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Brand Advocates: The Greatest Resource You Never Knew You Had

 

Business-to-business (B2B) buyers continue to turn to their peers for purchasing advice. A 2012 Google study found that 60 percent of B2B tech buyers seek peer reviews before they make a purchase decision. And, according to a McKinsey report, word of mouth is the primary factor behind 20 to 50 percent of all purchase decisions.

As B2B buyers continue to ask friends and colleagues who to buy from, it’s important for your business to have a group of brand advocates who actively promote your product or service. While there are many places to find brand advocates, satisfied customers are one of your greatest resources. Organizing these happy customers and successfully turning them into advocates, however, can be a challenge.

To help companies do just that, Craig Rosenberg—better known as the Funnelholic—recently released “The Advocate Marketing Playbook” through his consulting firm, TOPO, and Influtive, an advocate marketing platform. I recently caught up with Rosenberg to find out how companies can convert their satisfied customers into brand advocates. Here are the key takeaways from our conversation.

Identify Customers Already Supporting You

Your company likely has customers that already support and advocate your brand, but chances are their activity isn’t tracked or put to use. To get started with your advocate marketing program, you should seek out and identify those customers that are already going the extra mile.

While every company is different, there are few types of customers Rosenberg says generally make for good potential advocates. Here are three customer personas he shared, along with tips on how to find them:

1. Socially active customers
Who they are: These people share your blog posts, research and company news on social media, showing their support by discussing and distributing your marketing content. These customers are great potential advocates because they’re already sharing your message in a public way.

How to find them: You can often identify these customers by monitoring who’s posting and commenting in your user and Linkedin communities, or on your blog. On LinkedIn, for instance, you might set up your account to receive a daily email summarizing discussions in your community, and then browse through discussions to find potential advocates. Or, you might use a social media monitoring tool such as Hootsuite to scour social media sites and alert you when anyone mentions your brand name. Customers that frequently mention your brand on social media are likely good potential advocates.

2. Peer problem solvers
Who they are: These are power users that are very active in your support community, whether it’s on your website, a third-party website or offline. If your company offers a technical product, for instance, they help people solve any challenges they’re having with it. These customers typically enjoy helping others get the most out of your product or service and are likely willing to help in other ways.

How to find them: When your customers are active on the Web, you can find them fairly easily by scanning your online communities. A good place to find advocates offline is at user offsite meetups. These customers regularly attend these gatherings to interact with other members in your community, or may have even been a speaker at a past meetup. If your company sells a product, Rosenberg recommends asking your product team for a list of beta program participants, as “these customers are typically gung-ho to try new features and are often technical advocates.”

3. Customer references
Who they are: These are customers you turn to when a prospect wants to talk to a current customer. They’re often hidden gems, as they promote your product to potential customers and are instrumental in helping you drive business. They’re ideal advocates because they’re already familiar with your sales process and have helped you close deals.

How to find them: You can begin by asking sales reps which customers they turn to as a reference for sales calls—any good salesperson will have a handful of "go-tos" to recommend. Rosenberg says your customer success team can be another great internal resource, as they will know who is most satisfied with your product or service. If you don’t have either of these resources, you might conduct a Net Promoter Survey to gauge customer satisfaction levels with your business, and reach out to customers that report the most positive feedback.

While these personas aren’t the only types of customers you can target for your advocate program, customers that fall into these three categories are already engaged and clearly willing to help your organization. As such, you’re likely to have a high success rate if you ask them to join your advocate marketing program. Once you identify a few customers to start with, the next step is to get them actively invested in the program.

To Encourage Participation, Limit Your Number of Asks

According to Rosenberg, a key factor for success is starting with a small group of people—perhaps 25 or 50 advocates—and a small number of asks. Limiting your asks is essential for getting people involved without overwhelming them. “You can’t come in and say, ‘Hey, welcome to the advocate marketing program, now go write me a 1,500 word blog post,’” he explains.

Instead, start off with a set of 10 to 15 easy asks that you can rotate between customers to encourage participation. “A couple of these can be big, like writing a blog post, but you really want to start your brand advocates off with small asks, such as following you on Twitter, leaving a comment on your blog or signing up for your LinkedIn or Facebook group [to ease them into the program],” Rosenberg says.

While your ideal asks will depend on your specific business and priorities, Rosenberg believes testimonials, referrals and content contributions are among the best. Testimonials, for instance, provide third-party validation of your business, which research has shown can lift marketing conversion rates. Sales referrals can also help generate additional revenue. According to “The Advocate Marketing Playbook,” leads referred by advocates are four to 10 times more valuable than regular leads, and result in “shorter sales cycles, increased win rates and larger order sizes.”

In addition to having a variety of asks for your program, Rosenberg says that “it’s important to establish a cadence, because you want to make participating in the program a habit in some way.” In other words, you want people who participate in your program to get a clear idea of what you’re trying to accomplish this week, or this month, so it’s something they can routinely look forward to and engage in.

Most importantly, however, you have to make the process enjoyable. Act-On, a marketing automation software vendor, allowed advocates to choose the music playlist for an upcoming user conference—a unique reward that added an element of fun to their program. Keeping your asks frequent, varied and interesting helps ease people into your program and increases the chance of continued participation.

Provide Recognition as a Meaningful Reward

You also need to give something back to your advocates to thank them for helping your business. Interestingly, Rosenberg says that recognition—as opposed to money or a gift—is one of the best rewards you can offer. “What we’ve found in our research is that many people just want to be recognized for their effort,” he says. “Giving people a voice can be a great reward.”

Rosenberg offered five examples of rewards that work well in a B2B environment:

  1. Give your customer premium access to your product or service;
  2. Offer a sneak peek at your product before you launch it;
  3. Extend a special invite to meet with your product managers or CEO;
  4. Give a badge or other award to recognize excellence in their field; and,
  5. Write a personal, hand-written thank you note to show your appreciation.

Financial rewards, on the other hand, generally don’t work. While there are exceptions, Rosenberg says giving away money isn’t an ideal way to find advocates. Offering 15 percent off your product, for example, might attract some, but you’re not attracting true advocates—you’re simply attracting people looking for a deal.

“Advocate marketing is really about the people out there who genuinely care about your company and your success. Those people aren’t necessarily motivated by money,” Rosenberg explains. “It’s amazing how powerful it is to say, you are the 20 greatest customers of all time, let’s build this company together.”

Improve Performance With an Advocate Marketing Platform

A final point Rosenberg made during our conversation is that it’s important to manage your program with technology built specifically for advocate marketing. “If you decide that you’re going to cultivate a credible and exciting advocate marketing program, you should have a single application that allows you to organize, communicate with and mobilize your brand advocates,” he says. While a contact management or customer relationship management (CRM) system may suffice, an advocate marketing platform is ideal.

Such an application provides brand advocates with a resource they can use to obtain important information. They can go into the platform and find out what asks you currently have, see how they’re scoring and view what messages you’re sending out.

AdvocateHub's advocate marketing dashboard from Influitive

Along with managing advocates, a platform can also help you optimize your program. The system can report on which asks were the most successful, track advocate activity and performance and highlight areas for improvement. Importantly, these platforms also integrate with your other sales and marketing applications. This is essential to accurately measure the sales and marketing results of your advocate marketing program.

By using a platform built primarily for advocate marketing and implementing best practices for identifying and converting satisfied customers, you can start to build your own army of brand advocates. As Rosenberg says, at the end of the day, “Cultivating your advocates and building a group of people that are voracious about your company is just good business.”

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Derek Singleton

About the Author

Derek Singleton joined Software Advice after graduating from Occidental College in Los Angeles, California. At Software Advice, he manages content related to the CRM software market and reports on business-to-business (B2B) marketing technologies, topics and trends.

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