Behind every B2B purchase is a person—a person who is used to the online shopping experience as a B2C customer. Savvy B2B companies understand this and are adjusting their online marketing and purchase processes to emulate consumer experiences.

Granted, there are significant differences between an individual purchase of a consumer good and the intricacies of corporate procurement. Nonetheless, B2B purchases are completing a greater percentage of the decision-making process before entering a formal sales process with potential vendors. The ubiquity of online information and due diligence makes it easy. According to a study by Corporate Executive Board of more than 1,400 B2B customers, and reported in the Harvard Business Review, these B2B customers “completed, on average, nearly 60% of a typical purchasing decision—researching solutions, ranking options, setting requirements, benchmarking pricing, and so on—before having a conversation with a supplier.”

Interestingly, the newly emancipated and self-directed corporate buyer isn’t just taking a vendor’s word. In fact, Forrester Research reports that B2B buyers seek out an average of three 3rd party endorsements for every piece of corporate collateral they buy.

Must Knows: Advocates, Assets and Avenues

In the B2B arena, customer advocacy traditionally translates to sales arranging a one-on-one customer reference call or sharing written or video case studies. But in this new world of self-service research, it is essential that B2B organizations embrace different ways of channeling customer advocacy. How can corporate marketing adapt to and facilitate this consumer-style approach?  It all starts with customer reference or advocacy programs.

Here are three essential things B2B marketers must know to ride this new wave:

  1. Know your advocates
    A surprising number of B2B firms don’t have a comprehensive view of their customers, let alone the ability to identify which customers are advocates.
  2. Know your advocacy assets
    Even companies that have a handle on their referenceable customers are unable to pinpoint what types of advocacy activities individuals within the customer are willing to participate in or what asset material exists. It is critical to catalog and curate case studies, testimonial videos as well as an advocate’s willingness and suitability for speaking events, analysts’ calls and person-to-person references.
  3. Establish advocacy channels
    Before formally engaging in the sales process, your prospects are looking for information. Will they find yours? Of course, posting content on the corporate website it a priority, but where else with prospects look for insight? Invite customer advocates to post their comments on social media sites such as LinkedIn or product-specific websites. In some cases, providing a community platform can both encourage and expedite advocate engagement.

Must Haves:  All-Inclusive Information, Automated Processes, Advocacy Tracking

The foundation for this level of advocacy involvement is a customer advocacy management application that provides the specific tools marketers need including:

  1. A single, up-to-date, view of customers. At a glance, a marketing department advocacy evangelist needs to see complete customers profile including produced content, products used, and referenceability status. Additionally it is important to have advocacy profiles specific to each Contact. For example, if they are willing to post recommendations on social media or speak at an event.
  2. Streamlined and automated reference processes that empower routine reference requests to be processed peer-to-peer, freeing up the marketing staff to focus on expanded advocacy opportunities.
  3. Built-in tracking and point assignment capabilities for rewarding advocacy activity.

A comprehensive application is cornerstone of a customer advocacy initiative and intrinsic to managing customer advocacy that delivers the B2C experience to B2B buyers.

We recommend the Institute of Certified Customer Advocacy Professionals (ICCAP) for training and certification.
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