Turn your B2B community of product users into advocates in 4 easy steps
Many companies I meet with have the same problem – the customer contact in the CRM doesn’t represent the actual product user(s). The account contacts are typically the primary buyers or decision-makers, but not the daily users or all the product users. These companies may have thousands of registered users in the support B2B community platform or a designated social media group, yet they aren’t related to a customer account. As an example – for a CRM vendor, the primary contact may be an IT person, and the decision-maker may be VP Sales. However, the users are sales team members, sales ops, system administrators, etc.
When presented with this problem my response is the same – “you’re sitting on a goldmine!” All you need to do is turn your product/online community users into brand advocates and build a true B2B community that can boost your customer engagement and advocacy. Imagine the impact of capitalizing on a totally new crowd of loyal customers and on the community experience (many times triple the size of your current contact base). It’s pretty easy to do, and crucial for the substantial business growth you need to meet your business goals.
Why is this a problem? What is the impact of not communicating with the actual users in B2B companies and B2B communities? Although there are multiple impacts, I’ll touch on two that I see as core issues – the impact on Marketing and on Product.
- Product-wise, your product feedback isn’t from hands-on product users when you are surveying only the identified contacts in your CRM, which leads to investment in what your contacts perceive as requirements and not what the users actually need. That doesn’t help you improve your product and can lead to reduced product value, followed by reduced usage, which combined, can lead to an overall lack of customer retention and satisfaction.
- Marketing-wise, your understanding of the product’s core values is dependent on values as perceived by contacts and therefore lacks earned value by users. Your marketing messaging is essentially covering only part of the product value (an important part, but not the whole picture). Additionally, your understanding of the buyer persona and who can impact the purchase is limited, therefore marketing reach is limited. Finally, marketing takes a hit on the depth of the customer’s voice – you miss out on user-generated content like detailed online B2B reviews, insightful references, multi-angled customer stories, and more.
If the problem sounds familiar, and the implications make sense to you, let’s move on to the four steps that can help you overcome these challenges. (BTW – if you disagree with the problem or the implications – I’d love to hear why in the comments below or contact me).
Now that we have the WHY, let’s dive into the WHAT, and close with the HOW. Leveraging this structure will be most effective and actionable, following the wisdom of Simon Sinek – Start with WHY.
Basically, you want to be able to engage/communicate with specific user personas, regarding specific needs/asks throughout the customer lifecycle, at the customer’s convenience. Sounds simple enough?
From our experience, there are four core steps to turn your users into engaged customers:
1. User outreach and B2B community management
Get in front of your actual users. Don’t rely on email lists from CRM or mailing tools! Create a two-way communication mechanism with your product users. This can be done online and in offline activities such as events, in training sessions, during user group discussions, and through colleagues.
2. User identification and creation of customer silos
Step 2 is basically knowing who’s who. Create an easy way and benefit for your customer base and users to provide key information such as industry, role, location, and product usage data (such as version) and how long they have been a customer. Ideally, some of these metrics can be provided by your own systems such as your CRM, and only 2-3 required pieces of the puzzle should be actively requested from the user. Your goal is to map and extract actionable information such as 1-year customers in the US, or a criterion of companies smaller/bigger than X, or a role criterion like system admin/key user. Create user-type groups that make sense for your business and silos that help you target your full customer base/users by cohorts. Example attributes that can be collected and leveraged for user targeting include:
|Profile Attributes||Product Attributes||Community Attributes|
|Industry||Product type / version||Activity / contribution|
|Role||Usage frequency||Connected colleagues|
3. Target your ASKs
The next step is to start engaging and marketing to your user-type cohorts with specific requests for references, user-generated content, product feedback, and any ASK you have. Even if you target the entire audience through your branded community forums, for example, being able to sort responses by user types will make all the difference in insights and actions and help you create a better customer experience. For example, if feedback on training quality is mixed yet without customer data, it’s hard to know what to improve. However, if you can see that the good ranking comes from newbies and the bad ranking comes from veteran customers, you have the insight to improve retention-customer training. Or if you need a customer reference and you know it’s a sales operations prospect, you will want a sales ops user to be on the line. As always, relevance grows conversion.
4. Go pro, create a flow
The final step is to build the framework for ongoing interaction with your community and users, including the ability to analyze customer input by user types. This will allow you to leverage the full capacity of your customer base for peer-to-peer advocacy and feedback. It will enable granularity in marketing and product, and help the organization be more specific and focused on product and marketing initiatives, as well as in customer service and customer support. Whether you leverage a customer marketing platform or customize your CRM or a customer engagement system of any type, or start with EExcel – be sure to create an ongoing cycle of the steps above.
How do you do it? Well, there are several ways to go, depending on how many user-cohorts or types you have, the number of users overall, how you currently engage with them, and whether you have a support community.
Relevant actions for any company launching such an initiative are:
- Creating a cross-company understanding that not all customers and users are equal and that you need to deep dive into the customer base and user community. Make sure you sync on the objective and process with all stakeholders, including sales, marketing, product, and customer success.
- You’d also want to have a customer advocacy program in place and define what’s in it for the customers. There are several means of motivation for users and the community.
- Define your toolset – for super-simple initiatives, Excel and email will do. If you want partial automation you can customize relevant systems such as CRM, your support forum, marketing automation, and chat. For full automation, you can utilize a customer marketing platform.
- Determine a budget for 6-12 months. Programs have rewards, systems require licenses or customization, and a good launch campaign may require money… you could take baby steps with several thousands of dollars in the first year or aim high from the get-go.
- Define an owner, most likely from marketing/customer marketing or customer success.
- Make sure you cover all four steps discussed early in your thought process. You might not go pro on day one, that’s fine, but have a path in mind. For example, create a basic program, use Excel, have a part-time owner, and reach 100 new/un-touched users in 3-6 months. Create a smaller framework just to see the impact, then make the case internally to go pro. On a small scale, you may leverage freemium.
- Consult and leverage best practices – seek out customer marketing managers and customer advocacy professionals to discuss what they’ve done. Feel free to reach out to me and consult as well.
- And yes, a designated customer marketing platform, such as Crowdvocate, can streamline the whole flow, and automate outreach and capture the voice of all your customers – including the community and product users.
These strategic initiatives will impact your marketing and product dramatically, as well as your business goals and your position in the company. The “side-effect” of this customer-centric marketing approach will increase brand awareness, drive higher customer satisfaction, create better product alignment with customer requirements, increase the number of quality leads with lower acquisition costs, and lead to higher lead conversion rates.
I challenge you to set a customer marketing goal, a deadline (January 2019 the latest), and a plan for launching user advocacy, ultimately turning your community and product users into advocates.