The book Stories that Sell, and a recent blog post here, lauded Kronos Incorporated for its Best Practices Awards Program, an annual program to recognize customers that achieve value and success with Kronos solutions.
The leading maker of workforce management solutions featured award winners at its annual user conference, KronosWorks. Those customers received significant exposure at the event and in the media. And in the process, the company uncovered some of its best stories.
Now, there’s an update on the program since it was featured in Stories That Sell. While the awards program was considered a success, Kronos has since expanded to create a customer reference program.
Why? It found an even better way to engage customers and get them to share their stories.
A more comprehensive customer reference program than what has been in place for many years. (Need a refresh on what a customer reference program is? Check this out.)
"In the last two years, we’ve expanded the formal recognition of customers who provide us with publishable stories. Instead of recognizing a few, we are now able to spotlight any customer that is willing to let us share their story," said Ciana Abdollahian, customer marketing specialist at Kronos.
Kronos started this Spotlight Customer program in 2009 and it’s grown quickly. Companies that participate are called "spotlight" customers.
So what are the benefits of the Spotlight program over the annual awards program?
The expanded reference program lets Kronos grow relationships with a broader range of customers – from smaller to larger, and in different industries. In turn, that leads to case studies that cover more of the customer base. Ideally, you want a broad range of stories to share with your different prospect audiences.
"The program allows us to establish deeper relationships with more customers and maximize each one," Abdollahian said. "We went from recognizing six customers through the Best Practices Awards Program in 2008 to 37 in 2009 and then 62 in 2010."
How does the company encourage participation and thank customers?
Kronos devised some enticing benefits to get and keep customers excited:
- A luncheon reception at the annual KronosWorks event, where the CEO speaks
- The chance to network with other customers and discuss ways they use the software
- A framed, branded memento – a printed version of the customer’s case study or press release
- Message from the CEO thanking the customer for being a spotlight
- Front-row seating to the opening session/keynote – a very exciting bonus for customers
- Recognition during the opening session with their logos on big screens
"We get customers together as much as possible. They have a chance to speak with other customers like themselves and the chance to speak with the executive team, which makes them feel special," Abdollahian said. Many customers also end up being speakers at KronosWorks and other industry events.
Case studies: The most common introduction to the reference program
Most often, the first activity a customer participates in – either before joining the program or upon joining – is a case study.
By exploring the customer’s story, Kronos knows if the customer fits a current gap in the reference program regarding industry, product usage or company size. Likewise, the customer experiences a joint promotional activity with Kronos.
"A case study lets them try out the reference program," Abdollahian said. "We find out more about a customer through a case study. We understand what products they are using, get to know their pain points and know how the solution solved them – so we know if they have a really good story."
It's a common conundrum for companies today...How do you uncover the best stories among your customers, and then get them to share those stories publicly?
Software company Kronos Inc., a global provider of workforce management solutions, takes a creative, relationship-focused approach to finding its best customer stories and getting them out there: an annual customer awards program.
Here's how Kronos uses awards to recognize - and celebrate - its customers' efforts:
(The following is an excerpt from Stories That Sell)
The software company's annual KronosWorks conference brings together nearly 1,500 workforce management professionals, including current customers, prospects, and partners, to talk about industry best practices. It was this annual event that inspired Kronos to create an awards program to recognize customers using the company’s software in innovative ways.
“Our customers wanted to hear those stories,” said Michele Glorie, Senior Director, Corporate Communications. “They wanted to see some of their brethren being recognized for innovative uses of Kronos solutions.”
In response, Kronos created its Best Practices Awards Program in 1999 to recognize organizations that achieve unprecedented value and success with their Kronos solutions. Since then, the awards program has built momentum that has even surprised Kronos. Through 2006, the company had recognized fifty-three winners, about five or six each year. And each year, the number of applications increases for what has become a very competitive program.
“It’s become kind of the Academy Awards of KronosWorks,” said Charlie DeWitt, Vice President of Enterprise and Product Marketing. “It’s a very big to-do. Past winners present awards to new winners. Winners display awards on their desks and walls, and are proud to be recognized.”
Award winners are featured as the main event of the annual conference, included in media outreach and captured in success stories, if they have clearance from their organizations.
Kronos began the awards program as a way to recognize customers’ achievements, but in the process has found some of its best customer stories. Sales and service representatives, and customers themselves, all remain on the lookout for innovative practices that might be award-winning. DeWitt says a customer might not even realize his or her organization is being innovative, so Kronos relies on its own representatives and partners to be eyes and ears in the search for award nominees.
As a result, Kronos has found and captured a number of compelling customer stories.
Also, live examples presented by customers and partners give attendees concrete examples of how others benefit from products and services, and ideas for how to use existing solutions better or how new solutions might work in their environments. Likewise, many current customers and partners want the opportunity to showcase their innovation and results to their peers.
Consider how you can showcase and make your customers famous through an awards program.