The best marketers for your brand are not sitting in your marketing department.
No offense to my fellow marketers but the fact is that the best people to promote and advertise your brand are your customers. Why? Because people trust their peers: According to Gartner, more than 75% of B2B buyers consult three or more sources of advocacy before they make a purchase decision.1
There are many ways customers can become advocates for your brand. They can serve as references or speak at industry and company events. They can provide success stories, product and service reviews, or quotes in marketing collateral. They can spread the word about your brand on social media. These word-of-mouth referrals are invaluable.
But how can you activate customers to advocate for your brand in a way that’s effective, authentic, and not off-putting?
At Snowflake, one of the first things we did as a marketing team was to create a customer advocacy program. Today, our customer advocacy drives a great deal of our business. But from the beginning, it has involved a lot of time, investment, and careful consideration.
Here are seven tips to creating a successful customer advocacy program.
1. Give More Than You Get
Happy customer advocates come from happy customers. So, the first thing you need to do is to put your customers first. Your entire company has to be centered around customer success and satisfaction. This needs to be a core value.
But even within your customer advocacy program, your customers have to be your first consideration. What value are they getting out of speaking on your behalf and providing glowing references? How are you making it worthwhile for them? What can you do to motivate them?
If they’re a small company, the added exposure from your marketing department can be a promotional bonus. For individuals, external visibility into their efforts can be a boon to their career. For large customers, you can ask them to serve on a customer advisory board, giving them a seat at the table and visibility into your roadmap. By doing so, that could be a path to them publicly endorsing your company and product in a number of ways. You can also feature and award customers who are doing truly groundbreaking work with your products and services, as Snowflake does with our Data Drivers Awards. This will further highlight what’s possible with your solution. Think about what’s relevant to them and what they care about, and then provide that value.
2. Build Trust
If you’re asking your customers to speak publicly on your behalf and to associate their name with your company, they’re going to have to trust you and your brand. The best way to do this is to build a relationship that’s not just based on selling and buying.
Make building relationships with customers the mission of your customer advocacy program. Work hard to get to know them and create trust before asking them to advocate for you. Create incentives that motivate customers to say “yes” to requests. Have your sales and marketing teams focus on account personalization. Use data to understand the unique characteristics and needs of each customer, and then align and focus your efforts to build relationships and trust. One way to do this is via account based marketing (ABM).
3. Partner With Sales
Sales representatives often have the most engagement with a customer, from the first meeting to a consistent cadence of communication. They likely “own” the customer relationship and have a lot of useful information about customers. Create alignment between Marketing and Sales so they can give you referrals for your customer advocacy program and advise you on how to work best with specific customers. They can also help you craft the right message. Making the customer successful is in their best interest, as well.
For example, certain customers or line-of-business leaders may be excellent sources in a customer success story. Or maybe they are gifted speakers and ideal for an industry panel. A start-up may find promotional value in being included on a joint marketing campaign. Each of these possibilities provides an opportunity for the customer, as well. Your salespeople may have valuable insights into which customers would be open to these sorts of opportunities.
4. Go For Great Stories
Landing a major global brand in a customer advocacy initiative is definitely a win. But don’t forget that some of the best stories can come from smaller brands that did something innovative with your product or service. They can come from a company that chose you over a competitor. They can come from an organization that achieved a major goal or metric thanks to you. Or they can be an eloquent ambassador who is willing to be enthusiastic about your brand.
Who has a great story that’s powerful or interesting? Sales can help identify these customers. Partners are another valuable resource: And they can create a deeper message or add more credibility. They can also help get more eyeballs on your content.
5. Prepare Your Messaging
When a customer says yes to being an advocate, you’ll often get only one shot to get it right. Make sure you prepare your messaging plan before speaking to them. Are they telling a story different from other customers who are your advocates? What are the key takeaways you want communicated? Is the customer’s message aligned with your company’s overall positioning?
It’s equally important to prep the customer before the opportunity, especially if it’s a live speaking event. In addition to telling a great story, their comments should highlight why they chose your product or service and thereby reinforce your positioning. They should also be authentic: Prospects today can see right through a disingenuous comment. Talking to all of the stakeholders involved can help you be more prepared and help make sure you’re hitting all the important points.
6. Keep It Simple
Chances are, the advocacy work your customer is doing for you is outside the requirements of their job. Be mindful of this when you make the ask. Respect their time and the amount of work this will take. If possible, leverage an existing event. Perhaps they have time to do a live webinar instead of a video that requires many takes. Maybe they are available for a phone interview for a customer success story. Spend time identifying what will work best for the customer.
Also, always think of opportunities to streamline the requests. There may be a number of entities interested in customer advocacy efforts, including the user group team, PR, and product marketing. All of these teams need to be integrated and aligned so you don’t duplicate efforts or hit the customer with too many demands.
7. Scale Your Efforts
Think about how you can scale some of your customer advocacy efforts. For example, with their approval, you can often repurpose the valuable information you get from the customer. An hour-long interview can be turned into a shorter blog post as well as a longer case study. Quotes from a webinar can be leveraged in a piece of content marketing.
References are a big part of customer advocacy. Almost every prospect wants to speak to a reference, and nothing beats a one-on-one conversation or referral that answers specific questions from a prospect. But your customers’ time is limited. One of our most successful customer advocacy programs is our Snowflake Office Hours. These are 30- or 60-minute-long opportunities for prospects to speak live to one of our customers. They involve a live case study and Q&A session in which industry peers can ask the customer any questions they have about their experience with Snowflake. Efforts such as Office Hours are a great way to scale efforts as you grow and develop more prospects.
The Right Building Blocks
There is nothing more powerful in marketing than a well-developed customer advocacy program. The key is to build a program based on trust and relationship-building, authenticity, and putting customers first. Once you start to track and analyze the results of your efforts, you’ll see these building blocks produce a strategy that yields better results for your customers and your company.