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Customer advocacy: How to get your customers and Customer Success team invested
If you work for a SaaS business, you know word-of-mouth marketing is everything. Today’s companies need to have exceptional reviews, references, and referrals if they want to compete and grow.
You may be able to snag a few reviews here and sign up a few references there without much of a dedicated effort. But as you acquire more customers, you’ll no longer be able to passively manage these lead and brand-building sources.
You’ll need to build structure around how you identify, develop, and incentivize your advocates, as well as set internal expectations and processes. And that’s where advocacy programs come in.
But for your advocacy program to be effective, you must first have the backing of both your customer and your team. They should understand the program’s value, their part in driving that value, and what they personally get out of it.
At ChurnZero’s virtual RYG, we held a panel discussion with Customer Success leaders who offered up their best advice on how to get both your customers and your team invested in your customer advocacy program.
ChurnZero virtual RYG panelists included:
- Nicole Barker, Head of Customer Success at Conductiv
- Andrew Fink, Head of Customer Success at 6 River Systems
- Megan Macaluso, Sr. Director of Customer Success at Convercent
- Rachel Gurman, Customer Success Manager at ChurnZero
Here’s the recap of from our panel discussion along with our top takeaways.
How to encourage customer advocates to share their knowledge
Identifying your customer advocates and operationalizing your customer advocates are two different undertakings. The first requires a defined set of criteria for what constitutes an advocate, as well as a system to flag those customers.
Nicole Barker, Head of Customer Success at Conductiv, says that her team looks for customers who are sophisticated in nature, early adopters, and tech enthusiasts.
“You have to start with those customers first and say, ‘We have a strong partnership here, let’s see how we can take this further,’” shares Nicole. “When customers have the perception that your services bring them value, then they want to talk about it with other folks.”
The second requires a customer incentive. You must be able to clearly state what the customer gets out of participating in your advocacy opportunities. Your advocate relationships must be reciprocal; you cannot just take from the customer without giving them something in return. But your incentives don’t have to be strictly limited to monetary rewards. For example, part of the payoff in asking your customer to join an advocacy program is your recognition of them as an expert in their domain.
To help customers reach that master status, you need to support their professional development and make sure they take advantage of the tools and resources available to them. As Nicole points out, your customers’ continuous learning and growth allows them to become subject matter experts in the field, and who doesn’t want that? As a CS professional, you want to be seen as a leader in your market, and so does your customer.
But if like Conductiv, which predominantly serves the healthcare market, you work in an industry that has many restrictions around customer incentives or you’re simply tight on budget, you may need to get creative.
For example, Nicole says they offer their customer references membership in Conductiv’s tech collaborator program, which among other benefits, gives customers early access to new features for a period of time, such as six months, before they have to purchase it.
Similarly, Megan Macaluso, Sr. Director of CS at Convercent, which operates in the ethics and compliance space, also uses access as an incentive in lieu of material gifts.
“When we host events, we have content that’s tailored specifically for customers,” says Megan. “We can be particular about who can attend what event, such as Q&A with our CEO.”
And because Convercent is a thought leader in their solution’s space, whenever they host events or roundtables, their customers get excited when asked to participate as speakers or panelists. Customers want to associate themselves with companies that lend them credibility and authority. The more reputable you are, the more customers will want to align themselves to you and promote that relationship far and wide.
But the only way you can get your customers truly bought in on your advocacy program is if your Customer Success team is bought in first.
- When identifying potential advocates, look for customers who have sophisticated business processes and are early adopters. You should also consider a customer’s demonstrated ROI (does the customer have proven results?), tenure (has the customer been with you for at least a year?), product usage (does the account have above 80% account utilization with high feature usage?), satisfaction (is the customer a NPS Promoter or score highly on other satisfaction surveys?), and relationship with their CSM (does the customer have a high sentiment score from their CSM?).
- Always incentivize your customers for participating in customer advocacy initiatives; practice the rule of reciprocity.
- Incentives don’t have to involve monetary gifts. Granting customers exclusive or early access to features, events, and content makes for enticing rewards.
How to get your CSMs onboard with your organization’s customer advocacy initiatives
The first rule to getting your CSMs onboard with your reference program is the result of a common misstep made during the sales process. That is, a salesperson mistakenly assumes that an existing customer can serve as a customer reference. Thus, the salesperson promises their prospect a conversation with a customer about a specific use case or pain point. But the customer reference doesn’t actually share the same use case or pain point as the prospect, so their experience isn’t nearly as relevant to them. In the end, the CSM finds out and is upset they weren’t notified about the salesperson reaching out to their customer without telling them.
“That’s rule number one,” says Megan. “I know that sounds very simple, but you’re never going to get your CSMs onboard if you’re doing an advocacy program around them and not with them.” Whether you track customer reference requests through a Customer Success platform or other system, CSMs should always be kept abreast of when Sales taps a customers with a request.
The second rule, according to Megan, is make sure all involved departments understand the program’s value and goal. “The reference requests tend to come in this very quick transactional way, like ‘We need this reference now,’ but those tend to be reactive and can create friction between teams,” says Megan.
You want to make the development of your advocacy program as inclusive as you can cross-functionally. “At the end of the day, we all want customers who are so happy, they want to scream from the mountain tops about how easy we are to work with,” says Megan. “But then you have to operationalize that, and it can be hard. The bigger you get, the more difficult it gets.”
To encourage internal participation, Nicole suggests incentivizing your CSMs by giving them a small stipend for each of customer who agrees to participate in a case study, act as a reference, and so on.
As Megan adds, “CSMs have a lot to do. So, anytime there’s an incentive, it changes the prioritization of their time and where they focus. Always advocate for how to incent the team for bringing customer references, case studies, and advocates to the table.”
If you’re looking for a non-monetary incentive, identifying case study candidates can even help CSMs with their own work. “Using those stories is what memorializes the action,” says Nicole. “When CSMs are sitting down with their own customers for business reviews, they can pull from other customers’ case studies to say, ‘This is what I see working well for this customer, let’s try that here.’”
And as Andrew Fink, Head of Customer Success at 6 River Systems, points out, depending on your service model, it’s highly advantageous to your CSMs’ own performance to nurture customer advocates. “For us, the lifetime value of a customer is so important,” says Andrew. “Our customers have three- to five-year contracts; we’re in it for the long haul. So, it’s in our CSM’s own best interest to build those advocates.”
- Make sure your CSMs are aware of and involved in your Sales and/or Marketing team’s usage of customer references.
- Because Customer Success has the relationship with the customer, people default to thinking that Customer Success should own the customer advocacy program. But it’s a large responsibility that should be spread across the teams that are involved in and benefit from its output.
- Offering incentives is an effective way to direct your CSM’s focus and attention. If you have an advocacy target you need to hit, rewarding your CSMs for their involvement in related initiatives can help you reach those numbers.
To earn customer loyalty, you need to give more than take. Learn six ways to spread customer love to make sure you’re laying the groundwork to gain a customer for life.
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