10 Actionable steps to starting a customer advocacy program

Customer success stories are one of the most powerful tools in a marketeer’s arsenal, whether they come in the form of anecdotal reviews, case studies, event presentations, infographics, videos or podcast interviews. Satisfied users are the best source of inspiration for existing customers to make the most of their purchase, become more loyal to the brand, and provide referrals. But finding the raise handers to participate in content is sometimes difficult. Leverage these tips for starting a customer advocacy program and you will be on the right track.

The need for a Customer Advocacy Program

The goal of a customer advocacy programs is to build a relationship with your brand advocates, capture their positive experience, and amplify their message to sell more products or services by delivering the story at conferences, networking events, or through professionally crafted marketing content that can be used in promotional activities.

The testimonials are generally considered to be excellent marketing content in terms of credibility, because the authentic customer statements outweigh any other promotional tools. Your army of advocates can motivate prospects to buy your product by adding a layer of authenticity and credibility to your marketing message. If your company doesn’t have a customer advocacy program, or if you’re looking to revise an existing initiative – here are 10 impactful ideas you can use to get started.

1. Set goals and determine how to measure success

The primary role of the customer references program is to support your sales team. Whether you help your reps on a case-by-case basis, organize calls between current and future customers, or bring a great speaker to a global event – all efforts are targeted to selling more.

Some marketeers list objectives like expanding brand awareness, increasing the loyalty of their happy customers through engagement, generating captivating content for marketing campaigns, and supporting the reputation strategy of the organization. Whatever your goals are, there is a specialized software available to help you achieve that. We will discuss it below.

2. Create a Personality for Your Program

Having a program means nothing without the stakeholders. Your customers, prospects, sales reps, and your management need to clearly understand what your program is all about and be able to identify with it through consistent participation. By giving your program a memorable name and relatable personality will help encourage this participation. 

Ask yourself a few basic questions: If your program were a person, what kind of individual would it be? Would it be a good communicator, a good team player? Would it have creative skills, or technical and analytical ones? People tend to relate to things that they can apprehend. And if you’re reading this article, you surely know that nothing is easier to understand than an engaging story. Does your program have one?

3. Identify Program Stakeholders

Your customers, sales representatives, business partners, and marketing team will all become participants in one way or another, so everyone should clearly understand their role. Some tell a story, some listen, and some reap the rewards. They should also understand the time allocation that is expected from them, and what they receive in return.

Many salespeople spend most of their workday filling out paperwork and fulfilling other business responsibilities, neither of which helps them reach their quota. The customers have their own jobs and obligations, and often see giving a testimonial as a favor they do for your organization. The reason why so many customers view this activity as a favor is because they fail to see the benefits of being an advocate. By creating targeted visual presentations of the benefits for each stakeholder will be highly beneficial in the long run for both parties.

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4. Build your editorial calendar with priorities in mind

When it comes to testimonials, the more the merrier. But you should keep in mind that quality over quantity will save you a lot of budget, so you should take into consideration the desires of the stakeholders that you worked so hard to bring on board, and be mindful of their needs.

  • Ask your marketing which customer stories they use in campaigns
  • Work with sales to see if they prefer written, visual, or audio content
  • Find out the intentions of your customers, because most likely they would want to use the content for their own marketing as well

Evaluate the internal and external deliverables your stakeholders expect and include them in your editorial calendar. Define your priority products, the measurements of that product’s success, and the must-have elements each story should contain. Sometimes, vague statements like “great product” or “love it” don’t cut it. Instead, your testimonials should describe what is valuable and unique about your product or service, and how it benefited your customers.

5. Define the journey customers have in your program

While preparing this article, we’ve evaluated more than 50 companies that already have an advocacy program in place. Most of them have a brochure explaining the general benefits a customer would achieve by sharing his success story. But among those analyzed, we have not seen customer advocate journeys defined for selling the program like selling a product – at least among the publicly available materials. And very few companies use more than three pieces of content produced for the specific purpose of recruiting advocates.

We strongly recommend using marketing automation tools when starting a customer advocacy program, to build an inbound funnel and a steady flow of educational content. Once you have onboarded a new customer, check if they are satisfied. Start a drip campaign that describes each benefit in a short article or through a visual aid. Have they attended an event or webinar? Make them see themselves in a speaker position. Are they a startup with small marketing budget? Propose brand association.

Think about your program like a new product or service. Your targeted audience doesn’t know it exists, doesn’t know it can solve a problem, and they don’t even realize that they have a problem. Connecting those dots can sell products, services, and increase program participation.

6. Help employees embrace customer advocacy

Just as important as recruiting customers is getting internal buy-in. In many organizations, the customer references program is regarded as the sole responsibility of the marketing department – typically the department who interacts less with the customers.

Sales, service, and support teams all have relationships with customers and keeping them engaged is extremely important. But in most cases, the external brochure that was created for advocates is all the content they can rely on for the information. They consider pitching the references program an extra burden – mostly because they don’t truly understand how it benefits them or the customer. Creating an internal communication strategy that is paired with an incentive program will greatly increase program adoption and employee satisfaction.

7. Align your team and your tools

In the age of inbound marketing, customers and employees want to have access to content and be able to do their own research before they speak to you. There are many software suites out there that can help you automate tasks and easily track program results. A few of the things to consider:

  • Create automation workflows and campaigns
  • Score the readiness of each lead and track their recruitment status
  • Personalize participation to preferences and policy of your members
  • Connect activities and content to your larger program metrics and definition of success

8. Establish partnerships

A successful reference program is a hard work – there are customers to be recruited, content to be created and posted, activities and events to be organized locally or globally. And your budget and resources are limited. You should identify from the very beginning the individuals and the agencies that can create the deliverables that meet your standards and goal.

Establish relationships with social media colleagues, field marketing colleagues, and high-profile business development managers that can give you a head start. It also helps if you can prepare some of the templates: email samples, recruitment forms, etc. The clearer your program is, the easier for everyone to understand and support it.

9. Personalize the language you use with advocates

With customer advocacy program localization, you can adapt a product or a piece of content for a specific market. It will help you connect with the consumers on a personal level. In other words, localization helps you build trust with your global consumers by showing them your brand speaks their language and understands their cultural norms.

You should consider helping customers share their story by allocating a local language speaker to recruit them, coordinate local events, and interview them in their native language for the purpose of content creation. By making them feel comfortable during these interactions, you will be rewarded with stories that are rich, culturally diverse and relevant for your business.

10. Evaluate and adjust often

Once up and running, you need someone to manage your advocacy program. You also need support from an engaged internal team, and “fuel” from the customers. If you don’t have the resources and manpower to guarantee that all these activities stay on schedule, we recommend establishing partnerships with media and copy writing agencies and reward the employees who ensure a strong flow of leads into your customer advocacy program. You’ll quickly lose any launch momentum if your program looks like it’s being managed part-time.

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Remember that your advocates are delighted customers. Keep their experience with your brand amazing across all channels. And take care of the relationship.

Make sure you thank customers for their help each time they participate. This simple gesture goes a long way! Sending your company’s branded items as a sign of gratitude is a nice touch, but it can be cliche. Consider a program management platform that offers gamification experiences, product training, personal development opportunities or other nice perks.

It’s also beneficial to let the customer know when their reference resulted in a sale. Nobody wants to be a part of something that leads nowhere, so a short feedback can be very valuable. You should also keep track of how often you’ve contacted them. If your program is well designed and executed, every story will exist in several formats, allowing you to reuse it without imposing on the customer too often.