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4 Steps To A Thriving Customer Advocate Program - contenttriggers blog

4 Steps To A Thriving Customer Advocate Program

Man_thumbsup_advocates

We’ve all heard the reports that due to online research over 60% of the B2B sales process is over before buyers contact a salesperson. But, that doesn’t mean it happens in all cases. And not every buyer just researches online, especially across a higher-priced, more complex purchase.

However, regardless of the purchase price, some buyers like to talk to other people who had experiences with the product before they buy. I know I do. In fact I just called a colleague before I bought my new $75 Yeti microphone. (Yes, it was a great holiday special on Amazon earlier this month. But I felt even better about it after speaking to someone who used and compared other options. It’s beyond the money. I want to invest my time into getting good results.)

Have you ever made a buying decision without first consulting a person you trust, or who had experience with the product or service you were going to buy? What were the results?

We all want to make good decisions when making a purchase. And yes, research starts online. But it doesn’t always stay online. People want verification from others they can believe in.

Who’s Spreading Word-of-Mouth About Your Company?

Word-of-mouth marketing play a major role in buying decisions as people are doing their research. I ran across an interesting article by Software Advice, an authority and resource for software selection, on the now defunct B2B Marketing Mentor blog.

They shared a report form McKinsey & Company.  Word-of-mouth recommendations are the biggest factor behind 20-50% of all buying decisions. They have the greatest influence with more expensive purchases, or when buying something for the first time, where more research is required.

Word-of- mouth online resources have exploded. You’ll find written and video recommendations on sites like Amazon, comparison sites like TechRadar, product review sites like CNET, social media sites like LinkedIn and Quora, blog posts, and comments on blogs and in forums.

But there’s also the face-to-face “ask.” B2B buyers contacting and meeting with colleagues and friends for advice on what, where and who to buy from.

Building relationships with people, both online and offline, who spread good word about your company are vitally important. People who are most passionate and invested in you, your products and services. Better known as brand advocates. One of your most trusted advocates is your satisfied customer.

But how do you get your satisfied customer to become your advocate?

Derek Singleton, Managing Editor at The B2B Marketing Mentor, interviewed the “Funnelholic” Craig Rosenberg, about his recently released “The Advocate Marketing Playbook” a co-creation between TOPO, his consulting firm, and Influitive, an advocate marketing platform. This playbook is the “how-to” guide for building and managing a successful advocate marketing program with your biggest fans—your satisfied customers.

According to the playbook, referral leads generated by B2B advocates are four to ten times more valuable by shortening the sales cycles, having larger order sizes and closing more sales. But their value lives on in product design, positioning, online word-of-mouth and content marketing.

In the interview, Rosenberg discussed 4 ways to get started. Keep in mind not all customers make good advocates.

1. Create Advocate Personas

He recommends first, identifying customers who already speak highly of your brand and support you. Then he suggests creating advocate personas and as an example selects three types of customers to focus on.

  1. Socially active customers who are already sharing your content and a good message about you.
    He gives examples of places to locate the socially active customer.
  2. Peer problem solvers, “the power users”, have a passion for helping others to use your products and services.
  3. Customer references are the go-to customers who are happy to speak to your prospects to promote your solutions when you need it.

The key to a successful program is that these customers are already creating positive buzz about your company. Which leads to the next step, inspiring them to be actively involved.

2. Get These Customers Involved, Invested and Start Small

Rosenberg says to start small—25-50 advocates—and a limited number of asks to eliminate overwhelm. Even something as simple as following you on Twitter, connecting with you on Facebook or leaving a comment on your blog. Also create a variety of ways to interact. Keep it fresh and cover needs in different areas.

Some of the top advocate contributions are testimonials, referrals, case studies, content articles and even partner on webinars. These contributions are real assets in that they can provide third-party validation, increase conversion rates, shorten sales cycles and generate more revenue.

3. Give Back

Remember that famous quote from Maya Angelou,

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Be sure to give something back to your advocates and thank them for helping to promote you. But instead of a gift card, box of chocolates or 15% off your product, give them something that lives on.

Don’t cater to people looking for a deal, work with and treat those who want to build the relationship.

“What we’ve found in our research is that many people just want to be recognized for their efforts,” Rosenberg says. “Giving people a voice can be a great reward.”

One example that stands out is to extend a special invite to meet with your CEO or product managers. Then write a hand-written thank you note to show your gratitude.

4. From Program to Platform

The last point Singleton and Rosenberg discussed is to take your program and make it into a workable platform tailored specifically for advocate marketing. Make it a personal place your brand advocates can go and be part of a community.

Remember Vail Resorts Inc.’s free EpicMix mobile app that came out back in 2010?

EpicMix used radio frequency ID (RFID) tags on lift tickets and season passes to track customers’ ski days and automatically log vertical feet skied. Customers who connect have their records automatically posted to their Twitter and Facebook updates and their visits earn digital pins.

These are not monetary rewards. Instead the pins recognize their milestones and unique achievements while skiing at the Vail resorts. It’s a great way to get both avid and casual skiers excited about the sport and interact. They in turn will spread the word and their friends jump on board too.

Vail Resorts created an experience for their customers who in the process became brand advocates. Fans who sold their service for them.

Rosenberg described a platform from Influitive, built just for advocate marketing. It enables your advocates to track their interaction, see below, while you can track successful asks, activity and accurately measure results. It even integrates with other sales and marketing applications.

Influitive-Advocate-Platform-Dasboard
A clip from AdvocateHub’s advocate marketing dashboard from Influitive.

Building relationships with advocates can result in growing your business through the voice of people who really understand and believe in your company, your products and your services. Just like the avid skiers at the Vail Resorts. If you’re considering creating an advocate marketing program I highly recommend checking out the Advocate Marketing Playbook to create your plan and put it into action.

Who are the fans of your company? What plan do you have in place for building advocates of your company? I’d love to hear your comments.

Photos: Cover Photo Courtesy of iStockphoto  | Screenshot: From The B2B Marketing Mentor by Software Advice of AdvocateHub’s advocate marketing dashboard from Influitive.Video: Introducing EpicMix at YouTube

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