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Champions are a Natural Result of Community

What's a champion?  The word "champion" to me carries not just a sense of deep subject matter expertise, or someone who successfully implemented our solutions, or even thought leadership.  Although a champion usually is all that and more, to me champion conveys some sense of loyalty.  Not mere satisfaction, but loyalty


A merely satisfied customer may or may not recommend your products to others, or be more likely to buy from you next time, or defend your product from the inevitably curious competition.  A loyal customer will generally do all those things.  Here is a gentleman who understands this profoundly and taught me much about this. 


But you have to think outside the box to create loyalty above mere satisfaction.  A shame that so many of us still don't get that it takes an indirect investment on the part of the vendor, an investment that is linked by more than one degree of separation from the expected ROI.  An investment I am happy to see that HP made.   And look what we did.


Judging from the longevity, influence on the product, a continuously growing membership, and a whole bag full of anecdotal praise,  the CMS/UCMDB/DDM community is one of the most successful product communities I know, at least  this side of the legendary tenacity of the community of Pretty Dinosaur Painter 2.5 users (substitute whatever cool user group of the past you were a part of that you really liked).   At least according to Gartner, EMA, other industry anlysts, and maybe my neighbor Glenn but you probably won't find his reviews on the internet.


According to my Power of Community model, value is leveraged generationally as well as directly, as practitioners interact.  That is, people help people directly on a real-time basis, and as these problems are solved, they are documented and flow to the next generation of practitioners as well as back to the vendor.  the vendor improves their product via this heightened visibility of their market and customer base, and the new generation of practitioners are enabled more efficiently as the results of the product improvement and better best practices.  This process of practitioner/practitioner and practitioner/vendor interaction, done regularly and with sincere intentions, generates product champions.


It's a fine line to walk along the boundaries of formality and informality.  If you are too informal, you leave most of the harvest in the field.  An unconnected, non-interacting champion isn't really a champion, although they may be a loyal customer.


But If you get too formal, well, we all know what happens.  Salesmen start coming out of the woodwork, everybody wants you to be a "reference", you're asked  to fill out a bunch of forms, and you're rewarded with a dollar's worth of points in some "loyalty" program, and if you're lucky, maybe a free spot at the next big convention in exchange for your company flying you there, paying for everything, giving you a few days off work (sort of), and getting yet further behind on your good-guy to-do list.  Wow, what a generous gesture on the vendor's behalf.  A real win-win.  Are you kidding me?  The champion's goodwill to help out is quickly exhausted.  Who would volunteer to do that?  This is why a better "champion" program has, like, 80% informality, and like, 20% formality.  Let's go casually with that for the moment.


There are many paths to champion interaction, but my favorite is informal, professional relationships.  You work with someone, you get to know them, you do something for them, they do something for you, and you establish a pattern of successful interaction and an enjoyable, constructive way to get things done.


Informal professional relationships are often more than big companies can wrap their minds around.  Everything has to be on a list, designated, assigned, point-of-contact, hierarchical, blah  blah blah.   Money "magnetizes" everything to align in the direction of the money.  When we're just trying to get a use case implemented down in ITSM or CMDB world, we are somewhat farther removed from that, yet we have to get things done.  My theory:  Informal, professional relationships are differentiators of organizational and executional effectiveness.  Not the only ones.  But good ones.  My point:  champions are at their best when interacting along informal, professional relationships.   Some examples:


"Hey Bill, would you mind me conferencing you in with someone who had a question about how you implemented UCMDB?"  "Sure, no problem."    Wow, now that's a lot more effective than a 27-step process where Bill was retrieved from a database that he had to work to get into, got four phone calls to set something up, checked with all the management etc,  scheduling a meeting time, blah blah blah.  Which one would YOU rather do?  


Now, some of you may be afraid by this time.  Some companies have formal policies in place that absolutely forbid their employees from delivering "references".  But many of my friends are usually more than happy to have a phone call with a friend, and field a question or two from the friend of a friend.  No harm no foul.  But formalize it any, and lawyers show up.  Of course, don't violate any ethics or policies of your company or of HP.   May your organization have the vision to be  appropriately informal and formal.   


"Hey Bill, we're soliciting calls for papers for Discover, did you get that email yet?"  "Yes I got it."  "We're really interested in the integration you built between UCMDB and your Fuzzbombinator system.  Would you be willing to spend 20 minutes with me sometime and draw up an abstract?  If the product guys like it, maybe you and PointyHairedBossMan could speak at Discover this year."  "Sure, we'll think about it."  "Thanks, I'll ping you in a few days then."  Even the traditional big-deal engagements are still effectively begun informally vs. the full-monty-reference approach.  At some point you have to formalize something, just let them ease into it!


"Hey Bill, I'm writing a white paper about Fuzzbombinator integration.  I'd really like your input based on the work you did with it.  Would you be willing to write up a page or so on your project, or work with me to do that?"  "Sure."  Customers love it when the vendor actually helps them document something they did.


All this works, at least occasionally, speaking from personal experience.


So this is the power of community.  The ability to solve problems in minutes, with email and texting ,rather than getting into the support queue for a nice week-long bout of  wrestling-with-log-files.  The ability to connect via one or two degrees of separation soemone who has encountered your same problem and already fixed it.  The ability to call up 20 or 30 people tomorrow and ask them for a job.  The feeling that someone has your back.  That's what it's like to have champions in your community.


And I haven't even gotten warmed up yet.  Stay tuned for the next episode of "Community Theatre".  Instead of paying for entertainment, this entertainment that pays you!  IF you go off and do something cool based on the ideas I've expressed here.  Please let me know if you're thinking about it.


Thanks for listening!



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About the Author
Jody Roberts is a researcher, author, and customer advocate in the Product Foundation Services (PFS) group in HP Software. Jody has worked ...

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