This week at the Customer Reference Forum in Santa Clara, CA, I was excited to hear Julie Tung, VP of Global Customer Programs at Oracle, speak about her experiences and best practices managing a successful global reference program.
Julie described how Oracle built an impressive customer reference program by fostering a company-wide customer focus and paying attention to the best interests of their customers. Her presentation really jibed with my experiences in evidence and case study management as a reference professional. Highlighting advocacy, customer centricity, loyalty, and strong relationships as the building blocks of a customer focused culture, Julie spoke specifically about how Oracle expresses its focus. They listen to customers, respond when they have an issue or question, and collaborate with them. It may seem simple, but these small things have made an enormous difference for the company.
In addition to the fundamentals, I’ve found C-level engagement and executive sponsorship are crucial in creating a successful reference program. For Julie, this was also part of the action plan. She and her team specifically targeted executive sponsorship from both parties during customer engagement, along with customer advisory boards and one-to-one issue resolution. Executive sponsorship is important not only because it can mean the reference program gets funding but it can then validate projects and get buy-in from sales and marketing groups around the company. This type of upper-level involvement can also help break silos between teams so they can work together towards a common goal.
At Oracle, the results of creating a company-wide culture of customer focus spoke for themselves. The reference program saw increased participation, a larger pool of customers and communities, open dialog with executives, and an increased ability to fix programs in response to early warnings from customers. In short, customer focus led to happier customers, C-level engagement, and better customer references.
One of the most impressive parts of her program is that her team is able to do all of this successfully while supporting 9,000 Oracle products with 100 reference professionals. Her ideas on how to leverage executive sponsorship to scale her program and meet the demands of the sales team within such a company are remarkable—I’m glad she brought them to the forum.