Those of us in the advocate marketing space, particularly at smaller companies with lean teams and even leaner budgets, know that sourcing, converting and nurturing a growing advocate base is a full time job and then some. I’ve realized through countless conversations with peers that we’re all in the same boat, experiencing the same challenges: Getting buy-in and participation, scaling our programs, and finding time to prove value and iterate.
The most important thing I’ve learned over the past several years is that advocacy takes a village to be successful, and if you can nail the buy-in and participation challenge, you’ll have fewer issues with scale and proving value. The key to any successful advocacy program is getting three groups of stakeholders on board: Your customers (obviously), your internal Sales and Customer Experience (CX) teams, and of course your Senior Leadership Team (SLT.)
Here’s why this buy-in is so important, and some tips for how to get it:
This one seems painfully obvious, but as marketers, it’s our responsibility to think about what kind of value we’re delivering to our customers before we try to engage them in a formal advocacy program.
A good rule of thumb is that you need to give to get. If you’re with a company that’s just starting to explore advocacy, you’ll likely be able to find a few early advocates that love your product or service so much they’ll jump at the chance to do a webinar or write a review. But this pool tends to be shallow and dries up quickly. It’s not a good foundation for a sustainable advocacy program.
To get your customers bought-in and engaged, first consider how you can start or continue building value-based relationships with them. Here are a few examples how:
- Help them be successful with campaigns and collateral: Newsletters, product updates, best practice webinars and training guides are simple ways to deliver value before you start peppering customers with advocacy requests. And as an added bonus, once you stand up some of these automated customer marketing programs, it’s really easy to build in advocacy opportunities later on, which will help you scale your program.
- Be where they are: Your customers are busy with a million competing priorities; don’t make them hunt for resources. Think of the places they tend to go, and meet them there with the information they need. Using email as your only channel may be limiting, because we’re all familiar with inbox overload. Think about taking a multi-pronged approach, adding in-app tools such as Pendo or Intercom, or customer marketing software such as Crowdvocate, in addition to your marketing automation platform.
- Make it delightful & fun: The best advocate marketers are good listeners. As you interact with customers, make note of their interests (ideally in your CRM so it’s on the record). Then, when they do advocate, you can align your follow up or thank you gift with things you know they like. And it doesn’t always mean spending money; sometimes it’s just mentioning their beloved pet in a thank you card, or sending them a few more of your company branded pens you know they like so much. If you’ve got the resources to gamify and build in automated rewards to certain aspects of your customer journey, do it. It does wonders for keeping your customer base engaged when you don’t have enough hours in the day to do it manually.
Sales & Customer Experience
Sales and Customer Experience are essentially an extension of your team. They have the most direct access to your customers and have built authentic relationships. They usually know everything about a customer, from their business challenges and goals, down to their favorite sports team.
The toughest thing about getting Sales and CX to participate in advocacy initiatives is getting them in the habit of seizing opportunities to convert customers into champions. They’re busy people and often advocacy feels like one more thing to add onto an already full plate.
It’s your job to deliver value to Sales and CX to get them on board with helping you grow your advocacy program. They’re key players in achieving scalability later on if you can get them bought-in from the beginning. Here’s how:
- Make it easy for them: Asking for advocacy can be a time-consuming process with a lot of moving parts to coordinate. Developing email templates and process documents for things like reference call requests and review asks makes it easier for your colleagues to get involved without reinventing the wheel. Put these templates and guides in a place that’s accessible to everyone, like a shared Google Drive, or your company’s intranet.
- Make it accessible: Provide training for Sales and CX on when and how to ask for advocacy. Work with team leaders to ensure that advocacy is part of initial onboarding and training, so that new hires know from day one that they can help impact this organizational initiative. And if possible, make sure that advocacy is tracked in your CRM. Most Sales and CX teams live and breathe Salesforce, so if you have the right infrastructure in your CRM (ex, advocate reports, a prospective advocate checkbox etc.), it will be far easier and more natural for them to update advocacy info there rather than remembering to open and update a spreadsheet.
Your Senior Leadership Team
More often than not, at least one executive is an internal champion for advocacy (and that’s likely why you were hired), but you may need to win over additional hearts and minds to get cross-departmental buy-in for your initiatives, or to get approval to add headcount or increase budget.
Here are some examples for how to get your entire SLT on board with advocacy:
- Make it measurable: Historically, customer marketing & advocacy has gotten a bad wrap for being heavy on the warm and fuzzy and light on real results. But that’s not the case; with marketing automation platforms, customer advocacy software, CRMs and BI tools, you can put the pieces of the puzzle together to show the impact advocacy has on the business. Even if your organization doesn’t have all the latest tech, simply track things like advocate growth and where advocacy impacts deals (such as reference calls), so you can put together basic charts demonstrating growth trends and influenced revenue. Then the key becomes sharing this information – as widely and as often as possible. Fight for time (even a short slot) in company Town Halls, QBRs, or weekly meetings. You’re on a mission to raise awareness about how your work connects to the larger business goals, and if you can do this, your SLT will be forever fans of advocacy.
- Make it about the customer: Business results are critical, but we’re all human and everyone loves a feel good story. Make sure you’re sharing advocacy and moments of delight as often as you can. Frequently putting the spotlight on things like case study results, social shout-outs and G2 reviews is critical to getting the SLT excited about the power of the voice of the customer. Even something as simple as sharing photos of customers from on-site meetings or conferences (remember pre-COVID, when those were a thing?), helps humanize the customer and solidify their experience and their voice for your leadership team.
Nobody has ever said customer marketing and advocacy is easy. But, if you shift your thinking from seeing it as only your hill to climb, and work thoughtfully to deliver value and get buy-in from these key stakeholders, you’ll be better equipped to develop a village that will help your long-term advocacy initiatives thrive and grow.