simple. It sounds like this email that you send out, is it just one, basically one story that you’re highlighting one quote or is it –

Amy Shever: It’s one quote. I think my character limit is 50. But you’d be surprised I’ve worked with our creative team to, develop these nice colorful banners with the quotes that we use on social. But for a lot of times, you know, we’ve got account managers, who’ll just take that quote off of the email and just plug it into social the way it is. It’s exciting to see those things happen because I know that people are enthusiastic about the quotes and what we’re producing for them to share outside of the company.

Margot Leong: Yeah. I think there’s a lot of power in actually distilling down to one thing, because I’m sure there’s much more than one story that, you know, that you’re producing at any one time and that’s final to share, but it sounds like you’re very intentional about just choosing one quote, which captures their attention. 

Amy Shever: So a lot of times it’s based on whatever’s new. So if we just did a new case study, then that quote comes from that new case study with the link. If it’s a brand new podcast, then that’s the way to get people to click on the link and see something that’s brand new. Now having said that, I don’t necessarily have something new every single week, but, you know, we do have a lot of great content that’s current. And that can be refreshed over time. Especially with the larger recognizable name customers, I find that one quote doesn’t necessarily cut it. I mean, people are so excited about that customer that you have to go back four, six weeks later. Do another quote, you know, feature the case study.

Margot Leong: Um, I know that you’ve worked within the security space for about eight years, and I think it’d be really interesting to learn more about the nuances of different personas,  uh and what it’s like to work with them. As you mentioned, right, security can be pretty tricky and probably a bit challenging for obvious reasons. First off, talk to me about, what you’ve noticed about working with the security persona over the years, and what are some of the titles that you’ve worked with? 

Amy Shever: So, yeah, I think security is definitely its own animal. If anybody’s going to be successful working with customers on references in the security space, they have to be incredibly patient. So, I mean, it could be where you work with a customer, you complete a case study, it goes through all the reviews. You have a nice polished case study, ready to publish in a matter of a month or two. And then the customer’s legal and PR team get involved and it could take six months. It could take longer than that, just for that case study to go through that review process and the approval process. 

So one of the things that I found is that providing additional information about how you’re going to promote that case study or that podcast or the video. What are the demographics of the people that are going to see that? How is it going to impact the company’s brand? How is it going to showcase that customer as a leader in the industry? The more of those types of things that you can share during that review and approval process, the better chances you’ll have of getting that approved.

And of course, if the legal and PR team says, Oh, we can’t talk about this, then you strike it out and you make sure that they know that anything that they don’t want to share publicly, you know, you take care of that immediately. And I’ve had one or two case studies where six months after it’s been published and put on our website, somebody in the legal team takes a look at it and they might want another change. And you just have to be prepared for those types of things to happen. 

Because again with security, I mean, you’re not going to get a majority of your accounts that are willing to share details about their security operations with the entire world. It just doesn’t happen that way. So again, the more buttoned up and polished you can be upfront, the better chances you have of getting that customer to participate as a public reference. 

Margot Leong: I love that idea where you’re talking about providing the additional information about how you’re going to promote that story. So demographics, impact, how it’s going to showcase the customer within the industry. What are some examples of basically, what you pull internally to showcase that as evidence. So is it like views on the website, views on the blog? How do you think about that?

Amy Shever: Well, you know, I found that customers are not necessarily that excited about those types of metrics, but they are excited about, as an example, if you’re going to invite them to participate in an interview with Network World, and you show them the demographics of Network World and all the exposure they’re going to get, and you provide them with a description of the journalist and examples of the articles that journalist has published that are relevant to that customer.

You know, all of those things make a big difference, and again, it is extra work and it does require extra time, but, again, I find that having those details where the customer and possibly their PR team or their legal team say, wow, this would be a really great opportunity for us for all these different reasons. Those details are what makes it matter. 

Margot Leong: Yeah, absolutely. And how early within the process, do you typically get involved with the PR, comms legal teams? 

Amy Shever: Well, that’s an ongoing process. Sometimes it’s at the very beginning and I never start, for example, with a case study or video without the authorization language. With videos, it’s the authorization language, plus the video depiction release. And even if a customer says, yeah, I really want to do this. This sounds so amazing. I can’t wait. You know, it’s really important to make sure that the right people on their team review that and approve it. And I think everybody who’s been in references has probably been down the path where you get the case study approved or the video approved. And then somebody on the legal team never saw the authorization form, or they weren’t involved. 

And so it just stops or you have to convert it to doing something anonymously, which is never fun. So the more you can do that upfront, making sure that the right people review it and approve it, makes the process much more effective.

Margot Leong: Yep, absolutely, that makes sense. And you mentioned something a little bit earlier, which is around the long-term nature of some of these relationships. I can imagine that with some of your customers, you have very, very deep relationships where, you know, they’re, they’re basically friends. I’m curious about how you approach basically keeping up these engagements sort of ongoing with customers. 

Amy Shever:  Yeah. I mean, it depends on the customer. I mean, some customers are so busy that sometimes it’s just better just to kind of leave them alone until you have that great opportunity. But at the same time, as you mentioned, you know, they’re people too. So the more conversation you can have with them, the more you get to know them, you know, get on their LinkedIn profiles, figure out what they’ve done in the past. Figure out what their interests are. 

I mean, we had one customer, where when we went out on the road and we did different things and he was participating, we found out he liked sweet tea and so we had a sweet tea station in his hotel room anytime he was on the road with us. 

Margot Leong: Oh my gosh. I love that. 

Amy Shever: And I mean, it just really made a big difference. I mean, it was nothing on our part. I mean, obviously it didn’t cost very much. We also, that same customer, he also liked a certain kind of Blackberry wine. And so at Thanksgiving, I sent him a case. And those are the types of things where I’m not rewarding him for anything. I’m just letting him know that, Hey, you know, you’re a great guy, we appreciate your being a public reference with us. And those are the types of things that I think really solidify and continue those relationships. Just remembering things that they’ve talked to you about, whether it’s, you know, a favorite football team or their kids in college. I think it’s an important part of building a relationship. 

Margot Leong: Yep, exactly. It’s the active listening piece, right? You’re not only sort of passively consuming, but, you’re making these notes and a lot of times, people, they even forget that they tell you things and then once you sort of remind them through, you know, some of these actions you mentioned, it makes such an impact, right. They realize that – 

Amy Shever: You know, the other thing that’s really easy to do is follow them on LinkedIn. And see what they’re talking about. I’ve got one customer who wrote this really interesting blog about the challenges that they’ve overcome during COVID. And so I promoted that, you know, I tagged him on the information that I was sharing. And he was really kind of taken aback that I was promoting something outside of what we were working on together, that I was promoting him as a person and some of the cool things that, he put into this blog that I thought were really impressive. And the more you can do little things like that that obviously don’t require a lot of time. Again, that goes back to having those great, positive, long-term relationships with customers. 

Margot Leong: Yeah, exactly. I mean, you’re basically removing that sort of line between you as a representative of the company and you just being a friend. And I think it’s really important. 

Amy Shever: A lot of us are remote and we don’t have that face to face relationship opportunity. You know, keeping top of mind, making sure that these customers know that they’re important, that they mean something to you. Even if it’s as simple as promoting what they’re posting on LinkedIn, it makes that difference. 

Margot Leong: Have you found a difference at all in terms of how you’re engaging with customers during this time, this sort of new normal with COVID – has that changed your approach or tactics at all? 

Amy Shever: The one thing that I have changed is trying to find those customers who are doing something different and unique. Maybe it has nothing to do with technology. Maybe it has something to do with the impact they’re making in their community or the impact their products are making in their country. One of our customers is in the pharmacy industry in India, and they got involved with N95 masks and they were doing some really interesting things, helping the community and making sure people were able to get their medication. And kind of focusing on those types of stories or making sure that you’re incorporating that information when you’re showcasing your customers , I think makes it relevant and interesting and also makes the story more current. 

Margot Leong: That makes a lot of sense. Going back to the security industry for a moment, you know, because security can be weary of writing too many specifics about their operations, how do you think about that from a storytelling standpoint? 

Amy Shever: I think it’s a matter of trying to identify, again, what’s unique about their story and what business challenges they’re trying to overcome. There are ways to document story without giving out too much information about the security operations. 

 As an example, talking about security analysts, this is a hot topic with CISOs, you know, how many times they have to hire people throughout the year and the amazing turnover that’s involved in the internal team. And focusing sometimes on that aspect of their success story, on maybe how our technology is easy to use, so it’s easy to train these new analysts that come through their system every 12 months. But again, it doesn’t reveal a lot about the actual security operations, but it is interesting. And it’s also an important story to tell. So there’s different ways you can look at security without revealing too much specific information that would be sensitive to that customer.

And, you know, taking the time to look at what other security companies are doing, whether it’s your competitors, whether it’s other partners, staying on top of what the themes and the challenges are. Like I’ve mentioned, the turnover with security analysts, it’s been an ongoing issue for years and years and years.

There’s so many different players now in the security industry and trying to find out what those current, new, interesting, hot topics are in the security space and building those into your own program and asking your customers, what their perspective is on the new hot topics and the new hot trends. Because all of those things help promote and make that success story even more interesting. 

Margot Leong: Yeah, that’s really important, right? You’re not only helping to make that story more interesting. By virtue of the fact that you are staying on top of this, you’re continually showcasing to this customer, you know, your stuff, right? Like you are aware of what’s going on. You are not sort of an outside entity. It makes that conversation a lot easier, they become more comfortable, you know, all of that I think is really important. 

But anyway, Amy, we are getting close to time and I really appreciated you jumping on this conversation. I have learned so much as a result, so thank you so much for joining. 

Amy Shever: Oh, well, thank you so much. This was a great conversation and hopefully it will resonate with some of the folks that are listening. You know, it’s a really fun, challenging space to be helping with references. And I mean, I think most people understand how important references are and the impact a positive reference can make. It’s really fun and it’s always changing. You know, there’s never a dull moment when it comes to customer references. So thanks so much for the opportunity. 

Thanks for tuning into this episode of Beating The Drum. For more interviews with advocacy leaders and tips on creating customers that will sing your praises, head on over to our website, beatingthedrum.com. If you enjoyed today’s show, please subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts and don’t forget to rate and review us. If you know someone that would be a great fit for the show, I would love to hear about it. You can reach out at beatingthedrum.com. Take care, everybody.

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