The Advocacy Channel Ep. 5: How to Get Buy-in for Your Customer Advocacy Marketing Program with Jon Ashley
Wondering how to get started with a customer advocacy initiative in your organization?
Whether you’re a marketer, product manager, or growth leader eager to bring customer advocacy projects to your 2022 strategy, it can be difficult to understand how to get started and earn support from the rest of your team.
To help, we’re excited to welcome Jon Ashley to The Advocacy Channel. With over 20 years of experience developing customer advocacy programs for large companies in the UK, Jon brings a wealth of valuable knowledge and advice when it comes to kicking off a customer advocacy project no matter your level of experience.
Tune in as Jon and host Will Fraser break down how you can get company buy-in for your customer advocacy initiatives, how to set realistic expectations and goals, and what to consider for the best results.
Check out the full episode below, or keep reading for our favorite pieces of advice from the episode.
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How to start getting buy-in for a customer advocacy program
If your company is heavily focused on new customer acquisition, but you know that there can be a lot of success found in customer advocacy and retention, how do you initiate this new project? How do you convince the rest of your team that advocacy is the best path forward?
Jon has learned that buy-in stems most importantly from your company’s culture and the way you engage your customers and employees.
One of the great questions out there is how do you get your acquisition-addicted company to support and believe in advocacy? How do you get the support you need to bring a program like this up and off the ground?
If you’ve got a customer success team, you're already halfway there. That's the first thing. The second thing is, if you want to convince your business as an advocacy person, you have to wear every single hat in that business because you need to have a customer-obsessed culture. You need to emphasize that whatever the customer does, they walk on water. They have spent the money with us and they’ve invested in our company, and let's not be under any illusion - they could still walk away at any time. There's so much choice out there, making it easy for customers to chop and change.
And this is the challenge presented to marketing. For someone starting an advocacy program, we have to wear every single hat within the business. We have to be salespeople, marketing people, customer success, business development reps, HR, etc. We have to wear all these different hats because the business case directly impacts every single one of those people. For example, HR is really important because when they're recruiting new people into your business, they need to say “We're a customer-obsessed organization - that’s our culture.” Starting from the moment a new person is hired, it’s important to emphasize that customers are absolutely the epitome of everything you do.
More insights from Jon: Where to find your allies and how to speak to the potential results of your program 13:10
How to set the right expectations for your advocacy program
When kicking off your customer advocacy initiatives, it’s important to come equipped with a realistic set of expectations and benchmarks. This is helpful not only to control your own perception of the program’s success, but to ensure you’re given enough time to demonstrate the program’s efficacy to your company’s executive team.
With this comes the importance of ensuring you can secure ongoing program support and attention. Jon and Will emphasize that running an advocacy program is a continual re-marketing effort - it’s not a matter of simply putting up the program and having everyone join on day one.
And you mentioned in there that it takes time. And I know that these kinds of timelines are always hard to pin down. But say I went to my executives asking to run this advocacy program, how long of a window am I asking for to make sure that I can show some efficacy of the program?
I think you have to think about what your end game is. An advocacy program doesn't have an end - it's always on. Once you switch it on, it's incredibly difficult to switch it off, especially if you've got customers who are in there enjoying the benefits of their new status, new experiences, and all those wonderful things.
When you’re thinking about time scales, it's safe to assume your first year is going to be building, experimenting, testing things out, seeing how customers react, building the intelligence around your customer base, etc. You'll start to see a propensity of what they like and what they don't like, and you’ll start to understand what works and what doesn’t, and after a year you'll be heading for maturity.
It’s probably a three-year journey to get to any semblance of a program that's really starting to generate serious results. I would never say to anyone “Yeah, after three months your program's going to be on fire”. That would be very wrong of me to set that expectation and I wouldn't want anyone else to fall into that kind of pitfall. It's going to take a year to get that program running, it's going to take a second year to mature, and it's going to take probably a third year for you to safely say it is making a difference.
I'm very happy you're saying this. Lots of people we have spoken to think are operating on timelines where maybe they haven't got enough support to get to year one or year two. They're in a place where they're supposed to, with fewer resources than they need, produce massive results in three months to prove that with the right resources it could also produce the same results, so it's a very real challenge.
It's not a matter of building it and they will come, or putting up the program and having everyone show up. It's a continual remarketing effort. How do we tell them what's going on? How do we give them new reasons to come back? How do we introduce this program many times to people so that they finally feel comfortable to participate? We’ve seen it a lot where people will launch an initiative and expect results on day one. Sometimes they do get them, but especially in a B2B environment, this is a tall order. And then you need that support from the marketing team to continue talking to potential advocates, and getting participants to keep coming back.
Jon's top piece of advice for anyone starting a customer advocacy initiative
Given Jon’s wealth of experience in the customer advocacy world, we couldn’t end the episode without asking him what piece of advice he would offer to anyone getting started with an advocacy program.
What is the one piece of advice you wish someone had given you when you were just starting your first advocacy program?
Ah, that is a tough question because when I first started on my journey, I had people going very glossy-eyed when I talked to them about advocacy. They would look at me and go “What are you talking about?”
Because everyone was doing advocacy, but everyone was doing it in isolation or doing little bits of it. There was never a formalized strategy or program. You know, by saying we're going to have these customers in one place and we're going to look after them and we're going to nurture them, rather than Dave over there, who's doing a bit with that customer, and Debbie’s doing a bit with that customer over there, let’s bring it together. Let's pull these customers, pull our resources, and start looking to see how we build better relationships with them.
And I think the one piece of advice I'd probably give every advocate marketer who is starting this journey is just to be focused on what the program is there to deliver. It's not just one thing. And I think it's really difficult to try and communicate that to people who think that advocacy marketing is just case studies.
It's about how you open their eyes up to all of the other possibilities that you could get, but also how those customers will react to you in this world of advocacy. We don't explicitly tell customers “you're in an advocacy program” - we don't say that because then you end up explaining to the customer what it's all about. “Disguise” is the wrong word to use, so I’ll say you're just going to veil it. You're just going to put a thin veil over the top of it to say “here’s our advocacy program”, but for customers, it's something else. For example, at Sage, it was Sage Champions, and at another company it's VIP. Whatever they want to call it, it's about making sure that those customers know they are the best of the best. They're the cream of the crop and that you want to make them feel special.
Listen to the full episode for even more valuable lessons from Jon like:
- How did customer advocacy start and how has it changed in the context of B2B?
- How can you successfully keep your advocates happy while benefiting from their advocacy?
- How can you keep every department aligned for ultimate customer advocacy?
- Where will you find your allies to support your new initiative?
Special thanks to Jon for being on the show! Connect with Jon on LinkedIn.
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