Customer advocates are critical allies for any enterprise. Investing in these customer-partners can provide immense value to your company: they create buzz on your behalf, spend more of their budget with you, are more loyal, and have the ability to influence purchase decisions within their own organization. Customer advocates are also a reliable source of feedback that you can use to improve your products and services. Customer advocates are frequently engaged in your online user community and in-person user groups, providing enthusiastic and inexpensive peer support and helping to build customer satisfaction from outside your organization.
Customer references are a very high-quality form of word-of-mouth. If you can confidently use a customer as a reference, you can almost instantly provide a relevant track record of success to prospective buyers. This type of reference stands above all other promotional tools in terms of credibility – and it can inspire other customers to become references, too.
However, most companies may not be aware of best practices around how to use customer advocates and references effectively across the entire organization. Depending on where the customer advocacy teams reside – often within sales enablement, marketing, or customer success – they can end up exclusively serving that department. At the opposite extreme, many departments may simultaneously ask the customer advocacy teams for assistance with feedback, engagement, or references. This could lead to customers becoming fatigued with the number of requests.
Businesses can make the best use of customer-partners and internal customer advocacy teams by taking a strategic and inclusive approach to advocacy programs. Engaging colleagues from the beginning will provide the best results and make the best possible use of your customers’ time. Here are five colleagues, or departments, you should involve right from the start.
Field Marketing and Event Planning
These two functions may be the responsibility of a single person or team, or they may be handled by two distinct people or teams. Generally, field marketing handles both strategic and tactical duties – creating a vision, setting objectives, and developing strategies that enable the sales organization to generate leads, build pipeline, and meet sales goals. Event planning is a much more hands-on responsibility and includes managing the logistics of ensuring that the sales team has opportunities to meet with customers, strengthen relationships, and develop new leads. These functions work together very closely on company events that feature customer speakers who discuss their success with your products and services.
The traditional duties of a field marketing team might have included a great deal of work “in the field,” or locations where customers and prospects were found. In this traditional sense, field marketing was a one-way communication tool, with marketers delivering their company’s brand message to consumers via product samples or literature. In a modern context, field marketing still takes place in the spaces where customers and prospects gather – but now, these spaces can also be online.
Field marketers can now be two-way communicators, soliciting feedback about products or inviting consumers to follow a brand on social media. Experiential marketing, such as industry conferences, road shows, and other live events, also fall under the responsibility of field marketing teams. Customer advocacy professionals can work with field marketers to ensure customer advocates are strategically deployed at events as speakers or quoted in case studies and other assets used in field marketing campaigns.
Digital Marketing and Communications
Similar to field marketing, this function creates a vision, sets objectives, and develops strategies. There are many roles that can make up a digital marketing team, including project manager, content strategist, copywriter, visual designer, website developer, photographer and videographer, editor, and marketing analyst, among others. Professionals in this department leverage customer relationships in many ways, including online marketing efforts. Customer availability can make public relations pitches more attractive to journalists. Customer advocates can also support analyst interviews, provide buzz at product launches, and be extensively quoted in gated assets or nurture campaigns.
Sometimes the customer advocacy team also resides within the digital marketing and communications department, which facilitates content alignment across initiatives. However, the priority of the advocacy program should be to serve the business holistically, and not only the demands of the digital marketing department.
Product Development and Testing
Just because a brand enjoys popularity and success does not make it immune to failure. Millions of dollars can be lost when products are developed with an ivory-tower approach that doesn’t relate to the target consumer. Ford’s Edsel automobile, New Coke, and the Sony Betamax are all examples of what can happen when the voice of the customer is ignored, or not consulted at all.
Engaged customer advocates are a successful company’s conduit to requirements, desires, and pain points that can lead to new product development or improvement of existing products. Happy customers can test pilots or MVPs and provide incisive feedback, knowing they may ultimately benefit from new features. Later in the development cycle, usability testing can involve customer advocates that enjoy working in a partnership capacity with their vendors. These can be time-consuming processes but go a long way to prevent the launch of unusable, unstable, or unwanted products.
Customer Success and Service
Customer success and customer service can be viewed as two sides of the same coin. Customer success is proactive, joining customers on their journey after the sale is closed and through implementation. Success managers are tasked with making sure customers have the best possible experience with the product. Once the product is in use, customer service joins the journey in a reactive capacity to respond to customer problems.
Customer success can work closely with the advocacy team to provide a shortcut to happy customers with interesting stories to tell, or to highlight customers that are eager to become speakers at industry events. Success managers should be recruited by the advocacy team to serve as close allies in the ongoing development of a healthy advocacy program.
For customer service, engaged customer advocates can act as peer support in user communities and on social media by stepping in to help point toward a resolution. These shared experiences can also enhance your support team’s knowledge base, fix known issues, and help them think more creatively about problem-solving. Customers who participate in user communities also help to alleviate the burden on customer service: Research shows that 67% of service interactions can be replaced with community interactions.
The sales team usually gets the most benefits out of a successful advocacy program. Customer advocacy works hand-in-hand with sales to develop strong customer relationships, and in turn helps to generate programs that result in more referrals and leads. Reaching out to your most satisfied customers and leveraging their stories and networks to reach prospects can help sales with a strong pipeline, faster sales cycles, and more opportunities to up-sell and cross-sell.
Customer advocacy can reduce “the cost of doing business” for sales. When happy customers spread the word about your product, prospective customers are more likely to listen…and to sign on the dotted line. A less costly sales process means a higher profit margin and increased valuation – the top metric companies strive to achieve. If the sales team is aware of the impact customer advocacy has on their own bottom line, they can approach customer activities with an advocacy mindset.
Bonus: Partners and Resellers
It’s also a good idea to engage your resellers and partners in an advocacy program. This will yield valuable information about what they need, and how they can participate. Many of your resellers would welcome the opportunity to co-brand with your company in marketing materials. They can also nominate customer references and promote the benefits of your robust program.
Whether you are building an advocacy program from scratch or simply looking for ways to freshen your approach, looking around at your colleagues can be the best place to begin.