Transcript: How To Think Like A CxO To Gain Executive Support with David Sroka

On this episode, I was joined by David Sroka, President and CEO of Point of Reference. Now, more than ever, it’s important to think of ways to stand out within your organization and demonstrate how customer marketing is providing value. David shares his thoughts on why it’s important to think like a CXO, how to secure their support, the difference between working cross-functionally and wielding cross-functional influence, aligning your goals with the ones that leaders care about and some actionable tips for you to share your wins and stay top of mind. Without further ado, here’s my conversation with David. 

Margot Leong: Hey, David. Really excited to have you on the podcast today. Thank you so much for coming on. 

David Sroka: Yeah. Looking forward to it, Margot. 

Margot Leong: I’d love to understand a bit more about your background and journey to where you are today. 

David Sroka: I really started in management. My degree was in hospitality management so I ran restaurants and ultimately through a variety of avenues, moved into technology and found myself a few years later as a sales engineer, which I’d say was probably my first experience with the advocate world, because I was really acting in part as an informal reference manager. The account execs looked to me to go find the references. 

What did we use for that? Spreadsheets. So everybody can relate to that as a starting point, at least. And then had an epiphany that it was time to do something on my own. And so with my co-founder Darren Smith, we started Point of Reference and thinking like sales people, we had been mulling around the idea of what would we wish we had had when we were selling, what was sort of the stinky part of doing our jobs?

And it was like, yeah, that reference request in the 11th hour when your quota was on the line and you had to do all these scrambles. So we started in 2003 with a customer advocate interview recording service, we interviewed our customers’ best customers as if we were buyers, first in audio and then video with the idea that, hey, a salesperson in that company could go to this library of searchable recordings, find the ones that matched, and provide them to their prospects and hopefully replace the need for that one off reference call scramble. So that was the beginning. 

And then the app for hosting those recorded reference interviews, over time, customers kept asking us for more and more capabilities and it ultimately became the sort of comprehensive customer reference system we have today. So been in this customer advocate world before it was really called customer advocacy and capturing those stories even before starting Point of Reference. 

Margot Leong: In 2003, right. I’m trying to place maybe where the conception of customer marketing was at that time. Was it pretty quiet at that time?

David Sroka: It was always owned by someone whose job was much bigger in something else, you know, and they were told, oh, just keep track of this stuff. That’s how we found it even in 2003, as we started to do this and we were selling a lot to marketing, but also to sales directly, because it was just such a direct sales solution.

But there was no formal titles. There were no defined processes. And I know there’s still a variety of definitions of customer advocacy out there, but back then this was just like a little thing to help sales. That was really what it was all about. Sometimes interns were given the job or the most junior people in the department were given the job. That’s come a long way. 

Margot Leong: Did you notice specific waves of this happening over time where you just started to get more interest or it was easier to find people to reach out to that would be interested? 

David Sroka: I think the real turning point as I would define it is when it was not just a function in the biggest companies in the market. Because in the beginning, it was the Intels and the Oracles and the Microsofts that had actual resources dedicated to this function. 

But I would say roughly speaking 10 years ago is when we saw smaller companies investing in customer marketing, hiring dedicated people, investing in technology, carving out budget specifically for this function. And then, starting 2019 was a really big bump for us in activity and 2020, it wasn’t a huge growth, we didn’t lose any ground either. So that was right in the midst of the pandemic and since then it’s been upward again.

I think the turning point was really when it started to go down market. That’s a sign that there’s something there that’s credible to executives to invest in, whereas before it would’ve been seen of some sort of a luxury, we’ll wait till we get bigger to afford something like that.

Margot Leong: Yeah, absolutely. And this is not necessarily related to customer marketing, but just out of curiosity, right. Having sort of a hospitality background and then also having worked as an SE and then, of course founding your own business with your co-founder. Did you find that there were elements that were particularly helpful maybe on like the technical side that helped with some of the things that you’re doing here, or like the hospitality pieces that you had earlier in your career? How did some of those influences translate into starting a business? 

David Sroka: It all adds up. I say that to my young son, who’s just getting into the job market. Whatever job you do, you’re gonna learn things from it that you’re gonna apply later. And hospitality, I’m a big believer in people spending some time in hospitality, because I think it teaches you the real meaning of service and being humble and really wanting to make other people happy and be grateful about those things. So that totally translates into starting a business and maintaining a business in my opinion. And I try to pass along all those values to everyone in the company.

 And then as far as being an SE, since we primarily sell to non-technical people, it’s really important to be able to translate what the technology is doing for them. From the business side and not, not spend so much time on the technical side, but then if we happen to have a conversation with the Salesforce administrator, we gotta be able to explain the technical parts and why that’s meaningful to the business side. So being that in between player has always been my sweet spot. Always loved it. 

Margot Leong: What we wanted to have you on the podcast to talk about and it was a really interesting topic was this idea about thinking like a CXO and why that’s important, especially in this current climate. We’re going through a bear market, potentially recession coming, like tech layoffs, this need generally to justify your existence is probably never as germane as it is now. And so I think being able to think several levels upward, what is the high level business goal? It is a fantastic exercise and it helps you re-situate yourself. 

I always think people in positions like yourself, you have a really interesting two sides of the coin where you are gathering all these data points. You’re seeing what maybe some of the most successful people in the space are doing just by virtue of working with so many of them. I think you would have a really interesting take on this. 

David Sroka: First, I’ll say that this is not something I learned until much later in my career. yeah. And we always talk about WIIFM, right, what’s in it for me. But we usually think about it as customer marketers, we think about it in terms of salespeople. Think about it from their perspective and what would they need and so forth. 

But the customer marketer’s blind spot is usually the WIIFM of the CXOs, they have a different set of daily priorities, their strategic objectives. They’re measured on those. They’re incentivized on those. And it’s usually about growth. Sometimes there’ll be periods of cost control and so forth, but it’s usually about growth. So if you want to be valued by top leadership, and I think there’s a deficit of valuation of customer marketing in corporate America. If you wanna be valued, you have to be aligned on the CXOs mission and what you will do to help them with it. It seems silly, like these people aren’t needy people, but actually they are because their professional careers are dependent on their success and meeting their goals.

So you have to be able to show them, how do you fit with that? And customer marketing has all the advocate relationships, if done properly, that supports so many different initiatives from sales to PR to events to digital to social. You name it. So you shouldn’t really have a hard time correlating the company’s top growth goals to what you’re doing around your program. And that’s the only way you’re gonna get your program from nice to have to vital. 

Margot Leong: If we were to think about tiers of maturity when it comes to thinking about how this will support these initiatives, where would you think that most customer marketers are in that regard? Is it more just these are my direct goals? They don’t necessarily align to these higher executive level goals. 

David Sroka: I think I’d maybe say 20% if I look across our customer base and things that I’ve picked up from attending conferences and podcasts or whatever, 20% are actually pretty sophisticated. And then there’s 80% that struggle to keep the top company goals in their thinking on a daily basis. 

Because they’re mired in all the fire drills that happen every day or changing priorities. They don’t get time to say, here are my goals that would support our company’s growth goals. Oh, but right now I can’t worry about that. I just gotta get Joe this reference or this event speaker or whatever it might be. So they’re understaffed. We all know that. Most programs are understaffed.

And that’s another part of setting some boundaries that customer marketers could do better at is to say, I can’t do this and this and this, these five different things in customer advocacy, all with one person running that. It’s not possible. So I’ll do the work, but you need to make some choices or hire more people.

And it’s hard for them, I think, to stay focused on the long term ultimate goals, which they can then turn around and hand to the executives and say, here’s what I’m doing. It’s not just, I’ve added a hundred new customer advocates to our program in the last quarter. It’s of those 100, 80 of them support our key initiatives in this industry with this product and this geography, et cetera, et cetera, that’s where I think they lose the connection and it just gets muddied up.

Margot Leong: Some of it would really just be connecting the dots. You’ve done actually a lot of the work. It almost sounds like it’s twofold, when you are setting your goals, the ideas that you intentionally frame or like look at what’s coming for the quarter or the goals that are set for the year. And then we’re like, okay, I need to align what I set as these quarterly goals based off of that. 

David Sroka: That’s right. You know what the level of effort is to recruit and qualify advocates and onboard them. Imagine if you spent all this time and energy and you asked all of your coworkers and customer success and sales and wherever else to help you with this, and you got your whatever number is at the end of the quarter and it was all for naught because that’s not where the demand is.

We don’t need more references in that area. We don’t need more advocates to speak on this topic. Thanks a lot. It didn’t do anything for me. So that’s the worst case scenario, I think. 

I’ll say this, that one of the reasons it feels so hectic, I think is because you haven’t gotten the right level support from above, which then trickles down to middle management, which trickles down to the team level managers.

And so you’re still getting requests for things through channels that aren’t approved. There’s still stuff happening between coworkers rather than coming through the program, so you’re not capturing it. It’s chaotic because I think everybody’s not marching to the same beat. And that’s this topic is you need to have the executives on board, but without that, I think you’re gonna always have a bit of chaos and they’re not gonna fully understand what you are trying to accomplish and how much effort certain things take. You’re just out of sight, out of mind. 

Margot Leong: Exactly. And I think you also mentioned, if we think about the top bosses on the marketing side, a lot of these CMOs came up basically through marketing, right? They may have had some exposure to other elements of the business. But when they were coming up through the ranks, there was very likely little to no customer marketing.

So their understanding of it is like a dot in their head versus you know, maybe a lobe compared to demand gen or growth. If something is a bit fuzzier to you and you already have so many things that you’re working on as a CMO, you are generally very stressed. I think CMOs have some of the lowest or the lowest tenure typically at technology companies. You have this your brain and it’s like, oh yeah, like customer marketing, they do this. And it’s just that. And then that means that you, as a customer marketer, you have to fight more to justify or even expand their horizons as to we can do more than this just like one dot here. 

David Sroka: That’s an excellent point. I think that because customer marketing was not really around in the structures that it’s starting to take form of, you have these executives who never did the job. That’s so different than hearing about it. They never did it. They did lead gen or they did digital marketing or they did strategic marketing or whatever, but they didn’t do this job. So they don’t understand that requires a lot more education on the part of customer marketers. 

Margot Leong: Yeah, absolutely. You know, I think actually if you have spent some time in customer marketing, because you also have exposure to a lot of elements of the business, maybe sometimes more than other marketers, I think this actually sets you up pretty well in the future to go into a CMO type role or like a customer, a CX type role. I think there’s skills here that customer marketers develop that are so valuable and pretty high in demand and actually not that available. It’s not that many people have that mindset that can then apply that at a larger company level, I suppose. 

David Sroka: Yeah, customer advocates make the value proposition very clear. Even when I hear our own customers having done interviews or given some other sort of quote or whatever, I will be like, yes, that is exactly what we were going for. So we’ve nailed that. 

Or I’ll hear something I never knew they were doing and I’ll be like, wow. Okay. That’s a value prop we’ve been overlooking. So they’re the vehicle, if you will, to better understanding the essence of why your company’s in business and that’s useful in lots of different roles in the company. 

Margot Leong: What have you seen are some of the common ways to up level your goals into, areas that the executive team would care about or that CXOs would care about? What does it mean to actually think like a CXO and how do you apply that to your actual goals? 

David Sroka: I would say you are dealing with a very high level set of objectives. Again, they’re typically growth oriented and the challenge for a customer marketer is to bring that down to their day to day levels.

So you can’t just take, oh, we wanna grow by 15% in this market in this year. You need to then know what’s the company’s plan to do that? Oh, we’ve acquired this company and we’re gonna fold their stuff into ours and we’re gonna go out to market with this joint solution. Ah, so joint solution stories is what we need. So you get down to that. 

How do I act on this goal? So by doing that, again, you can then show the executives this is how I took the information you provided to me on our goals and how I modified my plans to adapt. These are the results we’re seeing because of it. 

Don’t be intimidated by talking to those CXOs, because again, you are bringing something of value to them and you’re talking their love language, which is the goals they’re measured on. And so don’t be scared about that. Don’t be worried, like you’re taking up their valuable time because it’s valuable to meet with you. This stuff is gonna help them achieve their goals and maybe it’s gonna be worth bonus money to them.

And you gotta think about it at that level. They’re just people and they have incentives and they’re motivated by the same things you or I are. Maybe the numbers are different. Maybe the pressure is higher, but ultimately it’s the same equation. 

Margot Leong: If I think about the landscape of goals that are out there for companies, I don’t think it’s that complex. I would like to grow and it usually is in a certain type of area. We’d like to expand into the international market. We’re hiring a bunch of new reps in EMEA. We’re building out some infrastructure in APAC, you can basically level your goals up to that. Or we’re starting a new product line and so will we need things to prepare for that? 

David Sroka: I think there are four categories. I don’t know where I got this diagram, I keep it nearby, but you think of markets and you think of products and services. And then you look at it in new and existing. So one strategy is increased market penetration of existing markets with existing products and services. So that’s just more the same. 

And you have new products and services. Maybe you’ve developed a new product, beta tested it, and you’re ready to go out to existing markets. That’s another strategy. 

It might be new markets. We’ve always sold into healthcare, but now we’re gonna go into banking and investment organizations or whatever. So new markets, but existing products and services, like new uses for. 

And then the last one would be new of each. So new products and services in new markets. If you look at whatever your company’s goals are, they’re gonna fit into one or two of these areas. Not much more than that, because they’re never gonna say all four of these things typically. And then again the trick is to translate that down to what you need to do on a daily basis. 

The marching orders let’s say are new products in existing markets. All right. What does demand gen need to do that? What are the events folks planning to do? Maybe they’re doing regional events, or maybe they’re doing all virtual events, whatever. What kind of speakers are needed for that? You could just take that to every single stakeholder group that customer marketing supports.

And I would suggest being the consultant and meeting with those heads of departments and aligning with them because the other big factor in all this is lead time. You can’t expect that everything’s gonna be ready tomorrow. You have to have some ramp to find those customers, recruit them, onboard them and so on.

Margot Leong: Yeah, I think this is great. Maybe a takeaway from this, you’re doing your whatever quarter we’re in planning, then this is actually a pretty good thing to do. And something honestly that I wish that I’d probably done more when I was doing this type of work is, you have a sense of what these goals are based off of those four categories and the switching them around and whatnot. For the planning, don’t operate in a vacuum and don’t wait for these teams to come to you one month in when they’ve realistically finished planning, right. And say, okay, I need this for this piecemeal thing. I need this, I need this.

 I really like this idea of this consultant. You probably have an idea of what are the teams, the stakeholders that I typically will work with the most. Before you even meet with them, you take a look at the high level objectives as a company, and then you actually put some hypotheses in mind around what you think that they would need. So you go in strong and you can frame that conversation around, I know that we’re all still putting together our objectives for this quarter. And I thought it might be nice for us to partner earlier and really for me to just get a sense of what you’re thinking so that I can align with my team. 

David Sroka: How cool would that be to know you’ve got somebody who’s got your back, who’s gonna help you out. That changes your perception. 

Margot Leong: I don’t think I’ve ever had any other team come to me during any sort of quarterly planning process ahead of time and say, Hey, why don’t we partner on thinking about this together? I would have loved that actually, and I would’ve respected them a lot more because I knew that they had my back and I would have theirs in the future. 

David Sroka: That’s right. And by the way, word gets out and once you set that precedent, it won’t be that long before management starts saying, Hey, we should include so and so in this meeting, because they’re planning their advocate stuff and suddenly you’ve got a seat at that planning table. That’s the ultimate. 

Margot Leong: This lands on a really good point. There’s several gaps, right? When it comes to the type of work that customer marketers doing. And of course there’s the actual work itself, how do I run a reference program? How do I do CABs, whatnot. 

 I think there’s more resources for that than there are resources around, how do I get executive visibility? How do I be seen as more strategic within my organization? Some of the more career development skills that when I was coming up earlier in my career, I would look at other people and I would think how are they getting more opportunities or they just are perceived differently within the organization? 

So many people have asked for this podcast is how do I be seen as more strategic? How do I not just be seen as a workhorse for the rest of our organization?

And this is a really good tactical way to do that. This is an action you can do immediately. And this will absolutely pay dividends for you in the future is to go basically start in the quarterly planning process, go to every different team that you can really think of, collect what they’re planning to do, come with a hypothesis on how you can help them.

This is the way that word starts to spread is where you get to be known as not just someone that is just working cross-functionally but someone that exerts cross-functional influence. And that’s the biggest difference between, can I only wield influence on what I can control versus can I wield influence on outside parties that don’t directly report to me? 

David Sroka: I’ll add this, that some people are born with a certain ability to do some of the things you just described and they can do it on their own. They don’t need any executive cover, but I think a lot of companies, if you’re gonna start meeting with different team leads, or you’re gonna ask for time to do training with sales on the proper use of advocates or whatever, you’re asking for time on their schedules. 

For that, you need to start up high and make sure that let’s say the VP of Sales is on board with what you’re doing. You’ve educated him or her. They know exactly what you’re trying to accomplish. They buy into it, they understand how it’s gonna help them, what’s in it for me. And they talk to their managers and say, Hey so and so from customer marketing asked for this much time on the next meeting to do this. So sometimes that is really the key. 

And other times you’ve got somebody who’s just brash enough to go ask for that time of those people and prove their worth and that’s that. So you play to your strength, but I would’ve been probably the person that needed to get executive support first because I would’ve felt like I gotta work through the chain of command. I don’t wanna break any eggs. It’s an individual decision.

Margot Leong: I think there has to be some balance between cultivating a little bit of brashness, like what’s the worst thing that could happen, a little bit of that mentality, but at the same time being overly brash or you’re a bull in a china shop, that also hurts you later on, depending on how long you’d like to be at the company. 

David Sroka: Yeah, read the room. 

Margot Leong: Yeah, exactly. That hurts relationships. 

If you were to think about the 20% of people that have been able to level their goals based off of working with other teams within the company and also very high level. I’d love to just understand if there’s specific examples. I think the specificity is actually really helpful for some people to get their mind going on what would be helpful.

David Sroka: Education’s a big part for most executives. So I think you have to plan to meet with at least your core sponsor, and then ultimately you can branch out from there, but meet with your core executive sponsor. I don’t mean the director you report to or whatever. I mean, the CXO and really help them understand how customer marketing moves the dial on their goals, what’s near and dear to their hearts. So that’s that.

And then during that time, set expectations. And what I mean by that is customer marketing is not the sole element that’s gonna make this program successful. We know the interconnectedness, we need support and participation from customer success and from sales and from PR, and everybody should be working as one structure, one ecosystem. You can’t just put it on one person to go chase everything down and not provide any support for them at all. That’s really rare that that works. Making sure that the executive knows this is a team sport. And here’s what I mean by that. Here’s how I’m dependent on other people. And here’s how they’re dependent on me to make this thing work. 

And then as we said earlier, connecting those dots, either you go into that meeting with a good understanding of what the company’s growth goals are, and you hypothesize on exactly how you’re gonna support it, or you meet to get clarity. Maybe in your company the top company growth goals aren’t really well communicated. So you gotta clarify that with them. 

And then I would be on your feet and start to talk about, okay, this is how I’m thinking I could help with this. Start prescribing some things and getting feedback. And then in that same conversation, ask for the things you need from them and be specific. You know, sometimes people stop with, they allocated budget for my program and they think that’s support. That is the beginning of executive support. Don’t expect them to read your mind as to what you need.

You might have very specific requests. Could you communicate the following things to your team? Could I have this much time in the next company meeting to talk about this? Could I ask you to talk to this person on my behalf and get things set up? Like maybe you’re putting a technology like ours in place. You need to get the Salesforce admin team on board. These are all things that the executive won’t think of on their own. You’ve gotta give it to ’em and make it very specific. 

So those are the things I would say that make the difference in the company, that 20% that we work with, they do these things. I can tell you without any question, they have executives who are unusually engaged and supportive of the program.

Don’t go in there and say, Hey, here are my goals. I’m gonna grow our reference program by this. And I’m gonna get a bunch of new case studies and I’m gonna help the events team get some speakers, all that stuff is disconnected with the goals.

They don’t care. They’re just like, oh, okay, good. That’s great. I’m glad you’re a busy person. You’re doing a lot of stuff. Great. That doesn’t matter when it comes time to make decisions about allocating more budget or keeping staff on board or whatever it is, that doesn’t matter.

 I don’t care how busy you were. You were knocking yourself out, working 60 hour weeks. That’s really great. I don’t see how that exactly matters to my goals. And if you disappeared tomorrow and your program went away, would it matter to me? 

Margot Leong: You have to make sure that you’re thinking outside of your own scope. What I care about may be totally different from what they care about, and you have to figure out a way to make these align.

And maybe something that you can do is if you’re like, okay, it’s hard for me to put myself in their shoes. There’s always ways to ladder up to them and get to that point, right. So maybe you don’t necessarily feel comfortable, coming to them immediately and maybe you’re worried that your hypotheses may not be on point.

So you can look at the org chart and be like, okay, who is someone that I do feel comfortable going to? And then build relationships from there. So you’re like, okay, their right hand person is this person. Do I feel comfortable reaching out to them and trying to partner with them and pick their brain before then I ask for intro to the next person. And you maybe can start lower and then just keep moving higher. It’s not a waste of time because in order to get anything done, within any sort of company, especially as they get larger and larger, you’re just leveraging relationships all day long at some point, right. 

David Sroka: And I think you made a point there, which was you may not have answers. You may not have prescriptions for how exactly you’re gonna help, whether it’s a department lead or a VP or a CXO, but listen and gather and then come back fairly quickly with some ideas and see how they resonate.

See if you’re getting the thumbs up. Okay, you’re on track. That’s right. Or, oh, no you’re totally missing the point. 

Margot Leong: Adopt more of an iterative mindset versus making sure that it’s perfect. Making sure that you do some thinking ahead of time, but your thinking will get sharper and sharper as you get more feedback on it. So you just wanna get some data points as well from that feedback. 

David Sroka: Yeah, there’s such a spectrum of people in this role today. Some that have never held this role before and they’re less than six months into it. Many that we’ve been working with for over 15 years. How you approach this leveling up or going directly to a CXO or whatever is gonna totally depend on your comfort level, your self confidence in the role.

Margot Leong: One of the last questions I wanna get into is, let’s say that you’ve put in the work, right? You understand what the goals are. You feel like they are aligned with the organization, you’ve cultivated you know, a few executive champions or stakeholders. Now it’s the payoff, right?

You’ve done the work around the execution. Now, how are you closing the loop to make sure that they are aware of the wins? 

David Sroka: So the programs that I believe are most successful all have this in common: they have built some form of reports or dashboards, more likely. And I would say more often than not, it’s not that they’re just there for the executive to see at any given time, but there are checkpoints, monthly, quarterly, something where they go through the information with the executive. Because they seem to always have a lot of questions. I think that’s one of the skill sets that get somebody to a top position is they’re curious and they try to understand things. And so it’s good to be able to answer those questions real time and to get feedback and iterate on that information. 

So they have all come up with a way of reporting the information that is consumable. It’s not 15 pages of text. It’s something that an executive can easily understand. It’s painted in that context of the company goals. Don’t just tell me, you added this many accounts to our program, you fulfilled this many speaker requests. Tell me what events they were and how those are tying into our company goals. That’s important. 

And do it with a regular cadence. Some of the companies that we’ve started with, they jump out of the starting gate really fast, and they’ve got all this stuff in order, and then they get a little loose on it. And you know, okay, we didn’t report this stuff this quarter. Nobody’s asking us for it, but that’s okay, because they’re all fine with it. They don’t need to see it. 

Big mistake. Keep the cadence, whatever that cadence is that you agreed to with the executive team and keep it front and center. 

And by the way, having an executive advisory board seems like a big ask, I know, for a lot of companies, but again, in that 20% that I was referencing, they have formal or informal meetings with more than one executive, not just their champion, but maybe it’s the person in sales, maybe it’s CS, whatever. And they do get together with them periodically so that they can say not only what’s going well, but where they’re having challenges and how they can help them.

Margot Leong: I really like this. Most people never do this and it’s really incredible what this can do for your career if you invest the time and are consistent with it. 

David Sroka: And there’s one other thing that just occurred to me that I learned from one of our accounts. We actually did a presentation with them for the Customer Marketing Summit is Genesys. They have a set of people that are focused just on their top tier accounts from an advocate perspective. They put plans together, they might be multi-year plans about how they’re gonna work together as partners and so forth. The thing about that is those are the accounts that the executives cared the most about, the marquee accounts.

I know that the Genesys model is bigger than some companies could bite off, but you could, as a customer marketer, pick top 10 accounts, let’s just say, and work with them really closely and report on them a lot to the executive team because that’s gonna catch their attention. That’s shiny.

And yeah, you’re doing all the other stuff, maybe 90% of your activity is not about those marquee accounts, but the marquee accounts are the lures. 

Margot Leong: Yeah, absolutely. And I think it’s a really good point that you have the executives champions that you’ve cultivated, that you have a certain set of reporting and then maybe you could have something separate to maybe the whole executive team, if you’re comfortable with that, which is, as you said, the top 10 accounts and what’s going on with them, like maybe what are some of the exciting plans. 

David Sroka: Yes, what’s the big win I just did, you know, whatever it was. I just got them to commit to doing this, speaking at this conference or whatever. 

Margot Leong: You’re like the gatekeeper at times to information about some of these top 10 customers that they actually really do care about. So I think that’s a great point. 

David Sroka: This is executive empathy. It sounds goofy. Like why do I have to have empathy for them? But that is a way of understanding their psychology and what rings the bell there. And it ultimately gets your program to a better place. 

I thought one other thing I would add, this has to do with enforcing change. And the need for executives to help that happen, because if you’re trying to change processes, whatever, they may be related to customer marketing, it’s asking people to do something different and none of us adopt change easily. If you allow that to happen, you’ll never capture the momentum that you need to have a successful customer marketing program. 

I’ve used this analogy before. It’s like leeches. In my world, customer reference, it’s about black market referencing, not going through this system is defined, but working between you and your peers to find references, the use never gets recorded. The impact never gets recorded. All that stuff, it’s draining the life out of your program.

And to really nail that down, you have to have the executives and their underlings all on board monitoring things that are outside the defined processes. Catching it in the process, educating, maybe there’s some consequences for it. Certainly adding rewards in to accelerate the change helps. 

But my message is don’t accept, oh, it just happens. We’ll never get rid of that. You will never get where you wanna get to if you allow that to happen. 

Margot Leong: I mean, enforcing change is tough and figuring out how to align the incentives is interesting. I also wonder if there needs to be some pain felt for the executives to take it seriously. Let’s say if it’s black market references, based off of the tracking program that we’ve put into place, we’re able to track this much revenue, right, which then is important for making you look good, but actually I’m pretty sure we’re missing a few million in revenue that is not necessarily being tracked via these shadow references. it’s actually might be pretty important for us to fully track this. If you would like to get bigger numbers, essentially like to your team, to your bosses, is there a way that we’d work together to find a solution? 

David Sroka: I think our mutual friend, Alison Bukowski at PeerSpot tells a story about leveraging a reference event that went bad. A salesperson just randomly picked a customer for some reference need and it did not go well. Why would the customer even agree to a call like that? I don’t know. But when once that customer got in the call, they unloaded a bunch of the baggage and they lost a big deal because of it. 

And she used that as an example to go to the executives and say, this is why I need your support because this stuff happens. You may not even know about it most of the time. 

That’s worse than not necessarily getting all the numbers. That’s, oh my gosh, we took a hit on that.

Margot Leong: David, I think this is a great place to finish up. Really enjoyed the conversation. I think a lot of really good strategic ways for people to think about this, but of course very tactical things for them to just immediately act upon. And I’m very sure that if people spend maybe 5 to 10% more of their time on some of these pieces. I think you’ll find that internally, you’re gonna get noticed a lot more. You’re gonna get a lot more support for your programs and it doesn’t take that much more time. It’s just more thinking intentionally about what it is that you’re doing at the company and why it’s important. I think for the amount of time you spend, you’ll get so many more dividends paid back to you.

So anyway, I love this conversation. What’s the best way for people to connect with you if they wanna talk?

David Sroka: LinkedIn. I’m on LinkedIn all the time. 

Margot Leong: Okay. Sounds good. 

David Sroka: Search my name or look for Point of Reference. You’ll find me.

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, 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 Take care, everybody. 



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