A few years ago, I delightfully observed as a client started a customer advocacy program. What’s that, you might ask? It’s an effort to go beyond one-off case studies and reference calls to engage with customers who are willing to serve as advocates for your products and services in a variety of ways.
The new program didn’t disappoint: My client grew named customer case studies by 50%, customer participation in speaking engagements to 164% of goal, and customer participation in media interviews by 650%.
To clarify, these are all outcomes where the happy customer went on record – publicly – to share the story about their success. Impressive.
Why Your Business Needs an Advocacy Program
If you follow this space, then you probably already know that satisfied customers – willing to talk about their experiences – are one of your greatest marketing assets. They’re way more believable than your marketing promises.
But ideally, a customer’s praise isn’t limited to a single case study. Today, savvy organizations are pursuing “customer advocacy” (what used to be called customer referencing).
Customer (or brand) advocates are five times more valuable than average customers because they spend more on your products. And they do even more: they willingly promote your products to others. And those recommendations carry a lot of weight.
Advocates are two to three times more effective than non-advocates in persuading people to make a purchase, and that’s good news for your business. A good advocacy program has a distinct effect on your company’s bottom line: a 12% increase in advocacy yields a 2x increase in revenue growth rate.*
How Advocates Engage with Your Business
Advocates might support your organization by speaking one-one-one with prospects, starring in videos, presenting at industry conferences or webinars, speaking to the media, joining an advisory board, or sharing their stories for awards programs.
If you simply ask for a single advocacy activity, you limit the relationship’s potential. I’ve seen individual contacts at customer organizations richly rewarded in their OWN organizations and industries with promotions and accolades after the exposure gained from presenting at conferences, participating in case studies and videos, speaking to the media and/or participating in industry awards – all facilitated by a vendor’s advocacy program.
Starting Your Advocacy Program
But if you’re a smaller organization, how do you begin the first steps of customer advocacy with no dedicated budget?
For answers, I turned to Barbara Thomas of Creative Tactics. Barbara has spent years working in customer advocacy and is the author of the forthcoming book, Advocate Marketing: Strategies for Building Buzz, Leveraging Customer Satisfaction and Creating Relationships.
“If you want more than the occasional one-off case study or want a list of go-to customers for references to support your sales, then you want an advocate marketing program,” she says. “With zero to little budget as a small organization, you can start a sustainable advocate marketing program that will help create extraordinary content. All you need is a surveying tool, Excel spreadsheet or CRM, and about 8 hours periodically from an organized staffer to work on the project.”
Here are Barbara’s tips to move forward on your advocate marketing effort:
1. Plan – Brainstorm with sales, product marketing/management, IT and the web site manager and other relevant team members to determine what information is already captured about customers and what processes can be automated easily.
2. Run customer surveys – Surveys can help identify customers that might be promoters and then advocates, and possibly even elicit some content, such as testimonials.
“The results of your survey should provide you with several customer testimonials ready to be shared publicly, a list of reference customers, and a list of content marketing candidates willing to engage in various valued activities for your organization,” Barbara says.
From this point, you can estimate the budget or resources to ask for to secure the new content from your pool of respondents.
3. Create communications – You’ll want a few tools and templates such as follow-up notes, thank-you and engagement emails, voice mail scripts, and FAQs for internal staff and customers about advocacy opportunities.
“Make the communication as personal as possible, but still in a cookie-cutter format,” Barbara says. “I know that concept is an oxymoron but inserting data fields helps to personalize and is easy to do.”
4. Organize it – While there are very cool tools nowadays for organizing customer advocates, you can begin with your CRM application or Excel.
5. Measure results – Lastly, if you want more resources for your program, you have to show the outcome. Your first step is likely measuring quantity. What were your goals in terms of advocacy activity? Did you generate more of it – more videos, case studies, calls, event attendance and more?
Social media and web traffic stats make it easier to measure the impressions that advocacy content generated. What traffic can you tie to advocacy-related posts?
For the more advanced, the next step would be tying activity to leads, sales and revenue, which even more sophisticated programs struggle to do.
If all this sounds overwhelming, simply start at the beginning and take it step by step. It’s what numerous organizations have done, many of which now have funded advocacy programs.