Tom Webster, CEO of procurement outsourcer Intesource, invited me to attend their recent Summit in Scottsdale AZ (tough assignment, how could I pass that up?).
I went there to be that fly on the wall to see how it’s run, the value to the customer, the value to Intesource and to feel the personality and vibe of the summit.
Every attendee was greeted at the airport by someone from Intesource…for me it was Ashley as I walked out of the airport and Michelle, who drove me to and from the airport. Now I know there were things these folks could have been doing on a Saturday night other than carting me 40 minutes to the hotel. At 11pm, I was the final pick-up after a very long day. These two, along with Ashley’s boyfriend, were incredible. It became immediately apparent that they were so excited about this summit, the chance to see customers and were extremely proud representatives of the company. Ashley, Michelle and Kelly (and I’m sure many others), managed this event in world-class style.
The next day I walked into the welcome reception and I thought I was walking into a college reunion…witnessing old friends reconnecting. I couldn’t tell the customers from Intesource. The tone of the conversation was that of respect, trust and friendship. Clearly, the customers viewed Intesource as a trusted partner as well as an extension of their respective companies.
One of the most impressive moments was when I had the opportunity to sit with the leaders of the customer service area. They were equally proud and excited to be a part of this event with the customers they serve every day. They each had stories about customers as they passed where we sat. The average tenure of the four I sat with was about 10 years, and this company is only 11 years old! As the Director of Customer Service area, Erin Alstad, left to greet a customer, her husband, Sean, took the opportunity to share with me how much she loves the company, her job and helping these customers.
At this point, I knew I was in the presence of a company culture CEOs dream of…and the next couple days would be a real treat.
When so many customers are gathered together, most firms feel compelled to sell, promote the company, etc. Intesource not only stayed away from this, but actually let the customers define the topics and build the agenda. Yes, the controls were turned over to the customer for the next two days. Webster opened the meeting by saying, “This is your meeting and we’re merely the facilitators.” For the balance of the meeting their presence on stage was very limited. The customers owned the stage…sharing their stories, lessons learned and best practices. Every presenter specifically mentioned a couple people from Intesource as instrumental to their success.
The customers came very well-prepared and took pride in being educators to the balance of the attendees. Presently, Intesource services are concentrated in a few industries and there were many competitors in the meetings taking notes. But it didn’t affect the quality, insight, openness and generosity in sharing experiences. Customers (who were real decision makers) were there to give and gain knowledge.
Time and again at the breaks, customers would say “I didn’t know Intesource could do…” or “I need to learn how I can do that for our company,” These comments translate into huge revenue growth opportunities.
One of their most long-standing customers announced in the last session that he’d been a customer for 7+ years and was attending his 4th Intesource Summit. He then stated that he has "a whole list of new ideas I will be taking back to my company.”
Giving up control=Idea sharing among customers = greater revenue.
I had a long talk with a prospect who was blown away with everything I listed above…I’m confident he and others will no longer be prospects.
Was there selling, product promoting and bragging going on about Intesource? Yes, there was plenty…it came from everyone, except the Intesource people.
This is the opportunity to turn customers into sales agents, educators, advocates and even friends! The way they engage their customer in mutually beneficial programs like this is the reason this company has doubled its customer base and revenue in the last couple years (in a brutal economic market).
Peggy Hicks from customer service told me that she looks forward to this all year, because she gets to hear the stories and spend quality time with those she helps - mostly via phone - all year long. I don’t think I’d find an Intesource person, a customer or a prospect who would disagree.