Advocacy , B2B Marketing , Customer Marketing , Lifecycle Marketing

Customer Advocacy: 3 ways to impact sales you haven’t considered

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One of the classic questions I get is: “How do I measure and show results from customer advocacy?” Some even add “and quick results” to the query. Although customer advocacy should be viewed as a growth strategy, it can be fine-tuned to show results early on. That’s because customer advocacy is a business initiative with real goals, measurements and improvement paths. While every company should define specific Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and timeframes from the get-go, the focus of this article is on bottom-line measurements that can be relevant to almost any organization. So, here’s how to show results, fast, and see dollar signs quickly. 

Let’s begin with the jobs to be done – what do companies strive to achieve with customer advocacy? There may be various “jobs” here – building customer loyalty, ensuring customer satisfaction and a positive customer experience (creating happy customers), social amplification, brand awareness, customer engagement, customer feedback, generating user-based content, etc., and each may have its own KPIs as suggested above. But the real job to be done, the outcome, is business growth which equals sales growth. Personally, I believe customer advocacy is fundamental to sustainable growth, and the “job to be done” should be that. HubSpot founders outlined this vision amazingly well in their Inbound2018 keynotes on the importance of customer delight and growing better.

For many management and sales teams, the simplified higher logic of customer advocacy is revenue-driven – that’s the key job to be done. But there are many ways to get executive buy-in for customer advocacy. In relation to customer advocacy programs, revenues are best embodied in the 3 R’s = referrals, references, reviews as well as upsell, churn reduction, and customer-social selling. The 3 R’s and customer social selling are the easiest ways to show quick results, and the least capitalized upon. So let’s get practical on executing those tactics. 

There are many forms of leveraging your customer base/ product users for revenue growth and lead generation, including over 15 variations of social selling tactics. All have clear tracking to show customers’ impact on lead conversion and deal closure. I picked out three customer-driven sales examples that show results quickly and have straightforward measurements and ROI. 

  1. Customer-led webinars  
  2. Real-time reference
  3. Smart referrals 

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Customer-centric webinars

Webinars can generate tons of leads per session, in some cases way over 100, and have good overall engagement. When people register to a webinar, they become new leads, regardless of actual attendance. If they participate in the webinar, they turn into a high-score lead, which, with the right follow-up, can convert to a sales qualified lead (SQL).  That’s why 73% of B2B marketers and sales leaders say webinars are the best way to generate high-quality leads

Some good practices for webinars include:

  1. Make webinars part of the customer relationship. Ask your customers about webinar topics that resonate most with them or trending industry chatter that can be a great topic.
  2. Be customer-centric! Identify and invite customer advocate speakers to take part as webinar panelists/speakers.
  3. Go social, and have your customer community spread the word, after all this webinar is their baby… Customer-shared content has higher social reach and engagement. 
  4. Get customers to register themselves and join the live discussion to facilitate a live industry meeting point and a great type of customer engagement. 

Such webinars generate high registration and conversion rates. With customer advocacy, you can create customer-led webinars, and with advocacy automation, you can run them as a quarterly initiative, without the hassle. In any case, it’s a great method to show results within a three-month time frame. A sample schedule could look like this: Month 1: Program launch. Month 2: Build & launch the customer-led webinar campaign. Month 3: Run the webinar and show lead funnel and conversion.

Real-time references from brand advocates

Real-time references from brand advocates and other forms of social proof can dramatically increase prospect conversion on your website and have a direct impact on deal closure, faster! Up to 80% of professional purchasing agents use references before making a purchase from a new supplier. Among them, 67% ask for 2 or more references, as indicated by Barbara Thomas

Creating a customer advocacy program or referral program

For SaaS companies, the right reference at the right time can literally close the deal and lead the prospect to purchase your product or service. But how do you get those references? 
The first thing to understand is that references can come in many shapes and forms. The classic option is a reference call, but you want to distribute them wisely, so as not to overload your brand advocates and loyal customers. If you generate a variety of reference types – such as success stories, reviews, case studies, quotes by customers, and video stories – you can cater to prospect requests for references in a structured and scalable manner. We have a methodology that details what type of reference fits each stage in the buying cycle. Learn more about our best practices by clicking below.

Secondly, you need to have a mechanism to acquire, update, and share your references. There are several ways to do that, but three key recommendations would be to:

1. Run it year-round 

Automation comes handy here – you don’t want to start asking for references when a prospect is in buying/decision mode. It could take you days, or even weeks to deliver, which could jeopardize the deal. Running requests that demonstrate customer satisfaction year-round also grows the reference database you have to work with.

2. Make it flexible

Give customers the ability to provide the type of reference they feel comfortable with, in the easiest way possible. Having an array of 200 references in various formats enables flexibility, whereas having ten great on-call references forces the entire company to fight for the limited resources for every deal. That’s not great for company culture…

3. Keep it real-time and frictionless

Make it as real-time and frictionless as possible – don’t have every prospect overload the system. By making references accessible and sortable by industry, size, etc. – you enable prospects to advance in the customer journey and can track them and engage them when the time is right.  Here’s how our engine, the ReferenceBot®, works:

Here’s how our engine, the ReferenceBot®, works

We engage leads in your chatbot, or in ours, and provide real-time targeted lead capture while giving prospects access to references of their choice, up to the point where we make it the job of an SDR to qualify before providing a reference call. It’s a process you can get up and running in a week! Watch ReferenceBot ® at work. Watch ReferenceBot ® at work

Smart Referrals

Asking for referrals seems to be pretty straightforward. However, good referrals are harder to generate and convert at higher rates. Therefore, investing thought in building a process is worthwhile. My recommendation is to build a structured Ask, clarify the What’s In It For Them value (WIFM), and incentivize quality over quantity. Here are some best practices:

1. Structure the ask

  • Let customers know how to create the referral. Ideally give them some choices of how to do it, such as sharing on social media and sending an email.
  • Let them know why it’s worthwhile for their network. Help them understand the benefit for their colleagues and for the potential customers they bring in.
  • Let them know what’s in it for them.
  • Clarify the steps – quality over quantity. For example, every qualified lead is worth 4x more than a registered lead. Having an accumulated point mechanism is most efficient for this purpose. To follow the above example – a registered lead is 50 points, a qualified one is worth 200, and at 500 points you can access a reward. Automation makes it effortless, but you could manage the math and rewards on Excel as well (though it can become painful as you grow).

Dropbox is a great example of a simple and top-notch referral program that was core to the company’s growth and went above and beyond simple word of mouth marketing.

2. Make sure to update and acknowledge your customer advocates

Don’t forget your customer service! A customer that gets notified that she/he brought in two new customers will feel confident to reach out to more. A customer that’s notified she/he didn’t generate any leads might consider how to go about it differently next time or choose to opt-out, thus diluting operational overhead.

3. Keep your happy customers and don’t overdo it

I recommend you ask your customer base for a referral up to once a quarter. Make it understood, as a policy, that you’re not overusing this Ask. Ideally, time the Ask to be trigger-based so that different customers get the Ask at different times, based on their activity. Once a year, you can run an all-class competition and gamify the effort.

A word about reward and acknowledgment. Most customers want to help if you’re a good vendor and the Ask is reasonable.

Gartner found 96% of customers would reference a vendor they like.

Having said that, no one likes to be taken for granted. That’s why it’s always a good idea to acknowledge and reward their efforts. If you do so, you create a golden cycle and can keep asking, within reason. If you don’t, your brand advocates will be less and less receptive.

Acknowledgment means saying thank you, telling your community that Joe or Lisa contributed and you think they rock, and letting customers feel their effort is valued.

Rewards should be a token of appreciation, not the only/core driver, of any deed. A reward can be many things, for example, swag, a training discount, or a $5 Starbucks gift card so their next coffee is on you! 

The best way to empower your team is by creating these types of social selling actions, based on result-driven customer advocacy! The Base team would love to help and advise.

Our platform automates all of the above and makes the process frictionless for customers, as well as hassle-free for the vendor (you). Having said that, you can start with a policy doc, notification emails, and user activity and reward Excel, and see how it goes. The most important thing is not to neglect this super important marketing tactic. 

Good luck!

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