Customer Advocate Program adoption by a company’s sales and marketing users may mean different things to different audiences in the company. We think of it in simple terms.
The end goal is to make it easy for salespeople to leverage customer advocates through content (case studies, videos, quotes, etc.) and activities such as reference calls, site visits, and RFP responses. Additionally, marketing’s lead gen activities should optimally utilize customer advocates (email campaigns, webinars, event speakers, press releases, etc.).
Notice that everything leads to sales and revenue: the fuel of growth.
Some patterns emerge as we analyze programs from companies of different size, program staff and structure, and the industry segments they service. From the analysis, we offer these best practices for companies just starting a program and those with long-standing programs looking for a fresh perspective.
#1 – It’s All About the Data
There is no Customer Advocate Program without a database of happy customers. Every reference need begins with a search. The easier it is to locate relevant reference customers, the higher the odds marketers and salespeople can influence buyer behavior/decisions in their favor. Peers are the #1 influence in a B2B buyer’s purchase decision. That is well-established.
If you don’t have current, complete, centralized and searchable customer reference data everything that follows in this post is moot.
#2 – Awareness
Personify the Program
A Customer Advocate Program is a relationship-centric function. Customer relationships are essential of course, but a close second is stakeholder relationships. Ensure your program has a “face.” The people who power the program should be visible and familiar to the users. Why does it matter? When you know the people personally you’re more willing to:
- Participate – feel like part of a team effort where everyone’s effort counts
- Cooperate – make an effort to change process/behavior
- Respond – versus ignore a request from some anonymous requester
The importance of having the right people leading the program from a personality, experience and skill set perspective cannot be underestimated. At the end of the day, the right resource match makes all the difference in the quest for user adoption.
Engage Stakeholder Groups
There are a lot of tactical parts to running an advocate program, and it’s easy to become a reactive, production line, which is low impact. The program leaders that proactively meet with internal consumers of customer references & content and use feedback to define goals are strategic and have much greater potential. When your program’s services become a dependency for other departments’ business goal achievement, the support grows, which is how you gain executive sponsorship. It’s a virtuous cycle. More on this topic
Promote & Reward
Customer Advocate Programs provide structure and efficiency in maximizing the positive use of customer advocates to drive revenue while preventing overuse. You’d think the benefits would make change easy. That isn’t the case.
Short attention spans, competing interests, and turnover make continuous program promotion a necessity.
- Keep the program’s activities and team members visible. Sales calls, kick-off meetings, Chatter (Slack, Jive, etc.), email newsletters, lunch and learn events, regional office visits, ride-alongs, program dashboards, etc.
- Make an appearance at new-hire training. New salespeople need advocate program resources more than veterans. Ensure the newbies are familiar with your program and enabling technology in week one of their employment.
- Maintain a promotion plan/calendar like any other marketing function.
- Promote user success stories. Who best to explain the value of the program? Promote those user stories to educate and enlighten the un-acculturated users.
Vocal, visible support from leadership makes a big difference in shepherding the inevitable change management. Support may be in the form of funding incentive plans (carrots) or simple enforcement (sticks). More on this topic
#3 – Education
There’s no room for ambiguity. Users must know what they can expect from your program before they use it.
- Which stakeholder groups are supported? Sales, marketing, social media, A/R, etc.?
- What is the program’s scope? Request help desk, customer content, advisory boards, customer awards, etc.?
- What is your service level agreement with stakeholders?
- If your program uses a software application, users must be trained and have just-in-time training always available.
#4 – Establish a Program Advisory Board
The largest stakeholder team is Sales, so it’s important to have a channel for regular Sales feedback but don’t neglect other key stakeholders such as lead gen, PR, events, and CSMs. Have managers nominate 10-12 board members across all user organizations and have recurring meetings to solicit their input aimed at ensuring that the program supports their needs. We have plenty of advice concerning the attributes of a good board member. More on this topic
As you may have surmised, while not rocket science, a certain amount of focus and bandwidth is required to reach a high level of adoption. Customer advocate professionals can really move the needle if we’re methodical and passionate about our craft.
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