(originally posted on LinkedIn)
Let's be honest. For the sponsoring organization, the end goal of any customer reference or advocacy program is the resulting customer content, and data to feed back into organizational planning.
But customer-centric organizations also understand that when the love flows both ways, the experience is as valuable for the customer as it is for the vendor - and the rewards keep on growing.
The result? A spectacular bloom of customer advocates and a beautiful array of customer content… with an added bonus of additional revenue. Reference and advocacy managers on the front lines know that those perfect blooms start with a lot of digging around in the dirt.
As every gardener knows, you’ve got to pay attention to what your plants need if you want to keep them happy. And if they’re not happy in one part of the garden, you may need to uproot them and move them to another spot. In short, if you’re serious about the garden, you’d best be ready to get your hands dirty.
Customer Advocate Programs are like that, and the path to success is pretty simple.
Anyone for a pair of gardening gloves?
I first introduced this gardening analogy in the Fall of 2016 when I spoke on getting executive buy-in at the request of the folks at RO Innovation, makers of ReferenceView, for their Elevate user conference. I presented it again at the Summit on Customer Engagement this past March. You can listen to the audio of my presentation at the Summit here.
Industry watchers like Forrester Research, Gartner and SiriusDecisions continue to send a strong message for B2B marketers: Customer advocacy is a critical function.
SiriusDecisions points out that advocacy programs have grown out of traditional customer reference programs, but the role has expanded to encompass more non-reference, but non-the-less customer-focused, activities. Events, communities, social influencer engagement and advisory boards are just a few examples.
For a small, lean organization that can seem like a luxury.
Or maybe its just semantics? Whatever you call the program, let’s not lose sight of what is truly critical: Starting with a solid customer reference process as a manageable first step on which to build.
Most customer reference programs initially spring up from necessity, and as such, they can be tactical in nature. Marketing needs case studies to drive demand gen. AR needs customer references for annual analyst reports like the Gartner Magic Quadrant and Forrester Wave. Sales needs one-on-one references to close deals.
Addressing these needs and balancing them with the interest and availability of key customers without burning them out is the basic function of the customer reference process. And good customer reference managers take this one step further to really engage with their customers to understand their personal and organizational goals, so the program is beneficial for everyone.
The idea of transforming the traditional reference program into a customer advocacy program has blossomed over the past few years. This was a pervasive topic at the Summit on Customer Engagement where I spoke this past March.
From discussion in the advanced practitioner’s workshop before the conference to the organic buzz during the networking breaks, it was clear that we’re on a trajectory to up-level the strategic importance of identifying, recruiting and cultivating customers who want to share their expertise as well as their experiences with our brands.
There’s no denying that this function – whether you call it customer marketing, customer advocacy or customer reference management – has tremendous potential beyond the basic goal of recruiting and managing references. The by-product of increasing customer engagement has become the driver that supports cross sell efforts and provides valuable insights back to the organization for everything from demand gen and ABM to product marketing and strategy.
So do lean organizations need a customer advocacy program? Yes. But like everything else, it can start small.
A customer advocacy program doesn’t have to encompass an advisory board right away. It doesn’t have to include a community. It doesn’t have to have a brand or an annual event. It can start with the basics of a reference program and build from there, no matter what you call it.
The difference is attitude.
Customer-focused organizations collectively and instinctively think in terms of advocacy. Their programs will build toward the bigger picture even while starting with a basic reference program. The most crucial component is the agreement from both marketing and sales leadership to support the program and keep it moving forward.
(cross-posted to my LinkedIn profile)