Discrete Function to Program

When customer advocate/reference programs came into being, they were typically tasked with one or two objectives: create case studies, and/or find customer references to help Sales move forward and close opportunities. As such, the function existed more or less disconnected from most of the enterprise. They weren’t viewed as an enterprise-wide resource, but offered benefits to just one or two departments.

Somewhere along the way executives, CMOs in particular, recognized that customer advocates could help a myriad of scenarios, and by the way, seemed to have more credibility with buyers, analysts, the media, and investors, than conventional advertising and marketing efforts that did not feature customers and their real-world successes. This was the beginning of legitimate customer advocate programs. While there was general head nodding around the concept, what didn’t always happen was the cultural shift that was necessary to integrate the program across the enterprise in terms of planning, collaboration, and two-way SLAs.

Customer advocate programs are about as cross-functional as it gets. What they offer is valuable to nearly every department in an organization. In that way, they inherently have strategic potential. But only with skilled, competent program leaders and meaningful buy-in from executives and team managers.

Many years ago we worked with a client at the early stage of building its inaugural customer advocate program. After defining the scope of their program, there was a deep conversation about how they would interact with each stakeholder team; and where the synergies lay. The give and take, the reciprocity, between a program and its stakeholder teams is typically informal and assumed. But we felt—and this client organization was fertile ground for a test—that formalizing these relationship commitments would be a way to ensure accountability and success.

Defining Stakeholder Benefits

The process begins with taking inventory of how each stakeholder group (executives, Sales, events, PR, demand gen, etc.) will benefit from the program, and how the program will benefit from the stakeholder group.

Here are a few examples:

Executive Team

Customer Advocate Program ⇒ Executive Team

  • Provides customer advocates for executive activities involving analysts, investors, tier-one media, etc.
  • Leads executive advisory board for the Customer Advocate Program

Executive Team ⇒ Customer Advocate Program

  • Provides change management communications support
  • Provides change management support in the form of policy enforcement
  • Provides appropriate budget for resources, tools, and incentives
  • Attends quarterly program advisory board meetings
  • Executives cultivate and recruit executive-level customer contacts for Customer Advocate Program

Sales

Customer Advocate Program ⇒ Sales

  • Maintains centralized, searchable advocate database with essential advocate information
  • Meets periodically with Sales team managers for advocate needs planning
  • Attends relevant/appropriate Sales team meetings
  • Supports customer reference calls, site visits, and RFPs/Proposals
  • Generates relevant, in-demand customer content (videos, case studies, etc.)
  • Coordinates customer reference forum events for end-of-period advocate needs, and provides recordings of the events for anytime use

Sales ⇒ Customer Advocate Program

  • Consistently uses prescribed processes and systems provided by the Customer Advocate Program
  • Meets periodically with Customer Advocate team for advocate needs planning
  • Nominates advocate prospects for program membership
  • Assists with the maintenance of essential customer advocate information
  • Provides feedback voluntarily, or as requested, to the Customer Advocate Program, ensuring Sales needs are met

Events Team

Customer Advocate Program ⇒ Events Team

  • Meets quarterly with Events team for advocate needs planning
  • Maintains a database of prequalified event speakers

Events Team ⇒ Customer Advocate Program

  • Works with Customer Advocate Program to accommodate the capture of customer videos (presentations, testimonials, etc.) at various events
  • Provides feedback on presentation speakers

Stakeholder Agreement

This benefits statement then defines stakeholder agreements: commitments each party needs to make to realize the benefits. Your list of commitments, by stakeholder group, should be the result of a collaborative effort with each team, perhaps starting with team managers. This is an opportunity to educate and to explain how an effective working relationship will help them achieve their goals, and ultimately, success. This is a fundamental tenant of change management: Awareness.

Once the commitment list is finalized, it can be dropped into a simple agreement, specific to each team, to make it official. Following is an example for Sales:

This becomes a touchstone document, which should be revisited over time as a means for keeping the parties accountable, and ensuring it’s still accurate and complete. You may think the signatures seem excessive, but there is something about putting ink to the agreement that gives it weight.

The Wrap

Transforming customer advocacy from a side project into a core strategic function is essential for corporate growth. That transformation demands a unified commitment and collaboration across all departments—because customer advocacy is, after all, a team sport. By doing so, you not only elevate the voice of your customers, but also amplify the collective success of your organization. Most programs don’t begin with this premise, but it’s never too late to reinvent and create a center of excellence in your organization.