In our experience, there are 3 versions of customer marketing programs:

1) The wildly successful program
We’ve had the pleasure to support many of them, and the cascade of successes never gets old.

2) The modestly successful program
– Certainly better for the organization than having no program at all.
– But it’s like that person in your life with massive talent and potential who never quite realizes it.

3) The program that fails to launch

There are, as one might expect, many different reasons that explain each of these customer marketing program variants. From our experience, the wildly successful programs have most, if not all, of the following attributes:

The program leader checks these boxes

genuine appreciation for the power of customer advocacy
 sufficient bandwidth and focus
relevant skill & experience in program management
tenacity when it comes to goal achievement
never gets comfortable, always shooting for better

The executive champion checks these boxes

 the program may have been their idea
they are excited about the program’s potential
advocacy is baked into their goals
 not content to just fund the program, then work on more “important things”
 interested in program results

The important takeaway is that there are many examples of customer marketing programs that produce noteworthy and tangible results in customer acquisition and retention. They’re kicking butt and taking names! If that is the casethat’s it’s totally achievablethen why do other programs simply plod along, or worse, wither?

In our case, all customers use the same software, and receive the same level of customer success support. These are common denominators. An outside, impartial observer would have to conclude that the software, nor service, is the make-or-break factor.

What successful programs have that others don’t is change management competence. This competence isn’t usually a result of the executives or program manager having completed formal training. It’s that they possess substantial pieces of change management intelligence. How did they acquire that competence? Perhaps through past experience and learnings, or perhaps it comes naturally or intuitively. Either way, it alters the way change is managed, and therefore the trajectory of the program.

Change Management: The Elephant in the Room

Whenever a company reorganizes, changes core processes, adds new positions, implements new technology or otherwise disrupts the status quo, there are a set of activities that have to happen: communications, education, promotion, goal setting, and so on. Why is all this necessary? Because people need help moving from current state to future state. Change is not natural, and often resisted either openly or passively. People are people, accept it.

Yet this simple fact is so frequently overlooked or minimized to the detriment of “the change,” whatever that is. Change is personal, and resistance to change must be addressed at an individual level.

We believe that a lack of emphasis on Change Management is at the heart of unsuccessful customer marketing programs. This is no small gap; it’s like a car without fuel! A small percentage of companies we’ve worked with have someone, or a team dedicated to change management. At some point someone in these companies realized that failed change initiatives nearly always trace back to a change management “blind spot.” They’ve decided it needs to become a core competency for organizational success. Change happens and sticks in these organizations.

Expertise that Keeps on Giving

So, what can a customer marketing manager do when it comes to change management? First, recognize that this skill will apply many times in your career, regardless of the direction it takes. It is absolutely worth your time to invest in developing change management competence. Any change you are a part of, or in charge of, will benefit from you knowing the principles of change management.

70% of change management initiatives fail to achieve their goals, largely due to employee resistance and lack of management support (MkKinsey)


42% of companies said lack of user buy-in contributed to change failure (Forbes)

There are many good change management resources. One of our favorites is Prosci. Their ADKAR model, short for Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability, Reinforcement, is a great place to start. From our experience, the most commonly overlooked parts are Desire and Reinforcement.

A customer marketing manager must address the Desire among sales, marketing and customer success early and often. Talk to those not adopting, or worse, sabotaging the program’s likelihood of success. Think about these ADKAR reasons to participate in change relative to your own program experience:

    • Likelihood of gain or achievement (incentive, reward, recognition)
    • Fear of consequence (risk or penalty)
    • Desire to be part of something (to belong)
    • Willingness to follow a leader you trust
    • Alternative is worse

Reinforcement goes by another name in our company: everboarding. This term is a way to recognize that while projects have defined start and end dates, change management does not, though it may take different forms over time.

In addition to the myriad online change management resources, you may have one or more people in your organization tasked with change management. Sometimes these people are in sales enablement, HR or elsewhere. You should enlist them in your program’s success, learn from them. However you approach it, we encourage you to commit yourself to becoming proficient in the art and science of change management. The success it brings you will yield professional growth opportunities that will define your career, no matter what stage you’re in today.