According to Forrester, 79% of marketers who have turned their customers into advocates see increases in upsell, cross-sell, and enrichment. A similar survey of marketing technology leaders revealed that 95% of those leaders admitted to needing a formal customer advocacy program now more than ever.
It’s no mystery as to why. Customer advocacy provides an authentic lens for brands and organizations to talk about their products and the value and benefits in action.
Customers can be the best advocates for companies, but soliciting customer feedback and building advocacy can be a massive undertaking. Activities can often be one-off and opportunistic. Without a defined customer marketing team or internal champion, companies will often struggle with who owns the process and what the best approach is for the varying degrees of engaged customer types.
Let’s consider some common customer advocacy approaches and explore how you can make customer advocacy a strategic lever of your sales and marketing activation.
Going beyond the case study
In B2B marketing, the gold standard for customer advocacy content is usually case studies, which can be powerful sales tools. The challenge with case studies, or even testimonials, is that they often put the onus on the customer to deliver their story and success – while only delivering value to the company who is soliciting the story.
Consider rethinking the traditional “case study” format. Instead of churning out another problem-solution-results one pager, how else can you get a customer to tell their story in a way that would engage and incentivize them as well? Perhaps this could be featuring a client on a blog, podcast interview, or speaking opportunity. Some advocates want exposure and would be more than happy to talk about the benefits of working with you while showcasing their own thought leadership expertise.
As an added bonus, keeping your customer advocacy content fresh with varying formats is good for your prospective audiences too. It ensures you are not over indexing in one topic, use case, vertical, or format, resulting in a breadth of coverage that more prospective clients can likely relate to.
Investing in advisory groups
Prioritizing proactive programs and strategies that generate mutual value can help build evangelists and create longer-term, more engaged client participants. One highly valuable, mutually beneficial program to consider is the customer advisory board (CAB).
Customer advisory boards can serve multiple purposes: from creating a community of like-minded thought leaders to cultivating resources for customer references and referrals and soliciting feedback on business and product strategies. Given the potential breadth and depth of these programs, standing up a CAB is truly a cross-functional effort that can touch marketing, sales, customer success, product, executive teams, and more.
There are many strategic and tactical decisions to make if you want to go down this route, such as:
- What is the core function or objective of this group – to provide strategic perspective feedback or to pressure-test product ideas and capabilities?
- Who will you recruit and will there be set criteria for roles, company types, revenue, and more?
- How frequently will the group meet and what commitments will participants need to make?
- What internal stakeholders will be involved and how will you run the meetings?
Bottom line: a customer advisory board requires commitment on both ends, and this investment should not be taken lightly. These programs can generate tremendous value if done correctly, but pose a risk of turning off advocates if they are mismanaged.
Recognizing and rewarding customers
If you want to focus advocacy efforts on truly showing appreciation, what better way than an awards program? An awards program allows you to turn the spotlight on the customer and provide recognition for exemplary work and results.
Similar to the advisory board, an awards program requires a lot of planning and preparation in order to create a sustainable activation. The last thing you want is to stand up an awards submission and have received no entries.
Treat this like a launch or campaign: you'll need a landing page where customers can learn more about the program, social media assets driving traffic, and a robust email program. Lower the barrier of entry for clients to submit by having customer success teams directly nominate clients and work with them to get excited about the opportunity.
Sales and customer marketing teams can be great partners to spread the word about the program and identify potential customers who are a great fit for the categories. Through this effort, you might be able to identify new potential champions and success stories to restart the cycle of advocacy content.
Whatever form your customer advocacy takes, remember that these efforts are all about building trust and that takes time. It’s important to nurture these relationships and provide excellent service throughout the customer experience — advocacy programs are not proxy for customer service.
These loyal customers can be an amazing well of unique insights and experiences that can extend your product, sales, and market efforts. But these aren’t just spokespeople — these are your customers too. Make the advocacy effort worth the customer’s time by creating mutual value. This might mean first looks at new products or features, peer networking, or leadership visibility. Get to know your customer’s personal and professional goals and determine how you can use advocacy to support them. They’ll feel seen and appreciated — and more likely to want to invest the time and energy to be a champion on your behalf.