Holistic Customer Marketing

Holistic customer marketing is essential to optimizing the value of your customer advocate program. Here are some things to help you achieve better results.

Customer Marketing has two definitions in the market.

  1. Leveraging customer advocates for the purpose of winning new customers
  2. Marketing to existing customers for the purpose of account expansion and renewal

I’m going to focus on the evolution—the 2.0 version—of definition #1. Many companies have determined that customer advocates have the power to persuade, unlike any marketing messaging, conventional sales practices, analysts, and other well-worn strategies, channels and tactics. The sheer number of open positions for program managers in the past six months speaks volumes about the newly recognized influence of customer marketing.

A program manager, new to our space, begins with these primary objectives:

  1. Centralize customer advocate information
  2. Ensure information is current and accurate
  3. Grow the customer reference database
  4. Assist those looking for references (including content), or a search interface for self-service

These are the basics, and they’re an excellent place to start. But what then?

Today there are a variety of integration possibilities, both functional and technical, that a holistic customer advocate ecosystem.

Each is a domain of subject matter expertise unto itself

There’s a reason we haven’t created a monolithic software solution that includes all the technologies I’ll be covering. There is a lot to know about each, and like the medical profession, the depth of specialization required is simply too much for any one solution provider to do well. That means each solution’s integration capabilities become paramount. Additionally, each likely requires an internal owner, partially or fully dedicated, to make that function successful. We delve into this topic specific to customer reference management in this post.

Why consider these integrations? The reality is that your customer advocate landscape changes all the time in terms of sentiment, the specifics of their customer relationship (products in use, # of users, use cases, etc.), and employment status (they change roles and companies). Automation can do a lot of the tactical work, but the strategic work and relationship cultivation continue to require humans.

Here is a non-exhaustive list of functions that should be part of your comprehensive customer marketing program.

Customer Reference Management

Our bread and butter, customer reference management, is the centerpiece to so much of the customer marketing program. The emphasis is on knowing who is a reference, for what, how often, and for what advocacy activities with just a few seconds of searching. An accurate, up-to-date reference database results from gathering, qualifying, and maintaining customer information about your company’s MVP customers. It is a truly cross-functional effort. Check out our post, Customer Reference Management; It’s a Team Sport. You’ll find that this database is most valuable when all of the following programs and associated technologies talk to it, which we strongly encourage.

Online Communities

There are purpose-built advocate communities such as Influitive’s AdvocateHub and those customized for this purpose such as Salesforce Customer Cloud. All of them provide opportunities for engagement early in the journey (e.g., identifying advocates) and over the long-haul when customer reviews need a boost or the company wants feedback (e.g., help to prioritize user conference topics or roadmap priorities). They provide a means of issuing rewards and keeping members apprised of their contributions and reward balances. Of course, they also offer a way to connect customers with one another for various reasons, something that may not be possible outside of their customer relationship with you.

Customer Success Management

We believe the customer success function is an essential part of the customer marketing function. Done well, customer success nurtures customers to satisfaction, renewal, and ultimately advocacy. Customer Success typically owns the customer relationship and has the greatest insight into an account’s current state. Whether using Salesforce, Gainsight, Totango, or another purpose-built customer success application, CSMs maintain a customer status that’s used, at a high level, to represent an account’s (and perhaps key contacts as well) “health” as a score, such as a red/yellow/green indicator or some equivalent. When searching for an ideal customer reference, it’s crucial that only “healthy” accounts are returned in results. Therefore, it makes great sense to leverage the CS account status to determine a customer’s status as a reference.

CSMs are well-positioned to identify prospects for the reference program as well. Providing CSMs with a mechanism for nominating customers is one way to maintain a robust pipeline of advocates, which ensures sufficient “new blood” to counter balance natural customer advocate attrition.

Referral Management

While newer to the B2B arena, more companies are building formal referral programs that incentivize existing clients to help bring in new customers. Referrals are another form of customer advocacy. Referring customers should be recognized for their efforts along with their other acts of advocacy. It’s part of the full picture of your customers’ relationship. If you’re using Influitive’s AdvocateHub, Amplifinity, Ambassador, or Saasquatch, you’ll want those activities/transactions included in at least one centralized source.

Marketing Automation

It seems every company has software for marketing campaigns, and customer marketing is a beneficiary. Applications such as Eloqua, Marketo, and Pardot are useful when it comes to customer-direct activities. Many of our clients use these tools to canvas their customer base for potential advocates. It’s complementary to, for instance, CSMs nominating clients. For more on this recruiting method, see this post.

Customer-Generated Content

Reviews are a necessary component of any customer marketer’s toolkit. Reviews are a form of customer-generated content, useful to digital marketers, salespeople, and analysts, to name a few.  TrustRadius, G2, and Capterra all provide integrations to websites, and in at least some cases, to CRM systems like Salesforce. Reviews complement longer form customer perspectives such as case studies/ROI studies, and are particularly good at “warming up” a lead early in the buyer’s journey.

UserEvidence, Vocal Video, ShoutOut, and SlapFive represent scalable options for gathering customer experiences via surveys or video capture, respectively. Like customer reviews, these resources have a lot of legs. Demand generation may be the biggest beneficiary, but  salespeople are as well, particularly in the early to middle opportunity stages.

The key to this content, like any content, is making it easy for potential users (salespeople, marketers, analyst relations, and PR managers) to find and share it. Having a single place to find any content for Sales and marketing is the key, and correlating use to impact (e.g., revenue influenced) is the holy grail for CxOs, especially CROs.

Sales Enablement

Applications such as Seismic, Highspot, and Showpad include content management functionality. In fact, most started there then added “guidance” or “playbook” functionality to increase consistency and Sales effectiveness. Customer content, in whatever form, must be easily discoverable or systematically matched to opportunities to be useful. You’ve probably seen this stat: 65% of sales reps say they can’t find content to send to prospects. That’s criminal! In the case of customer content, just think of all the interview time, writing, editing and approvals that aren’t delivering the intended impact. The integration opportunity here is making content easy to find, where salespeople live, and tracking content’s influence on opportunities. This data must be included in customer marketing’s reporting because without its cultivated customer relationships, there would be no customer content.

As mentioned , this technology category often includes sales playbooks/guidance functionality. That means someone has plotted out the sales process and documented best practices for a salesperson to follow. Surprisingly, customer marketing doesn’t often recognize the opportunity (or get invited) to teach customer reference best practices. As part of earlier sales stages, the salesperson should be leveraging content, especially customer content. As the opportunity moves to the middle and later stages, she should be reminded to start thinking about lining up references for calls or site visits, and not wait until the last minute. And not just any reference will do, which is a topic covered in this post. In our experience, there is too little coordination between the sales enablement tools and processes, and customer marketing.

What an exciting time to be in customer marketing! You can be an expert in any of the areas described above and establish a valuable role in your organization. There is a more holistic, senior leadership role that oversees and coordinates all of these related functions and can have an enterprise-level impact. If your company has a chief revenue officer, who is all about revenue optimization, then you should join forces. They’ll have an easy time seeing how customer marketing contributes to their mission, which we expand upon in this post.