by Kate Harvey
What’s not to love about an army of brand advocates championing your product to others and singing your praises on social media, review sites, and online forums?
While most businesses would agree having product champions is awesome, over 50% of businesses don’t know who their brand advocates are. Even more surprising — 80% of the companies who have identified their advocates don’t leverage them in their marketing, according to JitBit.
Many people associate product champions with B2C brands. If you think brand advocates are exclusive to B2C companies, think again.
Developing an army of loyal brand advocates should be at the top of every B2B marketer’s priority list this year.
It’s time to stop just wishing you had product champions! In today’s blog we’ll walk you through:
- Why it’s important to identify and engage with your product champions
- How to identify customers that are potential advocates
- Actionable ways to turn your B2B customers into brand advocates
Throughout the blog you’ll see brand advocate and product champion used interchangeably. We won’t, however, be using the terms brand or product loyalists as synonyms for advocates. Here’s why:
While both are great, brand loyalists aren’t necessarily brand advocates. A brand loyalist is loyal to your brand or product, but they may not be actively promoting it to others.
Why cultivating brand advocates is important
The benefits of a customer advocacy campaign are huge. It’s a low-cost way of generating new business that lets you diversify the people you reach and the ways in which you reach them. Executed correctly, a brand advocacy campaign allows you to add to your roster of marketers for very little money (or even for free).
Sujan Patel, Co-Founder of WebProfits
ecobee Product Manager Mirvise Najafe reminds us that “for B2B organizations, your end-users are not your customers; they’re individuals who currently work at your customers’ companies.”
If those individuals are advocates of your product and they change positions or companies, they’ll be championing your product to new departments and companies!
Product advocates are also key to your company’s long-term growth: they’re loyal, unlikely to churn, refer others, and can provide valuable customer insights. Their insights can help you improve user experience, your user interface, and to formulate more strategic, customer-centric product roadmaps.
Leveraging product champions in marketing also “enables B2B companies to produce authentic content that attracts buyers because that content is coming from the voice of the customers — which is more valuable to prospective customers during the buying process,” explains B2B journalist Brian Anderson.
There are many more benefits to having customers actively championing your products to others, but we think you get the point. Before you jump into determining who your potential advocates are, you’ll want to make sure you have a couple things in place…
What to do before you identify potential brand advocates
Yes, we know you’re ready to hit the ground running and engage with the B2B customers who love your product. Trust us, you want to have some basics in place before attempting to move happy customers to product champions.
Within your company
In order to succeed with customers as brand advocates it is mission critical that you have executive buy-in and a customer-centric company culture.
“A customer-first culture is necessary for breeding advocates, and company leadership needs to recognize that,” said Eric Marcy, former VP of Marketing Operations at The SAVO Group.
You also need to ensure your company has enough resources to delegate for consistent engagement with advocates. Resources can include budget, staff, content, etc.
Finally, it will be necessary to break down silos that often exist between departments so everyone in the company can help identify potential advocates, be aware of advocate initiatives, and understand how the initiatives benefit the entire company.
“Companies have programs running, and a majority of the time one program doesn’t know that another program exists, and they are not being leveraged collaboratively and collectively together,” said Laura Ramos, VP and Principal Analyst at Forrester.
Have a plan
Sure, this seems stupid obvious. But, if you don’t have any experience with brand advocate programs or marketing there are likely aspects of pre-planning you’ll miss.
It is mission critical that you’re very clear about the program’s objectives, metrics, and how success will be defined.
What is it that you want advocates to do? Here are a few examples to consider:
- Refer new leads/customers
- Provide a testimonial
- Write a review
- Share or comment on your company’s blog
- Provide feedback on current or new product features
- Help promote a company event
- Respond to a negative social media post
- Answer other user’s questions in a support forum
Finally, look at it from your customers’ perspective. What’s in it for them?
“It’s about what you are doing for your users. This is the opportunity to say, What benefits can I give that are exclusive and different and going to provide value?” shares Jeanette Gibson, former VP of Customer Experience and Community at Hootsuite. Hootsuite’s Ambassador Program is a great example of a brand advocacy program which has defined some very unique and beneficial perks for its most vocal product champions.
Once you’ve covered the basics, it’s time to figure out who to focus on as potential product champions.
How to identify potential brand advocates
This one is pretty obvious. Talk to your support and customer success teams to identify customers who are very happy with your product and/or services.
Customers who take the time to send positive feedback via support channels or email are also potential product champions.
These are your customers who are taking the time and energy to refer new users to your product.
“You can assume that customers who go to the lengths of actually referring new customers to you are brand advocates, or at least, have the potential to become them. Don’t let those who are already acting like advocates slip under the radar,” advises Patel.
If they love your product enough to refer people before you even have an advocacy program available, just think how much they’ll love you when you’ve set up unique benefits to thank them for being product champions!
This ties in with the “happy customers” point, but is specific to NPS survey responses.
We’ve previously discussed NPS as it relates to customer success and finding product/market fit, but it can also help you identify potential brand advocates. NPS surveys ask your customers how likely they are to recommend your product to others, on a 1-10 scale.
Customers who respond with a 9 or 10 are described as your “promoters.”
Existing customers who respond they’re would recommend your product to others are also likely to be interested in a brand advocacy program with benefits for championing your product to others.
Look for the existing customers who are already singing your praises and sharing your content on social media. Especially if they’re doing so on a regular basis.
B2B marketing veteran Scott Gillum points out sharing isn’t limited to social media — pay attention to people who are sharing your marketing emails:
“Take a look at consistent content sharers. Make sure you have them identified in your ABM programs. Build email campaigns with content links that are intended to travel, and watch where they land.”
Repeat visitors to your content
More specifically, pay attention to repeat visitors to your content over a longer period of time.
“Buyers who are in the decision-making process have a tendency to ‘burst’ visits. They’ll hit your site in rapid succession and consume a large quantity of content over a brief period of time. Brand advocates consume content more consistently over a longer period of time. Watch and track your repeat visitors, and see if they are also subscribing to your e-newsletter, attending webcasts, etc. You need to track and trend these visitors over the year (or even two),” advises Gillum.
You should also monitor the length of time repeat visitors spend viewing your content. A regular visitor to your blog who spends 20 minutes on a single blog post is taking the time to read the entire post, meaning they’re highly engaged and interested.
Yes, you read that right: critics of your product can be potential brand advocates. Chris Pelz, Customer Success Operations Manager at HP Software, explains:
“Listen to your critics, even if you disagree with their feedback. It demonstrates that you value them, which is the first big step towards converting them from critic to advocate. If you act on their feedback, tell them! They’ll be impressed that you listened and could turn into some of your strongest champions.”
Give your employees more opportunities to be involved with your brand. Solicit their feedback and invite them to share information about the company on social media. Above all, keep it fun and engaging so your employees don’t see it as ‘work’.
When she was Director Customer Content & Advocacy at Mitel, Pedro decided to involve employees in the company’s rebranding by inviting them into the Mitel Champions advocate marketing program.
Within the Mitel Champions program, employees “could complete educational tasks and challenges built around the rebrand for perks and prizes. As a result, the company recruited 1,719 advocates, received 151 referrals and generated 102,000 social media interactions around the rebrand,” according to Pedro.
How the Marketo Champion Program identified potential brand advocates
Prior to the Marketo Champions program launch in 2011, then Director of Customer Marketing Heather Watkins first identified specific characteristics they wanted their product champions to have. Once those characteristics were determined, Watkins and her team outlined numerous activities tied to each characteristic.
For instance, “is loyal reference for our organization” was one of the characteristics they determined a Marketo Champion should have.
The team then identified the following activities related to that characteristic:
- Refers Marketo to their peers
- Speaks on behalf of Marketo at events or with press
- Advocates for Marketo in B2B social media
- Promotes our thought leadership content
- Blogs about experience with Marketo
When you’re just getting started and beginning to identify potential product champions, your identifiers may not be as specific as Marketo’s were. That’s ok. We’re sharing a variety of brand advocate program specifics throughout this post so you can get additional ideas on what might work well for creating and engaging with your own brand advocates.
Now that you have some ideas on how to identify potential product champions, let’s talk about how you go about actually turning your B2B customers into advocates who actively champion your product others.
Actionable ways to turn your B2B customers into brand advocates
Start with the basics: a great product & user experience
What makes customers fall in love with a brand? A quality product, great service, and consistent experience. Always start with the fundamentals.
Once you’ve met the basics, then exceed your customers’ expectations.
“You need to do much more than meet your customers’ expectations. You need to go above and beyond and offer customer service that blows their mind. The reality is that meeting customers’ expectations is just that – doing what they expect. Yeah okay, they might go away satisfied – but will they shout about the experience to others? Probably not,” explains Patel.
Surprise B2B customers with an unexpected gift
This is in-line with the point above. By surprising customers with an unexpected gift you’re certainly exceeding their expectations.
It’s even better if the gift has a personal element to it.
For example, here’s a tweet that started a Twitter exchange with Skype. I tweeted about my dog interrupting a Skype work call to bark at the FedEx guy (I work remote):
@authorkate Sounds like a pawesome remote work buddy! Life sounds ruff. 😉
— Skype (@Skype) January 19, 2016
A few days later a package showed up at my doorstep, complete with a Skype dog bowl! They even included a handwritten note:
I’m, personally, a huge fan of handwritten notes. I appreciate that it takes time to write a personal message and in today’s world of digital communication a handwritten note really stands out.
Buffer has an entire blog post describing the many ways they surprise and delight their customers (worth the read) and Buffer Community Champion Nicole Miller shares an important insight:
“We’ve learned it’s not about the size of the gift, but the heart behind it. Many times, our community members are happier about the handwritten note than the stickers or shirts. This makes me think that this sort of connection is attainable at any size company on any budget.”
Help customers reach their professional goals
This may sound a bit lofty, but there are very feasible ways to help your B2B customers attain their professional goals and as a result, become your brand advocates.
One way to help your customers in their own professional advancement is to provide education opportunities. While working at Hootsuite, Gibson gave a presentation explaining how education helped turn customers into product champions:
“We [Hootsuite] know that in our research, offering education is a way to help your audience grow and learn in their personal careers. It’s helping us drive engagement. In fact, we saw a 40% increase in engagement by offering this type of education program.”
You can also help customers obtain speaking engagements at your own company’s events or industry conferences. This tactic can be done both to turn customers into brand advocates, but also as an incentive to reward brand advocates for championing your product to others.
“Exclusive speaking opportunities at Marketo User Summit and other events” is one of the benefits Marketo awards advocates in its Marketo Champions program.
Just imagine how amazed and thrilled your customers would be if you helped them obtain credibility with their peers via an important speaking engagement before they’re even officially a part of an advocate program — talk about exceeding their expectations!
Share your customers’ successes
Similar to the point above, celebrating your customers’ successes can be a benefit for product champions in your advocacy program, but you can also use it to help turn B2B customers into brand advocates.
Make a note on customers accounts if the company wins an award or reaches a milestone so your employees can congratulate them on the success when they interact with the customer.
Recognize their contributions proudly in your marketing collateral. Feature them in blogs, case studies and videos. Give them shout outs on social media when they achieve a certain goal or earn a promotion. Just make sure the spotlight is on their accomplishments—not your product.
At Chargify, one of the ways we highlight our customers’ successes is through our Customer Spotlight series on our blog.
Spotlighting and sharing customers’ successes is one way to create an emotional connection with B2B customers. Google and marketing research firm Motista surveyed 3,000 purchasers of 36 B2B brands across numerous industries and found “on average, B2B customers are significantly more emotionally connected to their vendors and service providers than consumers.”
While initially you may find this surprising, co-authors Sam Nathan and Karl Schmidt explain why an emotional connection makes sense and is necessary in B2B:
“Business purchases can involve huge amounts of risk: Responsibility for a multi-million dollar software acquisition that goes bad can lead to poor business performance and even the loss of a job. The business customer won’t buy unless there is a substantial emotional connection to help overcome this risk.”
The list above isn’t an exhaustive list, but should give you some great ideas about how to turn your own B2B customers into passionate brand advocates. Did you notice a common theme among all of the suggestions? All were a variant of exceeding your customers’ expectations.
Now it’s your turn: what have you found to be the most effective way of turning your own B2B customers into product champions? Let us know in the comments below.