In this last article of our series on value realization, we discuss how to build evidence-based advocacy with your customers.
The goal of any business should be to move customers from alignment to adoption, to achievement, and to advocacy. Research consistently shows that customers have the power to be your brand’s strongest advocates, but developing that level of loyalty and affinity with customers takes time. It requires building your entire customer strategy as a roadmap that leads to advocacy.
Capability No. 4: Advocacy
A strong advocacy program runs on the twin engines of disciplined customer engagement and the tangible rewards customers will receive from using your product. When both engines are firing, your customers will become your strongest advocates.
Let’s start with engagement: You need advocates within your customer’s organization to drive awareness, enthusiasm, and ongoing deployment of the product. The greatest likelihood of delivering success is through a formal marketing campaign within the customer organization. Start by creating and delivering a set of marketing assets. Then target the organization with messaging and a call to action, supported by real business results that have already been achieved (and those that are in process).
The subject of the messaging and call to action should be centered on business outcomes and positive changes to the organization, employees, and community. Use metrics and storytelling that demonstrate the nature of the organization’s achievements. People want to keep pushing forward if they see real results and a relatable story about how those results were achieved.
The path to success in driving advocacy follows this five-point approach:
- Work with your customer (and even your customer’s customers) to target individual advocates within their organization. These will be the greatest possible fans for driving the ongoing deployment—and for adopting new updates and capabilities as they arrive.
- Help and encourage your customer to build a comprehensive communications and marketing campaign within the customer organization around each individual advocate. Include assets such as videos, signage, executive roundtables, fireside chats, social media, gamification, and email campaigns. Treat this as you would execute any modern marketing campaign.
- Support your customer in basing the internal marketing campaign on actual benefits realized. At least in the early days, you may carry more of the burden here and then transition that to the customer as they get more comfortable with the tracking and measurement aspects of the project.
- Develop and execute the plan that your customer follows to advocate for your brand. Build brand advocacy into the earliest conversations with the customer so that a natural byproduct of incremental deployment successes is the public celebration of those successes. This can come in the form of a tweet, a blog, a mention in a presentation, or can take the form of co-marketing or advertising.
- Build the infrastructure within your own organization to support the systematic development of customer brand advocacy. This requires team focus and technology to scale the capability, but mostly the discipline to consistently engage with selected customers and jointly focus on the outcomes sought.
Research has long demonstrated the power of customer referrals. As Evangelos Xevelonakis wrote, “Satisfied customers generate new clients through positive word-of-mouth advertising. Research has shown that customers, who have been acquired through referrals, are more profitable. Positive referrals reduce the acquisition costs of a company. Conversely, dissatisfied customers with high influence could generate a market loss.”
B2B companies wanting to help customers achieve their best results need to embrace a holistic approach, one that engages nearly every part of the enterprise over the entire customer lifecycle. By doing so, each facet of the organization can hone their value realization capabilities and, in the process, become more competitive.
Think about the strategic methods that key organizational functions can employ to enable your customer to attain their goals. Your business will reap returns from your customer’s successful performance.
Marketing, for example, will generate greater awareness and more leads by imbuing its campaigns with customer business outcomes. This kind of richness only comes with real customer results that speak to the impact on their business and customers. This balances marketing between acquisition of new customers and retention of the existing base. Retention is increasingly important in the subscription economy. The new focus for marketing also helps foster closer ties between marketing and sales through the customer relationships and content developed in pursuit of those business outcomes-based programs and assets.
It’s important to note that marketing has a unique opportunity to be in the driver’s seat in architecting a substantial part of the value achievement effort. To this end, we believe marketing has a key role in establishing the customer segmentation strategy that drives and focuses alignment programs. Marketing should also partner with the customer’s marketing teams on executing adoption programs. Being the driving force behind advocacy programs is an obvious play for today’s strategic marketing organizations.
Sales organizations have an enormous new responsibility in supporting customers who are buying and deploying subscription services. Sales never stops selling; it sells on business benefits or outcomes, and it now must be proactive in helping customers begin and continue the overall value realization cycle. The subscription salesperson sells the new prospect on the outcomes realized by the last customer—and then converts that new prospect into the next outcomes-based reference for the next prospect.
That same mindset is what forges a partnership with the customer and positions that customer for contract renewal and for up-sell and cross-sell opportunities.
Professional Services teams in subscription businesses play the critical role of advising both the customer and salesperson. They oversee the roadmap for maneuvering from the customer’s current situation to a full as-a-service adoption state, with all the attendant benefits. This roadmap is essential for the customer and also becomes a critical selling tool that, if developed and maintained properly, will serve the entire customer lifecycle.
Product Support teams have a unique opportunity for reinvention in the subscription environment. Subscription customers have little appetite for issues and wasted effort. The expectation is that outcomes will be delivered—and when things don’t go right, customers want fast corrective action. When you are delivering outcomes, there are two fundamental expectations: the outcome and the knowledge that you truly understand the customer’s business. That understanding means that you have to anticipate and stop problems before they start. And when you do have a glitch, you can resolve it quickly—because of your unique and intimate knowledge of the customer.
The other opportunity presented to product support teams is through a close working relationship with engineering. Product support can also deliver proactive recommendations and services through IOT devices and telemetry. There is a critical role that customer education plays as well. Remember that when customers move to more turnkey as-a-service subscriptions, they generally lose skills that were previously needed to buy and assemble piece-parts. Customer skills that have been lost translate into additional responsibility for the product support team.
Engineering teams working on subscription products are under enormous pressure to do two things really well: enable customers to efficiently deploy products simply and update those products regularly with new, useful capabilities that intuitively result in value for the customer. This requires a unique understanding of customer needs, competitive stresses, and strategic market opportunities. A new set of customer programs are needed to reorient the engineers for this level of customer intimacy.
Back office operations are also engaged with the rest of the business and with customers in selling and delivering subscription services. The order management team and attorneys need to be looking at new, simpler types of agreements. We expect to see more of those agreements with fees dependent on specific business outcomes.
Even Accounts Receivable needs to be involved, streamlining invoicing processes to align with new customer expectations and new cost models.
Everyone in the enterprise plays a role in the development and execution of the four key capabilities required to deliver business outcomes to your customers.