There are many best practices that contribute to a healthy customer advocate program.
- Engaging new customers early
- Building relationships around mutual benefit
- Amplifying customer stories through multiple channels
- Properly staffing the various functions within the program for success
- Maintaining executive engagement & support
Advocate Candy for Executives
It’s that last item that is the focus of this post. No one questions the importance of allying with one or more executives to help remove barriers to change as key to a program’s success. I recently blogged on the executive support subject—again—because there’s an endless number of micro-subjects within “Executive Support.”
When you think about executives and most-valued customers, which ones do you expect receive the most attention? Is it the segment of customers with names no one has heard of at a cocktail party? Is it the customer names that never bubble up to board meetings or in media? Nope. It’s the marquee names. The elephants. The whales. Counting these companies as clients sends a message to a range of prospective customers: “If [market leader company] uses that solution, it’s good enough for us!”
So far, pretty obvious, right? However, when I think about most customer marketing programs with a team of one or a handful of people supporting thousands (i.e., under-resourced), it isn’t common to see a separate track or engagement model for marquee accounts, even if only the top 5. Instead, the same program membership value proposition is offered to both run-of-the-mill advocate accounts and marquee accounts. That’s a mistake for a number of reasons. The most obvious reason is the missed opportunities to partner with household name accounts to elevate your vendor standing in the market.
Here’s the other side. Executives will stand up and take notice if you, as a customer marketing manager, can routinely further your company’s relationship with the marquee accounts, which will be highly visible by definition. When you’re able to make things happen with these exceptional accounts, you buy credibility, your abilities shine, and the results of the partnership spread through your company like wildfire: “Something special is happening in customer marketing!”
Once marquee reference accounts are getting appropriate attention, your program will too. Do you think you’ll be greeted with the same skepticism, indifference, or stories of exhausted budget when you request to increase headcount, add technology to be more efficient, or augment the budget to do some special things to show gratitude to those accounts? Heck no! It’s fun to put money on a winner. It means more good will happen, making executives and the teams they’ve built look great. Win-win. Think hard about carving out a set of marquee accounts and make advocate magic with them.
How do you get started?
- Develop a plan, journey, blueprint—whatever you want to call it—for quarterly advocate activity options that you’ll present to top accounts. This is long-range planning, perhaps 12 months into the future.
- Develop a list of potential advocate activities such as speaking at events, guest blogging, doing a video series, etc., and how your company will show its gratitude. Big companies don’t want swag; they want to be part of your company’s direction. They want additional access to your executives, more input into product roadmaps, and company-facilitated networking with peers.
- Formalize this plan to review together with your marquee account contacts.
- Identify the marquee accounts in your program with the most potential. Your calculus should include both marketing value and value perceived by your leadership team (ideally, they’re one and the same).
- Estimate the time required to build and manage these “premium” relationships, weigh that against other responsibilities, then determine how many marquee accounts you can take on, at least initially.
- Meet with your relevant executives on your plan, get feedback and buy-in, and lastly, a commitment to help you make the connections with VPs and CxOs targeted.
If you’re successful, you will change the perception of your program and yourself within your organization. Be ready for the additional visibility and the additional support in the form of executive time, budget, and headcount. This is a flashy side of customer marketing. It may only comprise 10% of your program’s quantifiable results, but it will be 90% of what you’re known for. And that’s okay. It’s a means to an end, which is a comprehensive customer marketing model that permeates every department that relies on advocates; and fuels company growth.