This is your biggest challenge, right? Salespeople are tough to corral since they are such independent creatures with a single-minded drive.
It’s clear, from an enterprise viewpoint, how an organized and efficient customer marketing program can make their lives better. But that is not obvious to them. For salespeople, operationalizing a function translates to change, demands on their time and less perceived efficiency, at least to begin with. None of that sounds good—from their perspective. The good news is that many program managers have successfully navigated these waters and avoided all the classic pitfalls.
Sales co-designs their program
By volume, Sales is the biggest beneficiary of a customer advocate program, but only if it’s built to meet their needs. One of the smartest things you can do is to form an advisory board for your program early on. Use their feedback on advocate data needs, processes, rewards and training. Maintaining relevant data (and customer content) and the means to search it are the foundation of your program. Knowing exactly what types of customer advocates are now or soon-to-be in demand is essential. If stakeholders don’t find what they need, all is for naught. So, know your company’s growth goals and how they translate to your data, and lean on your program advisory board to help steer your advocate recruiting plan.
Appeal to their self-interest
This is nothing new, but bears repeating as it gets lost among all the activities that have to happen to launch and run a program. Your stakeholders have to understand what’s in it for them. What is all the disruption you’re asking for going to yield? It’s easier to make your point if you’ve gathered information about current pain points such as never having enough customer advocates of a certain type, having forms of content that aren’t useful, not having a way to easily search and find compelling advocates and the worst: losing deals because advocates could not be provided in the specified timeframe. This insight may come from data analysis, or a survey of the Sales team.
Assume training won’t stick
We believe in providing clear and concise training about how the program in general, and technology specifically, work. But too often there is a lapse in time between training and use, or people simply miss training altogether. That means that information missed in training needs to be easy and quick to find, consume and understand. In the case of a customer reference management app, help should be available in line with the task being performed. Many of our clients offer task-specific videos, monthly office hours or recurring live training sessions open to anyone with questions. Offering options for any learning scenario or style demonstrates a commitment to your stakeholders.
Shut down the black market
This is perhaps the biggest obstacle to change. You can do everything else in this post really well, but if the old options remain available (e.g., Slack or Teams channels just for finding references), then you won’t reach a critical mass of adoption. You’ll need additional sets of eyes from managers to help you, which is a good segue to the next topic.
Recruit management muscle
There are going to be salespeople who aren’t going to change their ways willingly―expect it. It’s normal to encounter lone wolves who instinctively do things differently. As long as they’re selling, they tend to be left alone. Then there is a group of sellers who could do much better at reference selling, but who need more than incentives to work smarter. They may need consequences in the form of withheld commissions, bonuses, etc. That’s where Sales leadership comes in, wielding the “stick.” Just like with salespeople, leadership needs to be reminded of why the program exists. An effective program helps elevate below average producers to average, and average producers to above average. That means more of their team members meet their quotas, which in turn help the VP of Sales or CRO hit her goals. If they aren’t willing to help you with change management, they are only hurting themselves.
Rewards and Recognition
Conventional thinking is that salespeople should do things, like nominating new customers as references, because it’s part of their job. But pragmatic leaders acknowledge that if you want to get sellers’ attention, then there needs to be a fun, competitive and rewarding element. That doesn’t always mean cash, although salespeople do like cash. Creative approaches involving like recognition by leadership, and winning competitions, work, and need not be expensive. If you run a contest, the contest standings need to be visible to all players to stay top-of-mind. Contest leaderboards inject fuel into those competitive engines.
Leverage early adopter wins
Customer advocate stories influence both prospects and your program stakeholders. Peers are a top influencer, that’s a fact. So, use your early adopters’ success to show those still in the transformation stage, between current and future states, how they too can be successful by using the program as designed. Share these stories with regularity in Sales team meetings and company-wide communications. Long after program launch, there will always be new salespeople, and even existing salespeople forget how critical references are when there isn’t a pending deal. A customer advocate program is a year-round operation, and its mission of decreasing advocate round-up time and increasing the odds of closing deals must be communicated like a steady drum beat.
Level up your technology
Any technology purposefully designed to categorize and centralize advocate information, support complex advocate searches, manage reference requests and capture reference nominations, should make life easier for salespeople, not harder. Provide access to these capabilities where salespeople already live (CRM, sales portal, mobile apps). That alone reduces the behavior “re-programming” that’s part of change management.