The Reference Management Elite - Rae Harrison

At some point in grade school, every child receives a writing assignment where they are tasked to write about their role model or hero. As adults, we too have people we look to as models of excellence in our careers. We look up to and admire these folks who have laid the path ahead of us. They have the wisdom from years of experience we can pull from to better ourselves and our companies. Rae Harrison is one such heroine we look up to in the reference management profession.

Meet Rae Harrison

Rae Harrison leads and manages the global customer reference program at Palo Alto Networks as part of a small, but growing, team of marketers in the Communications department. Rae is a 20-year expert in the field of customer reference management, having started after making a job transition in the late 90s from print sales to case study production in high-tech. She has worked at a variety of companies in the Bay Area since, growing a successful career with each new opportunity.

Over the years she has become a multi-faceted reference manager, managing everything from securing customers to speak to analysts and media to production of video interviews and success stories to facilitation of peer-to-peer reference requests. Admittedly though, she could not run the successful programs she has today at Palo Alto Networks without the help and support of an expert team: “I definitely couldn’t accomplish everything we do on a daily basis without help. The newest member of our team, Leiann, has been a humongous asset to the workload and bandwidth we can handle, which aids to our overall success,” said Rae.

Fun Facts About Rae Harrison:

  1. She is a HUGE Giants fan!
  2. She has a Latin rhythm and likes to dance Salsa and Tango.
  3. She frequents the theater and art museums in town.

Proving the Importance of References to Executives

As any experienced reference manager will tell you, having an Executive Sponsor for your program is one thing, having the support, visibility and buy-in of multiple executives across the board is another. Rae Harrison has both at Palo Alto Networks.

“When I first came to Palo Alto Networks our CMO said to me, “Rae, I’m so happy that you’re here. When I told the executive staff that I was going to hire a reference person, they laughed at me! They said, ‘We’re a security company. You’re not going to be able to get references!’” So when we were able go to prove that yes, we DO have references, AND we’re meeting most of the analyst and media requests, AND we’re publishing new case studies all the time, it was so rewarding! Especially knowing our CMO saw there was a need for that and appreciated the amount of dedicated work that goes into it.”

Rae Harrison

Manager, Global Customer Reference Program, Palo Alto Networks

Rae has secured some major support from Sales and other C-level leadership as well. “Our Senior VP of Sales told me he knows the reference program is working because there aren’t any more of those Hail Mary emails to ‘Sales-All’ saying ‘hey, I need a reference!’” said Rae. The VP of Sales in North America frequently sends her reference requests. Even the CEO of Palo Alto has asked Rae for a reference request or two! Rae says the CMO and her boss, Jennifer Jasper Smith, have been instrumental in helping her program get the visibility and understanding amongst the executive staff that’s needed to make the program work successfully.

“The customer reference program plays a vital role in sales and marketing efforts at Palo Alto Networks.  With the tools from RO Innovation and keen eyes on future reference needs for our rapidly growing business, Rae and the customer reference team have established an agile and highly scalable program to meet our growing number of requests from around the globe for references of all types and associated assets.”

Jennifer Jasper Smith

Head of Corporate Communications, Palo Alto Networks

20 Years of Change in Reference Management

Having worked with a variety of programs over such a long period of time, Rae has seen some big shifts in the world of reference management. Rae says perhaps the most notable change is the approach to asking a reference for something: “Overall it used to be more of a ‘what can the customer do for us’ mentality. As managers, we’d find a customer who liked us and say great, here’s a checklist of things we’d like you to do for us. Nowadays, the approach is a much more customer-centric advocacy style, which I’m very happy about. That’s the style I’ve always used, so I’m so happy to see the reference community finally catching up to that as a standard best practice.”

Rae also has seen a change in how references play a role in the effectiveness of marketing communications. “The voice of the customer has become so important. People are ‘on’ to marketing’s agenda. They see it coming and read straight through marketing fluff,” says Rae. “Bottom line is this: people buy from people they like. People they trust. They’d rather hear the unbiased, unfiltered story directly from their peer’s perspective because they know it doesn’t have marketing’s spin. That’s the content buyers want now.”

Why Rae REALLY Loves Reference Management

While Rae says it’s hard to believe that she’s been doing this for almost two decades now, she says there’s a few things about a career in reference management that keep her getting out of bed every morning and excited about what she gets to do each day.

She loves a challenge. “I really like being able to find that needle in the haystack. Especially when people don’t think it’s possible. I really get a kick out of that!” said Rae.

She impacts the bottom line. “I really love working with salespeople and marketers and our customers. I like knowing I’m helping make an impact on the bottom line,” said Rae. “Since we track and report everything, we can tie millions in revenue to the influence of references each year. It’s rewarding knowing exactly how much your work is impacting the business.”

She changes lives. Just watch this quick clip of the story of how she made a meaningful impact on one of her customer’s careers.

Rae has a wealth of reference management experience. She has seen a lot of trends come and go, and knows what stands the test of time because of it. She is truly a role model for the next generation of up-and-coming reference managers to look to for inspiration and guidance, and we are so honored to be able to share a snippet of her story here.

Rae Harrison

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Know Someone Like Rae Harrison?

Rae Harrison’s stories are proof that references DO matter. They DO help people. They DO grow businesses. If you know an amazingly accomplished reference manager, like Rae Harrison, or a newbie customer marketer that’s taking the industry by storm, we want to know about them and feature their story here!

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Nichole Auston
Customer Marketing Director at RO Innovation
Nichole Auston is the Customer Marketing Director at RO Innovation. With a background in digital marketing and nearly a decade of experience managing marketing programs for a variety of SaaS companies, she’s passionate about sharing insights, best practices and stories about sales enablement and customer reference management, and the people and technology that power it.