There’s a lot more to discuss about the world of customer marketing!

This is part II of my conversation with Kim Glover, consultant and leader of the customer marketing practice at Porter Consulting. where we share our observations, learnings and advice for customer marketers: new and veteran.

When a new client is building a customer reference database for the first time, where do you tell them to start?

KG: From a recruiting process, I’d be recommending looking to the executive leadership team’s priorities and ensuring we’re mapping back to those by prioritizing customers to recruit in key industries and regions, and also looking at factors such as name recognition and dollar value of deals. Anything to focus on and help separate the highest tier “cream of the crop” references that can help drive the company priorities should be identified for effort first. Next up would be identifying 2nd tier customers who might be solid candidates for recruitment.

DS: Mapping to corporate imperatives is so important, and often a second thought. Too often a program is just happy to add any customer as a reference, but that misses the point. You could have hundreds of references in a database, but only a small percentage are in demand, relevant to achieving company growth goals. That’s a waste of everyone’s time.

 Have you identified the traits of program leaders that tend to predict success?

KG: Relationship-builders. All the way, all the time. As I said earlier, not just people who “manage up” well, but people who build strong relationships with Sales and other key program constituents and stakeholders. And of course, people who build strong customer bonds, who showcase their customers in the very best light and know they can count on that customer to return the favor.

DS: Boy, that’s the truth. The word “outgoing” comes to mind as well. I don’t necessarily mean extrovert, but more a natural desire to go out (virtual or otherwise) and meet stakeholders and department managers versus hoping they’re discovered. Everyone is busy and inclined to keep doing what they’ve always done―inertia. Wallflowers need not apply. Back to my earlier thoughts on aligning with executive goals, this awareness translated to action is a big marker for us.

 What are some particularly creative examples you’ve seen of advocate program promotions, internal and external?

KG: Recently we’ve helped a client create a brand new Influitive hub that wasn’t actually built for their customer advocates! In fact, it was built for their channel sales partners as a way to engage more closely with them and help their partners stay informed, motivated, and supported. We’ve also helped another client use a video platform to send out an interactive, internal “newsletter” to their team to let them know about new company offerings. There are so many more engaging ways to reach an audience with affordable technology. We like to stay on the cusp of these offerings and always bring options to our clients for their consideration.

DS: Those are good! One of our clients has dedicated time on each All Sales meeting to share customer advocate success stories, which apparently is a very popular part of the meetings. It’s like story time, and they have a lot of great stories 😊 

Do you have examples of impact opportunities that customer marketers commonly miss?

KG: Using your customer reference database effectively is huge. We often see clients who don’t put an emphasis on the quality, relevancy, or even the accuracy of the content in their database, and I find I am constantly having to remind folks that “garbage in equals garbage out” and that a database is a living, breathing asset that needs attention. It’s also not a huge effort if you keep it maintained with current content at all times. I don’t believe there’s a “set it and forget it” customer reference database out there that could possibly be any good or serve a customer reference marketing team well. Your database is an investment for your company, and you need to protect it by ensuring you have someone responsible for auditing and maintaining your precious customer content and keeping it current and relevant to your company’s changing needs and growth.

DS: Agreed. In a recent blog post I wrote about the importance of a good search experience. While our product includes automation that assists with reference identification and recruiting, as well as data maintenance, being proactive about having the right customers in the program based on future demand, that’s a core manager responsibility. To do that well the program manager must consult with their stakeholders and be attuned to top company sales and marketing initiatives. There’s no AI for that today. 

 What do you think are the most important factors in engaging salespeople in customer marketing programs?

KG: It has to be a win-win relationship and since many sales folks are “coin operated” (can I say that out loud?!) the customer marketing team needs to prove they will always be there to help the salesperson get their win when the chips are down and they need a reference to seal the deal. Part of forming that relationship is being incredibly responsive to their immediate need for a reference, and then afterwards following it up with a communication outlining how you need them to be an active supporter of the reference team in exchange. 

It’s relationship finesse, and particularly if the executive leadership places adequate importance on the requirement of sales to partner with the reference team, it will be successful.

DS: One of those truisms is that we all want to know what’s in it for me. Salespeople are used to fending for themselves when it comes to customer references. Operationalizing customer advocacy requires change management. The direct managers of salespeople are, in our opinion, the linchpin in accelerating that change management. Clearly communicating how the program will make life better for them and their direct reports is the key. There is no such thing as over-communicating in this situation. Their support is the game changer.

 Customer success as a function has grown substantially over the past 5 years. How do you see that development in the context of customer marketing?

KG: This is an interesting take in terms of the role of Customer Success departments having grown or substantially changed. I guess in my mind, you can call the department or position anything but the bottom line is there’s almost always a key individual (Sales rep or CSM or even a Solution Architect) who remains closest to the customer and is often the very reason the customer agrees to be a reference. I don’t see that as having substantially changed, although the titles may have.

And this all ties back to relationship-building. Honor the relationship the end customer has with their “person” within the organization, and stay in lockstep with that contact so all requests are funneled or managed in collaboration with them. This doesn’t always happen—and is a huge misstep when it doesn’t—but when you align perfectly internally, you’ll have a far greater chance of succeeding with securing customer testimonials and keeping your colleagues supporting your efforts in return.

DS: We see multiple versions of customer success. In the most strategic form the team is measured on renewals and the advocacy of their accounts. When advocacy is a shared goal life is a whole lot easier for customer marketing in terms of establishing a constant pipeline of new program members. Without that partnership more time and effort must be spent by customer marketing managers recruiting and qualifying, as well as onboarding new advocates.

Thanks for reading and commenting! If you missed part I of our conversation, be sure to check it out for more insights into our ever-expanding community.