Closing the Gaps Brings Big Results
With over 15 years of customer engagement experience, advice and skills that have proven longevity and success in a reference management career, and a unique approach to what she does, Sandi Montour is one of the trail-blazers in this ever-changing field.
Sandi Montour got her first taste of reference management back in the early 2000s when the tech company she worked for merged with a key competitor.
“The newly-formed company needed reference customers on their new platform. I was selected to start their first-ever customer wellness program, which was a very high-touch, concierge program. The goal was to get certain customers to a referenceable state. It opened my eyes to the world of reference management. I’m grateful to have found my professional sweet spot and have truly enjoyed the industry.”
Sandi has done it all. She’s started programs from scratch in environments some refer to as “the wild, wild west” and she’s also revamped and revitalized existing programs. “Each have their own benefits and challenges,” Sandi explains. With the exposure she’s had to a multiple programs at various stages, she can now quickly and effectively assess the current state and create a plan to establish or evolve the program.
In her current role, as Client Engagement Program Manager at ShoreTel, she wears many hats. She’s chief customer storyteller, manages the reference technology system, designs and promotes new ways ShoreTel interacts with customers, and collaborates across departments to improve customer touchpoint processes. Yet despite a full plate, it’s her “why” that keeps her going strong. “Time and again, I’ve seen firsthand how valuable customer reference programs can be – both for the customers and the organization. For customers, the program brings them more visibility and recognition for the projects they’ve led. It’s been fulfilling to help customers get on the speaking circuit for their industry, win awards and even get promotions or more funding for their department based on being part of a customer advocacy program.” She continues, “And for the organization, sales can more efficiently find the right customer — even the proverbial needle-in-a-haystack — to speak with a prospect and the company’s claims to the market are validated with customer testimonials. This positively affects the bottom line and is extra gratifying since the customers also benefit from the added awareness and appreciation.”
Sandi Montour is a self-described process improvement fanatic, which has been a key factor in the success of the programs she’s run. She’s earned Lean Six Sigma and Project Management (PMP) certifications, which have served her well and give her a unique point of view on customer advocacy.
For example, at a previous employer, Sandi learned that the project managers were often being asked about reference customers. This diverted them from their primary, and often billable, responsibilities. And, it eliminated the ability to track and manage the references in the intended central hub of the reference management system. Sandi designed and proposed a quick and easy process. When the project manager set the project to ‘closed’ in Salesforce, a brief survey was sent to the project manager, including asking if they thought the customer could be referenceable. The survey responses were sent back to Sandi and if the project manager thought the customer could be referenceable, she connected with the sales relationship owner. Many referenceable customers were added to the program, the project managers — and their management — were happy because they were no longer distracted with reference requests, and sales had even more trust and confidence that the reference database system included all reference customers.
A Service Mindset
Sandi Montour has stood the test of time in customer reference management, and along the way has developed a keen understanding of and appreciation for the sales team.
“Beyond the essential basics of great relationship building, organizational, research and communication skills, the skills I believe will fuel longevity and fulfillment in the reference management world are a true passion for customers and understanding of and empathy for sales,” she states.
“Consider sales and other program stakeholders your internal customers and serve them well, just as you would your external customers. Remain aware that the reference management tool is not the only system that sales is being asked to use. There’s often also a CRM, a proposal system, a finance system, a quote system, and more. And, recognize that, by nature, most in sales would rather be meeting with customers than entering a reference request in a system. Making the process as quick, easy and relevant builds trust and sets the foundation for solid adoption,”Sandi Montour
Tips & Tricks from the Pro
Having started and overseen advocacy programs at several B2B tech companies, Sandi is a treasure trove of knowledge. Here are a few creative tips that have contributed to her various programs’ successes:
Establish an internal task force. “Especially if you’re starting a program from scratch, organize a cross-functional, global group to help you understand the culture and challenges, provide feedback and eventually help champion the program. Make sure you include a few naysayers. They’ll provide valuable insight into objections so you can proactively address them. And, once they’re on board, they will naturally add validity to the program,” Sandi suggests.
- Create references for the reference program. To attract new program members, Sandi recommends creating a collection of case studies and testimonials on the value customers realized from being a reference program member. She’s also gathered quotes from the sales team on the benefits of the reference database tool, which she includes when training new users. They add credibility and help increase adoption.
Think about data integrity from the very beginning, and don’t stop. “Data integrity is a very important element to truly harnessing the power of the CRM and reference management tool. Outdated or incorrect data can quickly lead to users not trusting — and, therefore, not using — the system. Strategically think about which CRM fields you’ll map to, who owns them, who populates them, and how reliable they are. Use a tool like RO Innovation to have customer relationship owners validate or update those strategic fields on a regular basis,” Sandi advises.
- Tell the story in different mediums. Sandi notes it’s no longer just about the case study. In the last few years she’s seen an uptick in the requests for customer stories told through infographics, videos, quick quotes and more “snackable” content formats. “Webinars, trade shows, blogs, podcasts and social media have expanded the possibilities. There are lots of opportunities for customers to choose from to showcase their success,” says Sandi.
Fun Facts About Sandi Montour
- If she wasn’t a reference manager, she’d love to be a photojournalist. “Since childhood, I’ve had a strong sense of adventure,” she admits. Before turning 25, Sandi traveled to all 50 states. Since then, she has traveled to 50 countries and five continents. Her next goal is to visit those last two continents, Australia and Antarctica.
- She loves gardening. She loves the yin and yang of technology and digging in the dirt. “It’s literally grounding for me after being online and on the phone all day,” she says.
- She loves hiking. There are a lot of protected lands in the seaside community where she lives that she loves exploring.
- She volunteers at the Emergency Department of her local hospital as a Patient Ambassador, helping staff, patients and visitors with a variety of non-clinical matters. “Sometimes it’s adding hospitality by getting a warm blanket for a patient. Sometimes it’s being a caring and comforting presence for someone whose family member has just passed.”
- If she was stranded on a deserted island, and could only have one customer reference metric and one music album with her, they’d be: Revenue Influenced and The Pulp Fiction soundtrack.
The Professional Everyone Wants on their Team
One of the many things we love about Sandi Montour is her vision. She sees the bigger picture. She sees all the parts and pieces and how they work together. She understands how to uncover opportunities and knows where she can make a tangible impact. Bottom line – she’s a valuable member of any customer-focused organization.