Reference programs, and other customer-focused programs like them, are all the rage today.

Executives want high-visibility customers to speak on their company's behalf at C-level events. Public Relations wants customer quotes for its releases in order to illustrate company momentum. Marketing wants customers to wave the company banner in promotions and in ads. Product Development wants customer insight to help uncover the next big marketplace hit. And Sales wants customers to persuade prospects that its company's solution is the only choice that makes sense.

Daily Insanity—The Enemy of Your Program's Success

With such high demand for customers, more and more companies are building formal reference and customer programs and developing customer initiatives that enable the effective and efficient recruitment, management and delivery of customers and customer successes to customer-hungry groups.

Our experience with dozens of clients and their customer programs has shown us that the professionals who lead these efforts are often under-funded and under-staffed. They start every day behind and can't get away from the cacophony of various demands that follow them down the halls.

From Sales: "We need a robust set of customers for references!"

From an executive: "I've got to have a customer join me for this speaking engagement!"

From the new head of Marketing: "We've got to have higher-impact customer content!"

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Kathleen McBride is a consultant with The Phelon Group. She specializes in customer relationship management and reference systems implementation.

Steven Nicks is a partner with The Phelon Group (