How do you know it’s the right time to start a customer advocacy program? How do you know if a customer is ready to participate? What can you learn when you ask them to join your program?
These questions are bound to come up when starting or revamping your customer advocacy initiatives. And the answers aren’t always readily available. To offer a new perspective and sound advice, we welcomed a seasoned customer advocacy expert to The Advocacy Channel for our 10th episode.
Pablo Fernandes is the Product Manager and Head of Consulting Services for Customer Advocacy at Wings4U, an organization that helps B2B tech companies close more deals faster by leveraging the voice of their customers. Our host, Will Fraser, chats with Pablo about identifying your advocates, how to measure the impact and success of your program, and much more.
Check out the full episode below, or keep reading for our favorite pieces of advice from the episode.
Prefer to listen on the go? The Advocacy Channel is available anywhere you listen to podcasts.
How do you define a customer advocacy program?
(Listen from 5:40)
Having spoken to customer advocacy experts from across countries and industries, we often like to lead with this question as it never fails to bring new insights!
First and foremost, Pablo notes that the best customer advocacy program is the one that makes the most sense to the organization that’s running it. It’s never one-size-fits-all. He defines an advocacy program as a sales and marketing strategy that leverages the positive voice of the customer to influence buying decisions. (6:25)
This definition gives a lot of flexibility to what an advocacy program can be, so long as it’s driving positive purchase behavior from customers.
Pablo adds that these strategies need to be done systematically and intentionally – with measurable results – so you can understand how your investments are returning to your company in terms of revenue (or another measurable goal.)
How is a customer advocacy program different from customer advocacy practices?
(Listen from 8:28)
Before diving into starting an advocacy program, it’s important to differentiate between customer advocacy programs and customer advocacy practices. These are often similar in execution but the difference depends on the intention behind them.
When speaking with a company that wants to start up an advocacy program, one of the first things Pablo explores are these customer advocacy practices that the company might already be doing. These could be things like giving a customer a bottle of wine to say thank you, running customer advisory boards and ambassador programs, etc. It’s important to identify these because they are what you will use as the building blocks for your advocacy programs. However, these are not inherently considered advocacy programs until you make an effort to execute them with a standardized process and measure their impact on your company’s success.
As Pablo puts it, “One of the best things to do when starting a program is recognizing those advocacy practices because you’re going to start with that. You just need to encapsulate them into your program and provide that same experience to customers. And once you apply a standardized process to them and start measuring their impact through operational health metrics and other strategic methods, then it becomes a true program.” (9:26)
What’s the first step to getting started with an intentional customer advocacy program?
(Listen from 10:19)
Whether or not you’re already running actions or practices that help drive advocacy, we asked Pablo: What is the best way to get started with formalizing these strategies into an intentional program?
Pablo shares that it’s much better to start with a pilot program, especially with your B2B and enterprise segments if that applies to your industry. You can start small by doing C2C (customer-to-customer) calls where customers recommend products to another, sourcing quotes, generating use cases, and finding speakers for brand promotion, without needing to spend millions of dollars right off the bat.
From Pablo’s experience, he finds that many pilots forget to include what’s called recognition activities, which work together with the advocacy activities to forge the advocate.
“A common error I see in these pilots is that when they are starting customer advocacy programs, they think of all these advocacy activities (getting speakers, customer references, etc.) but they forget to include recognition activities like training and certifications. Together with the advocacy activities, these will help you forge new advocates.” (12:22)
Will adds that the idea of a pilot can often get overlooked when people want to start with the tool or technology first. In reality, you can start without the software. Do some outreach, start selecting advocates you want to work with, and see how it goes. Once you have proven you are ready, then take a look at the automation and systems that can help you scale.
“An advocate is not only a happy customer but is someone who also uses their own time to promote your product.”
How many customers do you need before you can start an official advocacy program?
(Listen from 14:32)
Pablo shares that he’s heard the magic number stating that 35% of your customer base should be advocates before you start a program. But why?
While this isn’t a bad number to strive for, as it means you’re shielding a third of your customers from the competition, Pablo advises that you don’t need to achieve this metric to get started with customer advocacy. Whether you’re ready is more dependent on your return on investment. Regardless of whether you have 10 or 10,000 customers, you can definitely start a pilot program with managed advocates.
Starting small also helps you build relationships internally across departments, get more buy-in from stakeholders, and realize the full value of your program before making more of an investment. If you want to get started, as Pablo puts it, “As long as you have an ROI, the number of advocates really doesn’t matter.” (18:43)
What is the difference between an advocate and a happy customer?
(Listen from 21:10)
For Pablo, “an advocate is not only a happy customer but is someone who also uses their own time to promote your product.” (22:26)
Some companies will define advocates as those who have joined their advocate program, or who have been recruited by the company. But it’s possible that as time has gone on, the customer is no longer satisfied and no longer considered an advocate, or simply not willing to promote your brand publicly.
One of the best ways to truly identify an advocate is when you offer an advocacy activity (ie. ask them to be a reference, leave a review) and they have said “yes” at a recent point in time. How recent will depend on the company and industry, but you can keep track of this to understand who might be at risk of being downgraded from an advocate or even noted as at risk of churn.
“That is next-level deployment of an advocacy program, where you have a resource – an advocate – and you think they could help in this sales process and you volunteer them to help.”
How can you take a proactive approach to customer advocacy?
(Listen from 32:00)
When planning how to go about managing your advocates and your programs, Pablo emphasizes the difference between a transactional approach and a proactive approach.
The transactional model is when you utilize an advocate only when a specific request comes up. For example, when your sales team requests an advocate to help them close a particular sale. In other words, the advocates are being utilized only once there is a need identified for them, and otherwise being left unused. Pablo shares that “Almost 100% of the programs out there have this problem where you recruit a lot of advocates but then they sit unused.” (33:20)
On the other hand, proactive outreach means you don’t risk losing advocates by leaving them unused. As a proactive advocacy manager, you are scanning the pipeline in your CRM and you see opportunities to offer your assets and advocates to your sales team. You know what you have in your supply and how to use it effectively.
Will adds that many of the programs he has seen are less proactive, and waiting for advocates to be requested. This can quickly turn into a reference program rather than an advocacy program.
“I don’t hear a lot of people talking about how they are proactively reaching out to their PR team, sales team, marketing, or success team to say ‘Hey, I have an advocate that I think could help you.’ That is next-level deployment of an advocacy program where you have a resource – an advocate – and you think they could help in this sales process and you volunteer them to help.” (38:23)
It’s a strong bar that advocacy managers should be striving toward, and makes for an effective program.
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