How to Focus Customer Success on Advocacy

March 26 2017 0comment

Customer advocacy has been a hot topic for customer success teams, so this week I sat down with Jesse Goldman, VP of Customer Success at Influitive to learn how he promotes customer success at Influitive through their best-of-breed advocacy program. In this blog, I’m going to share his best practices on how customer success teams can help drive customer advocacy.

Who owns customer advocacy at Influitive? Marketing or Customer Success?

Every team here at Influitive has some ownership of customer advocacy. Why?! Advocacy plays a central role in enabling our growth and efficiency. Inspiring advocacy is at the core of our mission: we run advocate-first.

Every team contributes to driving the success of our customers. We are motivated to developing as many customers as possible into advocates. This includes a commitment to building relationships and developing trust – it is what we call an “Advocate-First” mindset. Many of the amazing organizations we work with, such as Marketo, adopt this approach.

From an organizational perspective, our customer marketing team runs our advocacy program. Our customer marketing is part of our overall marketing organization. However, they have a very close relationship with our customer success team, to ensure consistency and the best possible advocate experience.

 

How many companies do you see where customer success owns the customer advocacy? Do these advocacy programs take a different approach than the ones run by marketing?

Most advocacy programs we see are run by marketing. Customer Success is becoming closely involved in advocacy programs at a rapidly growing number of organizations, and in some cases, Customer Success runs the program.

The best-designed advocacy programs are the ones that help amplify the success of important initiatives throughout the organization. Our most successful customers think cross-functionally and integrate their advocacy program into top organizational priorities. We do that too. The most mature organizations in this area truly do run advocate first, and that makes a big difference for them, as well as their customers.

Regarding approach, one fundamental concept stands out: customer relationships. Real relationships are the key to success with advocacy.

In many respects, the most effective programs run in a very “Customer Success“ sort of way: their primary objective is fostering a trusted relationship that is built based on value delivered to the client. That doesn’t mean they avoid asking for things that may help the business, such as for references, reviews, feedback or referrals. However, they ask when the time is right, in the right manner and at the right frequency. In doing so, the advocacy program feels natural and authentic to advocates, rather than transactional or contrived.

Trusted, authentic… these are typical customer success ambitions. When applied to an advocacy program, they can yield powerful results. This is why advocate-first is key (as oppose to a ‘me-first’ approach, which some organizations take – and you sense it immediately when you experience one).

An advocate-first strategy delivers another benefit to Customer Success teams: it can be a mechanism for scaling customer success. Think about it as driving quality at scale. For example, you can incorporate onboarding steps and educational content into the advocate development experience.  Also, we see a rise in leveraging advocacy to collect important feedback: product input, messaging, how we can improve, ideas that would help customers drive value.

We hear from our customers that an often overlooked benefit of a quality advocacy program is the speed at which they can get feedback. By launching a high-quality advocacy program, organizations can collect client feedback much more quickly. Instead of waiting weeks, they can now get feedback in as little as a few days or even hours.

Do Marketing and Customer Success have different goals and metrics for advocacy programs? Does it even matter?

The key to a successful advocacy program is to align program metrics with the organization’s top initiatives. Advocacy programs can amplify top objectives like new sales, retention and product effectiveness. If the advocacy program is not aligned with top organizational objectives, there is a risk that the program will become isolated. In other words, it may not be clear how advocacy ‘fits.’

For example, in some organizations, we see the advocacy program run by marketing and focused on a single objective which supports only one group. For example, referral-driven leads. While these metrics are important (and advocates can help deliver them) a narrowly focused advocacy program tends to miss its full potential. Programs like this tend to exhaust advocates pretty quickly and struggle to maintain trusted relationships. In this case, what may be a short-term win for one group (leads for marketing) may affect long-term success across the company, for example, retention, product adoption, valuable insights, and highly engaged customers. It’s exciting to see more and more organizations factor this breadth of impact into customer marketing priorities. The best-run advocacy programs define a strategy that supports as many of the company’s key measures and funded organizational initiatives as possible. One of the biggest risks to the success of the program is running it in isolation.

From Customer Success Executive standpoint, what is the best way to get a budget approved to launch an advocacy program?

The key is to align the vision for the advocacy program with existing funded initiatives. You must ask yourself: what are the top business priorities for the company, and how could the advocacy program support and promote them? Once you come up with a list, you can begin building your business case around it.

Let’s walk through an example. Suppose increasing customer retention is one of your organization’s top priorities. Before you pitch your request for a budget, you should be able to answer ‘How can an advocacy program support reducing churn?’. As VP Customer Success, in this case, I remind the executive team and the board of directors that research shows that companies with customer advocacy programs tend to have lower because advocates are more engaged and make for committed stakeholders. They tend to invest more with you and stay with your solution longer, even as they switched jobs.

Another key to successfully getting the budget approved is to plan ahead for the upcoming budget year. Start your budget planning cycle with a request for a budget that is supported by a specific positive impact, such as customer retention.

Even better: team up with others. When groups across the organization team up to highlight the combined impact on their respective objectives, the case is even stronger. For example, Sales, Marketing and Customer Success teams can come together to make a case for investing in a program geared toward converting customers into passionate advocates. Why?! Because this can amplify leads, sales, retention, product, and other objectives.

The potential impact of the program can come to life when you consider all of the possibilities across the organization. Especially when you look at it in the context of each group’s key objectives.

When Customer Success is collaborating with Marketing to get the budget approved, it is important to decide in advance which team would be responsible for which part of the advocacy program and its daily operations. It is important to have a mutually agreed upon vision of how the advocacy program might be run, its key metrics and how those metrics align with company objectives. It’s all about effective teamwork.

What are some of the things that your customer success team does to enhance and support the advocacy program at Influitive?

We think about advocacy throughout the customer journey. We make sure that advocacy related activity is not a separate thing we ask our customers to do when we need something from them. We place a high degree of importance on developing our customers into people who trust us enough to be our advocates. In short, we are in it for the long term.

On top of that, we make client relationships a priority. We do so by placing a high priority on outstanding customer service, engaging and making personal connections, recognizing advocates for their contributions, making customers feel that they are a part of your team, and delivering some real personal value too. We do this, to see our clients (the advocate marketers and executives we work with) grow and be stars.

Making client relationships a priority also means we place a high priority on helping our customers deliver their target outcomes, ensuring issues are resolved quickly and that our customers are equipped to get better every day. We use our advocacy program, called VIP, to help make this all happen.

What does your customer success team do on an ongoing basis to promote advocacy and team up with the customer marketing team?

On a tactical level, customer success managers team up with our customer marketing team to use our advocacy platform, called AdvocateHub, to:

  • Provide easy access to education resources and best practice content
  • Ensure our customers are aware of events and learning opportunities
  • Help advocates build their profiles, through networking and by creating opportunities for them to share thought leadership
  • Ask our advocates for feedback on new programs and product functionality
  • Deliver a whole new level of account-based marketing (ABM)
  • Keep advocates informed of new releases, services and other things that may be useful to them

When we bring together the deep relationships developed through customer success with a mechanism to amplify those relationships at scale, the result can be magic. This is how advocacy enables us to drive value at scale.

Does your customer success team own the advocacy program at your organization? What worked well for you in launching your advocacy program successfully? What metrics are you tracking to demonstrate results? Be a customer success hero and share your insights with other customer success managers in the comments area.

This is, Irit Eizips, Customer Success activist. Passionate about Customer Success and that of yours. It takes a second to follow @csmpractice on Twitter, like our page on Facebook or follow us on Instagram. As always, I also invite you to join our customer success newsletter or my professional network on LinkedIn and Twitter. If you have a question, send an email to [email protected]. For information about keynote speeches or workshops, please fill out our short contact form.

Things to take away from this blog:

  • The most successful advocacy programs place a greater emphasis on relationships: customer engagement, nurturing, and building the connection before making any advocacy requests.
  • The most successful advocacy programs get the entire organization involved in your advocacy program: they align with and are designed to amplify top organizational objectives
  • Recent trend shows more Customer Success involvement in the advocacy program, in close collaboration with marketing, sales, product and other teams across the organization, rather than a program running in isolation within one group

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Written By:

Irit Eizips

Irit Eizips brings deep expertise in the area of Customer Success. As an early member of Gainsight's executive team, Irit has been pivotal in shaping Customer Success methodologies and best practices. For the past 3 years, Irit has been voted as a top Customer Success influencer and is frequently featured as a speaker at conferences and Customer Success public events. Irit serves as CEO for CSM Practice, a global Customer Success consultancy firm. The firm specializes in working with customer success leaders to accelerate the creation and implementation of Customer Success strategies, derive extensive value from Customer Success technology solutions as well as certify and train customer facing teams in becoming more proactive and efficient.