You may have heard the term everboarding. It applies to so many situations in business, including stakeholders and customer marketing/advocacy. Onboarding is a one-off project; everboarding is a continuous, evolutionary process. In practice, almost everything involves some degree of everboarding. Think about when you joined your current employer. Yes, there were the usual HR tasks including paperwork, IRL or digital. But was that the last you heard from HR? No way. You continue to receive updates as policies, benefits, and processes evolve. Think about that regular security training—yes, you’ve been seamlessly everboarded without even realizing it!
Customer Marketing & Advocacy (CMA) is a better defined discipline than it has ever been. Yet, it’s still relatively new to the people who need to know about it, leverage it, and feed it. The muscle memory isn’t there, unless you have a well established program. So, in most cases, it’s up to you to build it. How specifically does everboarding apply to customer marketing?
At the launch of a new CMA program, there should be, understandably, a lot of communication about the program, answering questions like: Why is it needed? What are the expected benefits? How does it work? How will this affect me? What’s in it for me? That should take care of the users present at the time of the launch.
But people come and go, they change roles. The program will adapt to changing conditions and corporate needs, and you can’t leave your stakeholders in the dark. That necessitates more communication. Establish a rhythm of regular, meaningful updates through the most resonant channels, be it team meetings, newsletters, direct message channels, etc. This forces you to ask, ‘Is there anything that I need to share this week/month?’
Take every opportunity to talk about things you’re doing to make the program better, and the results the program is producing. Share sales and retention successes that involved advocates from your program. People like to associate with winners. Your program wins need to be regularly broadcast. This is a form of education as well. By showing examples of advocate success you’re modeling effective practices. Don’t assume even the most experienced salespeople know how to use advocates to best effect. These examples provide tangible, best practices; and describe the differences between onboarding and everboarding.
Training & Education
Like Awareness, most companies do a good job training end-users of a program or tool at launch, then assume everyone’s “got it.” Bad assumption. CMA stakeholders may not need the program every week, or even every month. We’ve all been faced with returning to a process or application after not having used it for awhile. Remember that feeling of trepidation when trying to remember how to use it? What do we do if we can’t? Revert to the old way of doing something. Ugh.
Everboarding means acknowledging the inevitability of memory fade and proactively offering knowledge refreshers. Provide training “hacks” to users in a variety of formats, including videos, “cheat sheets,” bite-sized tips and tricks, office hours, and live recurring training sessions. How long must this continue? For as long as human beings are the end-users. This is not “retraining,” it is everboarding. Many companies use playbooks, documented process steps, to ensure best practices are repeatable. Some of the playbooks should include CMA best practices, such as when to use customer advocate content, when and how to find advocates, how to nominate an advocate for program membership, how to update advocate data, and so on. Getting program information into officially sanctioned documented processes is huge!
The most fundamental component of a CMA program is a reliable, sufficiently detailed customer database. Who is willing to do what? For what use cases and products? How often? There is a big push to build this database, and it’s important for end-users’ first impressions. This effort requires support from leadership, managers and end-users.
And just when you think you have a solid database of advocates, the advocates change! They change jobs. They fall in and out of “happy” with you. You and your colleagues close to customer relationships need to continuously care for this database, and in a timely fashion. When a user has a bad experience based on outdated advocate information, it is hard to earn their trust back. So the trick here is to establish regular reviews of advocate data. It may take a while to build this muscle memory, so be ready to ride herd on it until it’s got momentum. Let’s not forget rewarding good behavior as an element of everboarding. Some companies will offer spiffs at the outset, just to jumpstart program activities such as nominations, then stop. The drop-off in activity is predictable. Make the rewards system a permanent part of your program. Know that it need not be expensive, but it does need to be creative and well-received by the users you want to motivate. Ask them what would “move them,” don’t guess. You’ll only waste time and money.
CMA leaders are consultants, or at least that is the potential. When the program launches you have the attention of the company, but your stakeholder teams in particular. PR, Events, Demand Gen, Sales and others know about the program. Maybe you had an opportunity to join team meetings and explain how CMA is able to support their initiatives. That’s great, because you want to get into their planning process, and stay in it.
Fast forward 3 months, 6 months. Did your message stick? Probably not yet, or not consistently across teams. Let’s say the events team is building out their calendar for the quarter or year. Have they factored advocates into their plans? Keynote speakers, panelists? Only through your continued presence will it become automatic: “Hey, having an advocate do X at this event would be awesome!” As a consultant you can brainstorm such ideas with them, and make them aware of the stories among your members that would make a big impact.
Of course, you will have received budget and tacit support from leadership in order to create a CMA program. And most think that is the end of their part in the success of your program. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Initial support may make for a good launch, but as you can see from all the preceding topics, leadership is needed to build that muscle memory across the organization.
Regular leadership messaging should echo through the organizational hierarchy, encouraging adaptation and celebrating transformation. What kind of messaging? Some of it is pure support, amplifying program successes. Some of it is reminding employees to change, as prescribed; out with the old, in with the new. This typically works best when managers are held to task. They are closest to the “troops,” and will have visibility into resistance to change, and processes that are failing due to that resistance. Since managers change, the same everboarding rules apply. Plan to meet regularly with key managers to keep them apprised of program results, the mandate you were given, and how their support is needed.
Business is not a field of dreams where “build it and they will come” holds true. Change is hard. Humans naturally resist change. As a CMA leader it is best to start your program with an everboarding mentality. That means you can’t launch the program and simply move on to other ventures. That’s a losing strategy. Persistence is often a trait that our most successful program leaders have in spades. They just don’t accept a lack of progress. They are rewarded time and again. You will never hear the words “retrain” or “relaunch” come out of their mouths. Why? They’ve never viewed their program as a project with a start and stop. They have an everboarding mindset.