Why ABM boosts the effectiveness of customer advocacy programs

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Account-based marketing (ABM)—targeting marketing efforts towards key accounts in an individualized way—is becoming increasingly valuable and commonplace for B2B marketers. The same techniques can and should be applied to your customer advocacy program.

The ‘what’ and the ‘why’ of ABM

ABM is a marketing strategy where a few key accounts, or potential key accounts, are marketed to as units of one. Each high-value business account is identified and thoroughly researched, and its key stakeholders are then targeted through the various channels and using personalized messaging which appeal to their specific personas and needs. This method can be very effective on large accounts where each sale has a significant impact on your overall revenue. 

According to an ITSMA study, 85% of marketers agreed that ABM delivers a higher ROI than any other marketing activity, while another survey showed that companies using ABM generate 200% more revenue for their marketing efforts. Over the past few years, use of ABM has been rapidly progressing, and a recent benchmark study revealed that a quarter of marketing budgets are currently dedicated to ABM programs.


ABM strategies for high-value advocacy

Another recent growth area in marketing has been customer advocacy. Businesses everywhere have increasingly been launching and ramping up their customer advocacy programs (CAPs) in recognition of the multiple benefits they can bring:

  • increased brand awareness and lead generation,
  • improved win/loss ratios,
  • fewer touches per lead,
  • and reduced closing times.

All of which translates into a significant boost to the bottom line.

However, for various reasons, not all CAPs reach their full potential. But by using ABM strategies you can maximize your CAP s effectiveness—for example by targeting high-value advocates who convey deep levels of trust, specificity, and authority.

Intuitively, we understand the impact of high-value advocacy in our own product choices and purchasing behavior. For example, we may, or may not, try out a new restaurant if we read a positive customer review somewhere. However, if the recommendation comes from a trusted friend, one who knows exactly what cuisine we like, and who also happens to work as a food critic or a highly-demanding top chef, how much more likely will we be to try it out?

Similarly, in customer advocacy programs, it’s vitally important to recruit the right advocates in order to create the biggest impact. Yet many firms today, even those with reasonably mature customer advocacy programs, apply a non-targeted, blanket approach to recruiting advocates. As a result, they do not have influential advocates at the right level, in the right companies, or in the right industry. For example, many software firms recruit advocates at the technical level, for example database administrators, instead of targeting VPs and C-level executives who can speak with authority about the specific business benefits and strategic impact of the technology deployed. While all positive voices are of course welcome, some are far more valuable than others.


The benefits of ABM in customer advocacy

One of your prime CAP focuses should therefore be to recruit high-level executives and decision makers as advocates—and especially those who work at companies in your target industry. This ABM approach is beneficial for three key reasons:

  • Firstly, because these decision makers will be more influential with the decision makers at your prospective clients: their voice is more authoritative and trusted, and they will advocate your brand in terms of solving the specific business challenges your potential clients will be facing.
  • Secondly, by engaging high-level decision makers at your existing clients, you are more likely to keep the current contract and also to expand your business with them.
    • Their involvement in your CAP will serve to regularly reinforce in their minds your product, your brand, and the successes they have achieved with them.
    • Closer relations with decision makers also enables you to learn about and address any concerns which otherwise might go unmentioned, unresolved, and lead to a lost contract.
    • Furthermore, higher-level executives are more likely to have responsibility for, or influence in, other areas of their business which could benefit from your products or services, opening up opportunities for you to expand your footprint.
  • Thirdly, all advocates are likely to share, among their peer group and business network, the advocacy content they have been involved in—for example interviews or events speeches they have given, or case studies or ROI studies which showcase their success. And who exactly will be in this peer group? In the case of executives and decision makers, it will most likely be other executives and decision makers—the very prospects you are trying to reach.

How to recruit high-value advocates within an organization

There are several ways to approach this. But firstly, generating advocacy must be viewed and accepted in your organization not as a post-implementation afterthought or a nice-to-have, but as an integral part of your overall sales cycle. Furthermore, it must be treated as a separate sales process in and of itself, albeit with a similar structure to your regular sales activities. For example:

A typical sales process involves:

  • promoting brand strength through image and a ‘can-do’ approach
  • creating awareness of customer pain points
  • proposing a solution
  • closing the deal

An advocacy generation sales process involves:

  • promoting brand strength through actual performance and a ‘has-done’ approach
  • creating awareness of the customer’s desire to showcase their success
  • providing a vehicle to advocate
  • agreeing on a concrete plan

Your first and most important step therefore is to ensure the customer’s continual satisfaction with the use of your products and services. When applying the ABM approach to advocacy generation, this means appealing to specific high-level personas. Find out what your targeted advocates value most about your brand and why—and use personalized messaging in your engagements.

This leads on to the customer’s desire to highlight their accomplishments. Having the right rewards in place will be paramount to securing the right advocates, as each should be rewarded according to their contribution. When a key decision maker or higher-level executive advocates your brand, their testimonial may be 10x more impactful to your bottom line than that of a database administrator—therefore if you have a points-based CAP you should offer them 10x more points for their advocacy. Alternatively, potential high-value advocates may be motivated by opportunities to increase their public profiles, such as by giving a presentation in front of hundreds of experts at a flagship industry event.

The specific vehicle for advocacy should also align with the specific advocate type or persona. Speaking engagements, ROI studies, or press coverage are more suited to high-value advocates from the business side, whereas social media posts, product reviews, or involvement in beta testing are more appropriate for technical or less senior advocates.

Finally, agree on a concrete plan and initiate the engagement. As with all major deal closing, make sure that responsibilities and expectations on all sides are clear and concise; that objectives and timelines are established; and that all queries are fully answered.


The exponential future of your CAP with ABM begins now

As you begin to apply an ABM approach to customer advocacy, you will notice your CAP’s success and your company’s bottom line take off to new and unforeseen heights. High-value advocates lead to new high-value customers, initiating a feedback loop as the process repeats and opportunities expand exponentially.

To reach your most wanted, most esteemed, most valuable high-level advocates, begin with your existing advocates and start building trust up the value chain. Make sure you are always ready for the demands ahead, by establishing dedicated program content including brochures, clear program descriptions, community landing pages, readymade examples of previous advocacy content, and even advocates of your advocacy program. And, as with all ABM efforts, above all focus on value, theirs and yours.


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