Part 1 of this article discussed the strategic value of a reference management system (RMS) and the shortfalls in functionality within existing CRM infrastructures. The second part takes a look at the characteristics of a practical and effective RMS and implementation choices that are available.

A customer reference program can have a significant impact on all customer-related functions in an enterprise. To maximize and demonstrate the strategic business benefits of a program, an effective RMS needs—at a minimum—the following capabilities:

  • Search—Flexible enough to support all types of users without being overly complex

  • Content management—For storage and maintenance of reference content (e.g., case studies, press releases, testimonials, reference interviews)

  • Request management—For submission, fulfillment, and tracking of reference requests

  • Activity tracking—For tracking customer referenceability and the number and type of reference activities in which customers are willing to participate

  • Reporting—For tracking the program's impact on revenue, effectiveness, and the activity level of customer advocates

An RMS needs to accommodate all users in order to provide the greatest benefit to the organization:

  • Requestors such as sales staff, PR, and analyst relations managers need a user-friendly interface to make the process of obtaining references as trouble-free as possible.

  • Management needs a "quick look" view of program results as well as the ability to drill down into detail if desired.

  • Reference managers need an easy-to-use interface to address requests as quickly and completely as possible, manage all program components, and readily provide reports and metrics.

The variety of needs that must be met for each of these roles requires a well-planned scalable solution that easily integrates with existing systems. There are three options for procurement of an RMS with the capabilities to meet these requirements:

  1. In-house custom programming, which requires internal IT resources for development and ongoing maintenance, but which may be hard to come by given the demands on typical IT teams

  2. Third-party custom programming by a provider with RMS experience that can provide specialized consulting experience during initial development and future enhancement phases, and so is often able to deliver a more timely and effective solution than over-burdened in-house resources

  3. A hosted solution, which provides a configurable feature set that can be fully functional very quickly and which minimizes the need for active in-house IT involvement

The RMS option that is right for your company's reference management program depends several factors:

1. Management/IT culture

    • Willingness/experience partnering with third parties

    • Technical requirements that prescribe exclusive use of specific software/hardware

    • Willingness to host customer data externally

2. Management/IT experience

    • Experience managing similar IT projects to a successful conclusion

    • Both business user and IT team need experience

3. Executive sponsorship

    • An executive who champions and sponsors the project, removing any obstacles along the way

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David Sroka and Jim Forrester: David is cofounder of Point of Reference, a firm that offers hosted RMS services. Jim is cofounder and Chief Technical Officer of Cogenix.