Stakeholders Ignoring Your Advocacy Program? Ask Why!

Does this sound familiar?

  • You’ve done all the discovery to ensure your customer marketing/advocacy program meets the needs of your customers in sales, marketing, customer success, events and beyond.
  • The program has been highly promoted and amplified by your leadership team.
  • But your first big initiative, soliciting program member nominations from customer success and sales, has garnered only a trickle of submissions.
  • Or, you’ve launched with a healthy pool of advocates and people are still using Slack to find what they need.

Super frustrating, right!? They clamored for it, and you delivered the equivalent of the best thing since sliced bread. What’s going on?

The Role of Change Management

So, what’s going on. The short answer is, there are gaps in your change management planning. Not intentional, by any means. It’s really common to underestimate how much humans resist change. As much of an improvement as the change promises, it’s change. Change management specialists, Prosci, developed the ADKAR® model (Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability and Reinforcement).

When you don’t get the adoption you expect, you need to determine where the problem is, and at this early stage the places to look are Awareness, Desire, Knowledge and Ability.

Getting to “Why?”

There are two primary ways to get feedback:

  1. customer advocacy program advisory board meetings
  2. stakeholder surveys

Advisory boards provide a forum for discussion and an opportunity to dive a bit deeper into various subjects. But it is a sample data set of the entire population. As a result, the feedback may be a bit skewed. Keep this in mind when making consequential decisions based on the input. Advisory boards provide an ongoing forum for end-user feedback far beyond adoption. They can uncover insights that help you plan your program strategy. Surveys provide a way to gain a broader perspective, but it may be more of a challenge to gain granular information without building an unreasonably long survey. That makes the formulation of the survey’s goals and related questions critical, striking a balance between a tolerable length, and not spawning more questions than conclusive answers.

Surveys are the ideal way to understand stakeholder behavior, or lack thereof, at scale. We know that sometimes it’s a nontrivial exercise to get the necessary approvals to run a survey that includes salespeople in particular (Don’t distract them from selling!). You have to practice the ADKAR change management practices even at this stage. Make the appropriate parties aware of the need for the survey, share the questions and justify the length, collaborate on timing and gain support from front line managers to cajole (or reward) participation. How can an argument be made for squandering an investment in people (you and others involved) and technology? Well, stranger things have happened, so approach the ask in full ADKAR mode.

Let’s talk about the survey itself.

Survey Questions

If you aren’t getting customer advocate candidates from Sales, Customer Success, or other customer relationship owners, you should ask:

Have you nominated any of your customers as advocates?

    • Yes
    • No

If not, why not?

    • I don’t know how (Ability)
    • I have no happy customers (Desire)
    • I’m concerned about how and how often they’ll be contacted (Desire)
    • I don’t know what’s in it for my customers (Knowledge)
    • I’m not sure what makes a good candidate (Knowledge)
    • I haven’t had time (Desire)
    • Other

If there’s an indication that stakeholders aren’t finding the advocates they need (i.e., going somewhere other than your database), you should ask:

When you search for an advocate, you find what you need:

    • Always
    • Some of the time (data or search problem)
    • None of the time (data or search problem)
    • Other

When you don’t find what you need, is there a combination of criteria that’s consistent?

Here you’d offer an open text box because you want to allow maximum flexibility and specificity. It could, for instance, be product A+B, financial services, and Central America.

Tips for Survey Success

  • These are just a few of the questions you may have, of course. Do a complete inventory of the questions you have, and be specific. Provide a list of plausible answers to a given question when possible. You may jog memories and get more helpful information.
  • You’ll notice the “Other” choice in all questions. This is important because customer reference practices simply aren’t black and white—which is always the case when people and relationships are involved. There are nuances to understand before making decisions that impact your program and your stakeholders.
  • Be judicious on the survey length. There’s no hard and fast rule, but try to get as close to 5 questions as possible.
  • Run the survey past a few stakeholders you know well and get their reactions before letting it fly. Doing these things in a vacuum is never a good idea.

In summary, when in doubt don’t just guess, or worse, give up. Ask! And to ensure you get a sufficient response from your very busy and distracted stakeholders, enlist the managers of the stakeholders to communicate the importance of their timely participation. You can’t help your stakeholders if you don’t give them a chance to help you. And they won’t help you help them if they don’t understand the benefits of making the leap from the old way of doing things, to the new, future state. When you find you have an adoption problem, immediately think about change management and the ADKAR components. Adoption is the outcome of effective change management, plain and simple.