As active promoters of customer advocacy for 10 years, my team and I have interviewed more than 1,000 customer advocates and interacted with hundreds of account teams and reference managers across more than 80 countries.
Every person that we met or interviewed has a story and a reason why he or she is involved in customer advocacy. Nevertheless, the characters are not always connected and sometimes, do not have the same understanding of the plot.
Sales reps nominate customers for reference stories because they want to boost their sales funnel. They have a sales quota to fulfill, and they acknowledge that a reference helps them sell their product to new prospects or up-sell to existing customers.
Reference managers and program leaders are marketing professionals. They fully understand the win-win of customer advocacy, but have difficulty conveying that value to salespeople. Furthermore, they struggle with recruiting advocates, endure long approval times for most reference assets, and experience click rates for reference content that is below their expectations.
Customers who agree to be advocates are mostly engaged and willing to be helpful, but many consider their advocacy duties another demand on an already-tight business schedule. After all, they are doing a favor for their technology vendor, right?
The vast majority of reference customers may not recognize the real value of advocating for the technology they use—which is, first and foremost, an opportunity to showcase the success of their own brand to the world, as well as their personal achievements within the organization.
If customer advocates don’t understand this value, it can take a great deal of effort for the vendor to get customer approval on a piece of content, and even more time before anyone dares contact the customer for additional reference activity. Once the reference customer has agreed to a press release or news article, taken a couple of sales calls, and participated in an event, everyone considers the job finished. Instead of establishing an ongoing and mutually beneficial relationship, the “favor” has been done.
What if we stop viewing advocacy programs as a subcategory of marketing, with content that few people read and success metrics that are difficult to prove?
Think how different customer advocacy could be if we approached it with the same zeal as product sales. Technology vendors successfully use inbound marketing to sell their products and services—so why not sell a customer references program the same way? Instead of employing cold calling—in which a sales rep or recruitment agent acquires the customer for a reference, a content agency does a case study or a video, then everyone moves on—establish a program where the customers are drawn to advocacy because the benefits are clearly understood.
Your advocacy team has an excellent product to offer—your advocacy program! How would you take it ideally to market? You would use inbound marketing, of course—drawing your customers to your products and services via content, social media, search engine optimization, and branding.
Think about the last reference you personally gave—maybe to your favorite online food shop or for a book you just read. Did you give that reference because you were asked to? Or did you provide it because you simply love the product?
Let’s have a look at how inbound marketing could sell your customer references program to happy customers.
1. Attract: Turn Strangers into Visitors
This is the first step of the inbound marketing funnel. You create content to make strangers aware that they have a problem to solve. With well-researched target personas in mind, knowledgeable marketeers create relevant and search engine-optimized blogs, thought leadership articles, and social media posts that make strangers visit your website—in this case, the website of your advocacy program.
Does your marketing team “sell” advocacy benefits to customers? Do they create social media posts about the benefits of referencing? Do they write blogs and thought leadership articles about why referencing rocks? Do they have clearly defined personas to target with ads? Or do they simply call up a customer and request a favor with little or no context?
Ask yourself why your teams use cold calling as a base for selling your customer references program. Has this approach really been successful and rewarding? We know from experience—our customers tell us—that cold calling is time-consuming and not very effective.
2. Convert: Turn Visitors into Leads
Once you have educated strangers (or in this case, your happy customers who have no idea how powerful your marketing can be) that your advocacy program exists, it’s time to convert them to leads.
In the conventional product go-to-market world, at this stage of inbound marketing you could use beautiful landing pages and valuable gated whitepapers, brochures, and demos to gently walk the visitor towards action.
Your visitor now acknowledges a problem and understands that there is a product out there to solve it. It takes several interactions for that visitor to qualify as a lead. Typically, they read something, download something, and subscribe to a newsletter that allows the agile marketeer to nurture them.
In product sales, nurturing includes drip campaigns, calls to action, and special offers designed to sell a machine or a corner of the cloud. In contrast, nurturing toward advocacy typically means a brochure telling customers about the benefits of becoming a reference: opportunities to network, brand exposure, and personal growth. With that single asset, sales reps and account teams are supposed to recruit advocates.
Remember, no sales effort is “one size fits all”, even in customer advocacy. Consider your target personas, and remember that more than 80% of people do product research by themselves—meaning your customers likely have at least some exposure to the benefits of advocacy. You may need to create more than one asset to get to the root of what they need from a customer advocacy program.
3. Close: Turn Leads into Customers
It’s not the volume of leads that matters—any experienced sales rep will tell you that it’s the quality of the lead that counts. If the attract and convert phases were done correctly, selling is relatively straightforward.
Yes, you need excellent communicators who have compassion for customers. You need someone who understands the problem the prospect has just been made aware of, and can articulate exactly how your company’s solution will solve the problem. But at some point, the prospect will want to see some customer references, ideally ones he can find through personal research. Case studies are great, and in-person calls even better.
Recruiting advocates through an inbound methodology not only improves the number of people speaking up for your brand but also boosts their involvement, availability, and enthusiasm. These are no longer a handful of available contacts who do a favor to their sales rep. They are an army of truly enthusiastic users that are educated on how your program works, how they can shine by speaking up, and how beautiful content can boost their brand too, not just yours.
4. Delight: Turn Customers into Promoters
Delighting an existing customer has a direct impact on the bottom line. It can bring repeat business, increase customer lifetime value, and even produce referrals.
Delighting your advocates is the secret of success. Make your advocates good speakers, and they will speak about your business. Make them thought leaders, and they will transform your product into a market leader. Help them grow professionally, and you will have an increased pool of executives buying from you and talking about you.
And don’t forget to measure the number of “strangers” attracted so you can prove return on investment to your management. The number of visitors converted, the number of advocacy deals closed, and the number of delighted advocates that make your events buzz say more about your success than how many clicks a case study has received or how many minutes of a reference video were viewed.
And finally, how about the sales reps? Those people in your organization who have a hidden stash of references and only nominate customers when forced by corporate metrics? How do you attract, convert, close, and delight these internal clients? You can use the same methodology, combined with dedicated content, to automate their journey as well and foster customer advocacy adoption across your organization.
Our savvy marketeers can help automate key steps of the recruitment and engagement process or even outsource it entirely. Our advocacy marketing concept leverages your customers' inclination to say good things about your products and services and turns them into your organization's most valued sales enablers. Build trust with your global consumers by showing them your brand pays attention to details. We speak 30 languages and cover all North American, Latin American, and European countries.