Fostering a True Passion for Customer Reference Programs

The Reference Management Elite - Dawn Miears

Chris Bergman is one of those people who no matter what type of day she’s having, can make the person she’s talking to feel like a superstar. Her love for others and passion for what she does is a breath of fresh air. If you have yet to meet her, we guarantee after getting to know a few details about her in this article, you’ll definitely want to!

Finding Her Passion for Reference Programs

Chris Bergman is the Director of Cognizant Client Connections which is the client advocacy program at Cognizant. She’s a family woman, having raised five wonderful children. That nurturing side of her personality translates seamlessly into what she does in her professional life as well, having birthed several reference programs over the years. “I’ve been in this industry for twelve years. I’ve done small programs, I’ve done big ones, but starting programs is absolutely my passion. I just love it!” She says the best part of her day is the moments she’s talking directly with clients. Chris has a true calling for reference management, and the universe sought her out for it. “It’s actually a funny story. At the time, I was pursuing fun passion projects in the non-profit world. A good friend of mine approached me and said she was looking to drop to part-time and was wondering if I was interested in doing a job-share with her. My role would be to help build and run reference programs. I said yes, and before I knew it, that role developed into a full-time job and I was taking over and reinventing the reference program.” Chris has worked for several large corporations over the years including Avaya, but was specifically brought into TriZetto (now Cognizant) to start the reference program.  “They had humongous deals, yet the company was still managing reference requests via email and trying to track them on spreadsheets. My job was to take the program from a ‘fly by the seat of your pants’ setup to something that was organized and actually worked,” said Chris. “A few years into the program, and TriZetto was acquired by Cognizant. The Cognizant team took a look at my program supporting 400 clients and 4000 associates, saw the value, and asked me to lead the initiative to expand it to become a global program supporting a Fortune 200 company with thousands of clients and over 250,000 associates. We’re in the process right now and it is very exciting!”

Steps for Starting a Reference Program from Scratch

Given that it’s her admitted passion, we just HAD TO pick Chris’s brain for her biggest advice when starting a program. “Take baby steps so you’re not overwhelmed,” she said. “It takes 18 months to two years to really get a program off the ground and running well.” The first thing Chris does when launching a program is define and evaluate what the current state of the program is and how easy it is for internal stakeholders to leverage. Once that’s done, Chris starts building the program tailored to the organization’s objectives and gets it up and running. Once it’s “live,” Chris continually showcases the program’s value to executive sponsors. “Recently we had an executive stand up in a meeting and say, ‘This program is the best thing that’s happened to our company,’” she said. When that type of information about the success of your program gets shared across departments, clearly good things happen. Chris and her programs are living proof of that.

Chris’s know-how and experience are definitely key ingredients in her success, but she admits she couldn’t do what she does, as well as she does, without the help of technology. “I’ve talked with many people throughout the years who try to run a reference program without an effective reference management system. It can work if your program is small enough, but even then, it’s not as effective as it could be,” she says. Chris has used several reference management platforms in the past. When choosing one, she says considers a partner who does three things really well:

  1. Invests in their system: “The important thing is to pick a leader that’s going to continue to invest in the system, so you can continue to focus on your job and not worrying about how to make the application better.”
  2. Keeps you ahead of the game: “I think it’s also key that whoever you’re working with is progressive in terms of looking at what’s happening in the world of client engagement and customer advocacy and brings those elements and new trends into their platform.”
  3. Has a good product: “The provider must make it super simple to take all that data that we’re compiling about clients and bring it into a single repository, so that as I’m searching for that ideal reference client for a super strategic deal, I’ve got all the information I need at the click of a button.”

How Chris Gets Sales User Adoption and Increases Reference Nominations

With an ever-growing sales team, Chris has seen first-hand the impact of ensuring sales reps have a positive first experience with her program, which she says sets the framework for growth. “When a salesperson requests a reference for the very first time, I must deliver on it with excellence. Not only so they’ll have a good experience and see value provided and keep using the program, but more importantly, so they’ll want to nominate their clients.”

Chris is also keenly aware of the importance of keeping the reference program in front of the sales team in order to gain their trust and build the user adoption that keeps her programs thriving.  “I try to make sure Sales is hearing from us as often as I can. That means joining annual meetings, sales kick-offs, mid-year reset meetings and more to get 10 minutes of their attention to talk about what we’ve done this year. I share the reference clients we’ve added, the revenue impact references have had on sales, the number of requests we’ve supported and new customer content assets we’ve produced,” says Chris.

We also love Chris because she brilliantly puts that peer-to-peer selling reference management showcases so well into action with her sales team. She has a tried-and-true formula that consistently gets her results. “I always like to weave in client quotes and quotes from our sales people at those sales meetings. It’s quick, subtle and gets them thinking, ‘Hey, this really works. I want to be a part of this.’” she says. “When I can interview a rep or receive an email saying the program has helped them be more effective or successful, and then turn around and share that with their fellow sales peers, I find they’re more likely to not only adopt the program, but also nominate their clients to be part of it.”

Keys to Success: Now & In the Future

Although Chris says skills like tenacity, flexibility, multi-tasking and good project management are necessary to succeed in her role, she recognizes it’s as much of a sales job as it is reference management.  My job is absolutely about sales, no matter how you look at it!” she says. “When I’m enrolling clients and recruiting them to the program, it’s about selling the benefits of the program and the ease of the process. It’s about convincing them we won’t abuse them, that they have a say in when they get to accept a reference call and when they don’t want to. It’s about assuring them if they say ‘no’ that’s a perfectly acceptable answer.” Chris continues, “The programs that I’ve seen over the years that struggle forget to sell the benefits internally at their own company. They forget to sell the benefits to their clients. They forget that at the end of the day, this is really all about the client.”

Chris Bergman is a diamond in the rough. To her, customer focus is everything and is truly her passion. She lives her passion for clients out in every task, strategy and idea she brings to the table at the companies she works for. She is truly a professional you want in your network, a friend you are blessed to have in your life, and an employee that drives incredible value through the programs she runs at her organizations.

Dawn Miears

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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.