When a Career Pivot Makes All the Difference

The Reference Management Elite - Brian Piper

Meet Brian Piper

Brian Piper, who’s been in his current role in Customer Marketing at the leading security information company Rapid7 for a year and half, doesn’t mince words. “I was brought in because Rapid7 had no reference management in place.” As he explains, “Like a lot of smaller companies, there was no formal request or tracking process, and the sales team called their own pocket references. Our proposals team had a stock list of customers whom they listed on every RFP. We needed to grow the number of referenceable customers to be sure we could satisfy requests based on different needs. It’s been a hell of a ride so far, but it’s been fun.”

Brian is currently part of a team of four, each handling different aspects of Rapid7’s customer advocacy efforts.

“I run our reference program, which includes private references and case studies, and we’ve started to branch out into other things such as webcasts and podcasts. We have an active blog where we have a lot of customers actively guest blogging for us, and we also try to push customers to do different types of public-facing reviews for us.”



The Road from Customer Events to Reference Management

Brian’s journey lends credence to our industry’s inside joke that no one gets a college degree in customer reference management. I don’t think anyone has a direct line into customer marketing necessarily,” he laughs. “I was actually working for a biotech company several years ago in more of an events-type role. We did a lot of user group-style events that brought customers and prospects together. That was what started my interest in a more customer-facing type of role.” Brian said those events gave him the opportunity to understand product usage and pain points from his customers’ perspective, and is where he saw how success happened when customers exchanged those conversations with peers. That’s when Brian made a bold move. He quit his job and went back to school full time to pursue his MBA in marketing. With his new degree, he landed a job in the information security industry at RSA working on the company’s conference team. He had some customer interaction, but craved more of it.

“I wanted to step into a role that was brand new, gave me the opportunity to have a huge impact on the business and build something from the ground up.”  Brian found his opportunity at Rapid7.

Scaling the Hurdles

Brian believes perhaps the biggest challenge in reference management is building a program that scales. Brian made a case as part of a “Shark Tank” competition with senior management to bring on RO Innovation.  They understood the need and loved the concept so decided to fund it.  “We put RO Innovation in place because, as a lot of people in reference management can speak to, Excel just doesn’t work to manage a reference program long term,” he laughs. Brian cites the challenge of getting the company off that “Excel database” mindset and getting sales to give up their pocket references as something else he’s grappling with in growing the program.

One way Brian sees this happening is by getting the sales team to talk about the company’s reference program and to start nominating customers “The sales culture has been such that if you have a customer who is willing to serve as a reference, you keep that reference in your pocket and you don’t share that with anyone else,” he explains. So how does a reference manager overcome that hurdle—how does one build enough trust with sales that they give up their pocket references and have confidence that the reference manager is not going to ruin their relationship if they hand it over to them? “In my experience, you have to win hearts and minds one by one,” according to Brian. “Every time there’s a reference need, I find it is most effective to go over to the salesperson’s desk, walk them through Reference Gateway (Rapid7’s instance of RO Innovation), give them a demo, make sure they have what they need, follow up. That kind of personal touch helps them to understand what this is all about, and that one-off explanation in the moment of need is when they really absorb it.”

That personal touch and 1:1 connection is also why Brian believes customer references are more critical than ever in the B2B sales and marketing space.

“I think having that customer story—that validation—readily available is going to be a game changer. That’s ultimately what the sales team is looking for, and where the RO Innovation platform can really help make that possible.”


Customer Marketing’s Importance in the Security Industry

Brian’s take on customer marketing speaks to the difficulty of getting clients to open up about their industry. “It’s really tough in security to expect customers to participate in a full-blown case study. Everybody wants Fortune 500 companies and named case studies, on their website, but that’s really challenging for us because customers don’t want to open themselves up to vulnerabilities. Many customers have policies to safeguard themselves by not exposing their security vendor(s) of choice. And we’re not just putting someone on the phone who’s going to sing our praises because we’re giving them rewards but somebody who actually cares about. Reference calls are more effective when their spiel hasn’t been queued up by a sales rep necessarily but someone who can say, ‘Here are some pain points, but here’s how you get around that, and here’s how you can be successful.’”

Brian does note that while it’s nice to have a base of reference customers who they can call on to do these 1:1 calls, despite the industry challenges, it’s good to engage them in other ways as well to the extent possible.

“By getting customers involved in producing case studies and webcasts and involved in conversations in user groups and podcasts, we’ve found that having some of that content can supplement the reference calls over time.”

Some Secrets to Success

To succeed in customer reference management, Brian says, “You’ve got to have vision, especially when you’re starting something from scratch. You can’t be too tactical, like, ‘What’s my next step before the end of the day?’ It’s ‘How do we build this program to scale, how do we actually meet the needs of the business, and how do we get our customers aligned with our champions to make their experience the best that it can be?’ How you build that to scale is all about having a vision.”

Being organized is also key, since he deals with numerous internal constituents (sales, marketing, the customer success team, the sales engineering team, the professional services team and the proposals team) at the same time he’s also dealing with customer outreach. “I’ve also been trying to get the reference question—would you be willing to serve as a reference for Rapid7?—embedded in every single survey that we send out, so that’s been huge, process-wise.” Brian is also focused on Rapid7’s approach to customer outreach. “We want to be efficient, while still making it feel like they’re getting that white-glove treatment,” says Brian. “By far, the most effective thing we’ve done to grow the size of the program is that one-to-one outreach. People respond to that. All these efforts are paying off, and it’s so rewarding to see.”

Brian says that using tools to track how often they’re using customers is absolutely critical.

“You can really abuse your customer references if you’re not keeping track. So we’re trying to drive that behavior to avoid burnout.”

Final Thoughts on the Peer-to-Peer Selling Movement

We asked Brian what he would say to a roomful of his peers as being the single most important thing customer marketers need to focus on this year.

Brian does note that while it’s nice to have a base of reference customers who they can call on to do these 1:1 calls, despite the industry challenges, it’s good to engage them in other ways as well to the extent possible.

“By getting customers involved in producing case studies and webcasts and involved in conversations in user groups and podcasts, we’ve found that having some of that content can supplement the reference calls over time.”

Fun Facts About Brian

  • His stranded-on-a-deserted-island essentials if allowed only one record to listen to and one customer reference metric (to measure the success of his program): “I listen to a lot of EDM when I run. As far as a reference metric, I report quarterly on Bookings Influenced with reference calls, and that’s far and away the most impactful thing. I think that shoots right up to the top because that resonates with management. Putting a dollar value in front of what you’re doing is by far the most impactful metric.”
  • He loves running. “I live in downtown Boston so I love running along the Charles.”
  • He loves—loves!—international travel. “If I have a vacation, I’m always looking for fun, new desinations.”
  • He is always up for trying new restaurants (see “international travel” above).
  • He spends a lot of time with family.
  • He also enjoys spending a lot of time with his spouse & French bulldog.
  • Favorite candy?

Keep chasing the rainbow, Brian!


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Brian Piper

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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.