Bruce Elgort pointed me to the customer list page on Elgugi software's website.  In just a eight months, Elgugi has won some really important and recognizable customers for their excellent IdeaJam software.  But what this also says is that major organizations are investing in Domino applications that provide value to their environment.

Imagine if every Domino advocate could point to a list of contemporary, name brand references for companies not just using, but adding more to their use of Notes/Domino today.  It's great to be able to access the IBM customer successes and case studies, and IBMers can provide even more references from our internal database, but our stories tend to be more about the infrastructure and plumbing.  When you can see what actual solutions are being used in a Notes/Domino environment, it's all the more powerful.

Another business partner sent out a newsletter this week.  They were very explicit in describing organizations they've won business with recently, including what product was sold, why the customer chose the IBM Lotus solution, and how it will be implemented.  I learned a heck of a lot about real-world use of my products from that newsletter.  I've since encouraged that partner to publish the newsletter, but they've run into one wall all vendors face -- use of the customer's names in public.

I know many organizations have policies against being public references for vendor solutions.  They consider their internal decisions part of their competitive advantage, or for security or privacy reasons simply don't want to disclose what they use.  But in the age of eBay and web 2.0, where "reputation ranking" is a critical component of the buying experience, getting away from "A major bank" and being specific is crucial to building the collective reputation of a market.

That's why I was surprised by a random sample of Lotus business partner websites.  I found old, obsolete references to decisions made in 2005 for products that don't even exist anymore.  I found quotes from people who no longer work for the entities their quotes represent.  I found one company where I clicked on "case studies" and got a blank page in response.  I clicked on another company's case studies list and found that I would have to give my e-mail address just to read their case studies.  And one very prominent award-winning business partner had no customer references section of their website at all, and not even an updated press release since 2007.

There are some winners out there, too.  Sherpa Software has a page similar to the Elgugi list called "customer successes".  Ytria has a little swagger in their list of customers "Addicted to Ytria" (though I don't learn anything about why they chose Ytria from that page).  But 90% of the sites I just checked failed at promoting customer successes.

Rather than just identify a problem, here are some simple suggestions that will help solve it.  
  • Maintain freshness:  At IBM, we have a review cycle where a reference must be validated every six, or no more than twelve, months to ensure its continued currency.  We publish the date of reference and the validation dates to ensure that the reader knows this isn't some dusty old story.
  • Tie your story to value:  "Your solution is cool" isn't enough to sell another customer on buying it.  You want specific reasons for interest and adoption, and when possible, examples of results.  If they're quantifiable, even better.
  • Make your references identifiable:  Now, not every company you sell to is going to be a household name, but their product or service touches people in some way.  Make the reference personal by tying the referenced client to the real world they service.
  • Differentiate: Have the customer explain why your product or solution is different or unique.
  • Solve a particular pain: In the current economic climate, if you can find a way to tie to a particular challenge businesses are trying to solve, you'll get through the buzzword-bingo evaluation phase much faster.

It would be great to see some real references come out of our partner community in the next 30 days.  This is what working smarter, together is all about.
Image:If every business partner had a current version of this, the momentum would be incredible


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