Customer advocates are critical allies for any business.
Investing in them 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.
Why should you launch a customer advocacy program?
Customer advocates are a reliable source of feedback that you can use to improve your products and services. They are often engaged in your online user community and in-person user groups, providing enthusiastic peer support and helping increase customer satisfaction from outside your organization.
Customer advocates generate high-quality word-of-mouth in the marketplace. If you use a customer as a reference, you instantly give prospective buyers a relevant record of success. This reference is more credible than other promotional tools and motivates other customers to become references too.
However, some companies may not be aware of the best practices for launching a customer advocacy program or for using customer advocates and references effectively across the entire organization. The customer advocacy team may be part of sales enablement, marketing, or customer success, and end up solely serving that department.
On the other hand, many departments may simultaneously request assistance from the customer advocacy team for feedback, engagement, or references. This could result in their advocates becoming overwhelmed by the number of requests.
Businesses can make the most of customer word-of-mouth by taking a strategic and inclusive approach to advocacy programs. Getting organization-wide support from the start will give excellent results and make the most of your customers’ time.
Here are five stakeholders or departments that you should involve at the beginning.
Peer #1: Field Marketing and Event Planning.
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 pipelines, 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, roadshows, and other live events—also falls under the responsibility of field marketing teams.
Customer advocacy professionals can work with field marketers when launching a customer advocacy program to ensure customer advocates are strategically deployed at events as speakers or quoted in case studies and other assets used in field marketing campaigns.
Peer #2: Digital Marketing and Communications.
Like 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 a project manager, a content strategist, a copywriter, a visual designer, a website developer, a photographer and videographer, an editor, and a marketing analyst, among others.
Professionals in this department leverage customer relationships in many ways, including through 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, when launching a customer advocacy program, the priority should be to serve the business holistically and not just the demands of the digital marketing department.
Peer #3: 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. Henry 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 the improvement of existing products. Delighted customers can test pilots or minimum viable products (MVPs) and provide incisive feedback, knowing they may ultimately benefit from new features.
Later in the development cycle, usability testing can involve customer advocates who enjoy working in a partnership capacity with their vendors. While these processes can be time-consuming, they go a long way to preventing the launch of unusable, unstable, or unwanted products.
Involving your product colleagues when launching a customer advocacy program helps the business and is one of the most interesting things for your advocates.
Peer #4: 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 has been closed and through implementation. Success managers are tasked with ensuring that customers have the best possible experience with the product. Once the product is being used, customer service joins the journey in a reactive capacity to respond to customer problems.
Customer success can work closely with the advocacy team to launch a customer advocacy program and provide a shortlist for initial invitations, or to highlight customers who 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, stepping in to help point to a resolution. These shared experiences can also enhance your support team’s knowledge base, fix known issues, and help them to think more creatively about problem-solving.
Customers who participate in user communities also help to reduce the load on customer service: Research shows that 67% of service interactions can be replaced with community interactions.
Peer #5: Sales and Business Development.
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 it 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 to bolster the sales pipeline, speed up sales cycles, and provide more opportunities to upsell and cross-sell.
Customer advocacy can reduce “the cost of doing business” for sales. When satisfied customers spread the word about your product, prospective customers are more likely to give it a listen and to sign on the dotted line.
A less costly sales process translates to a higher profit margin and increased valuation—the top metric that companies strive to achieve. When launching a customer advocacy program, help the sales team understand the impact that testimonials can have on their own bottom line, so that 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’re launching a customer advocacy program from scratch or simply looking for ways to freshen your approach, working with your peers can be the best place to start.