Marketing automation is an essential tool to accelerate advocate recruiting. We’re 100% in favor of leveraging every possible channel to uncover customer references for your program. And not just any customer, the ones that help Sales and Marketing reach their goals,and not coincidentally, your company’s growth goals—the ones by which your CEO and the rest of the leadership team are measured.

The classic approach would be to ask Sales and Customer Success to nominate those customers who have the desired stories, use cases, geography, and product mix. This method can be very successful in many companies. In others, though, something doesn’t click. Maybe leadership didn’t communicate the importance of growing the reference database. Perhaps there are no benefits for the nominators or consequences for not being a team player. Regardless, the program must go on!!

In these circumstances, think about recruiting customers directly. Where to begin? With a customer list from your most recent customer satisfaction survey (NPS or other). Build a report to filter out the neutrals or detractors (in NPS terminology). The customers left in the list are the highest probability, most positive sentiment “leads” for your customer reference program. If you’ve got the time and staff, the ideal next step would be a phone call, followed by an email introducing the customer to your program. Include descriptions of the different advocacy activities and related levels of effort for each. For example, video interviews are a bigger ask than a written quote. Be sure to clearly communicate what’s in it for themThere aren’t many programs out there with bandwidth to take on this high-touch recruiting approach, although outsourcing to one of a few providers in our domain is an option.

Your alternative to personal calls is leveraging your existing marketing automation app. Nearly every company uses a marketing automation tool such as Marketo or Eloqua. Not only can these products support the initial email campaign introducing the program to those customers you’ve identified as “low hanging fruit,” they can capture responses that ultimately comprise the customers’ advocate profiles. Profiles include:

  • For what parts of the solution would they feel comfortable acting as a reference?
  • In what reference activities would they participate (speaking, reference calls, social media, etc.)?
  • Do they have a limit on how often they’ll lend their support (e.g., once per month or quarter)?

What’s really interesting about the “direct-to-customer” approach is how well and why it works. Even your peers who own the relationship are often surprised by the results. Sales and Customer Success folks aren’t always comfortable asking for favors from customers. They may read a minor kerfuffle as a clear sign that the customer isn’t happy enough to be a reference. But all of us take into account more than the latest nit when assessing our overall satisfaction.  Taking that relationship owner out of the equation can cut to genuine sentiment.

Before you set goals like adding 100, 200, or 500 reference customers from this type of campaign, think about your stakeholders’ needs. Use their criteria to build your campaign list. It will do you no good to recruit an impressive number of new advocates that actually provide no value to the organization. 

Our product, ReferenceEdge, is 100% installed in Salesforce CRM. If your marketing automation platform, like Marketo and Eloqua, is also integrated with Salesforce CRM, it will record form data from landing pages in the Salesforce Campaign object. That makes it very straightforward to leverage the data in ReferenceEdge records such as nominations or reference profiles. But even if you don’t have ReferenceEdge but do have Salesforce, the data will be in Salesforce, which makes exporting to your favorite spreadsheet tool, or reporting using Salesforce reports and dashboards that much easier.

Leveraging your marketing automation tool is worth adding to your toolbox, whether your Sales or CS colleagues simply aren’t motivated (and management isn’t helping) to contribute advocates, or you have a “you can never have too many” mentality about recruiting.