4 Steps to Sourcing Customers for Amazing User-Generated Content

Jacob Cleveland

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Inspiring Customers To Create Content For You: A Marketer’s Guide
Content marketing is broken. B2B buyers (83%) are drowning in too much content. And only…
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In the new business-to-human (B2H) era of marketing, user-generated content (UGC) allows B2B companies to produce word-of-mouth marketing at scale.

Your customers can now have a personal conversation with prospects using language that speaks directly to their real-world use cases of your products and services. And with consumers trusting product reviews 12 times more than traditional marketing content, UGC isn’t just nice to have, it’s vital.

But how do you know which customer to showcase? You don’t want to keep running to the same well, and you need high-impact stories that highlight value propositions to overcome your most common sales objections.

Let’s look at how you can source powerful stories from your most vocal brand advocates—turning those customers into celebrities, and stories into qualified leads.

Step 1: Sourcing a Pool of Customers

In marketing, it can often feel like we’re so far removed from our customers that we don’t even know how many we have or who they are. We’re so busy bringing in new logos that we forget about the ones who have been with us for years.

This is where customer success teams and sales can help. They speak to customers every day, and know who’s happy, who’s innovating, and who has a great story to tell.

I know what you’re thinking: Yeah, but they’re so busy, they’ll never help us identify a pool of customers.

That’s why we need to approach CS and sales teams as a partner in their success as well. First, let’s start with CS.

Customer success teams are our advocates’ advocate. They hear every gripe, and more importantly, every victory, so get them looped into the process as early as possible. One great way to do this is by creating a Slack channel specifically for CS to share their stories.

Did a recent interaction bump a customer’s NPS score from passive to promoter? Someone tell you about an incredible success metric? Put it in Slack!

By giving CS a venue to highlight a customer success, you help an often unsung team get the recognition they deserve. Also, if you position the offer in a way to highlight the benefit to the customer (see Step 3), you can help CS make happy customers even more ecstatic, and that’s a win for everyone. In fact, in Upshot surveys, customers who participate in UGC highlight “deepened vendor relationships” as their number one motivator.

For sales teams, we need to think about what they’ll get out of it. Now I’m not saying all salespeople are only motivated by self-interest, but they do have demanding quotas to meet. So, think about how UGC can help them achieve their goals.

It’s well-documented that UGC converts faster and more efficiently than any other piece of content. In fact, 83% of consumers say it would be important to read user-generated content before making a decision, and 70% of consumers place peer recommendations and reviews above professionally written content.

With this in mind, approach the sales team as their ally. After all, they will be one of your end users of the content, so it’s best to get them looped in as early as possible.

One fantastic approach is to single out a sales champion—one member of the sales team who is already utilizing content during the sales process. Include your champion in brainstorming sessions so they can provide insight into common sales objections. Once you’ve identified an objection you want to tackle, ask your champion if they can think of a customer who could refute this objection.

By making your sales champion an owner in the process from the beginning and by asking what content they need rather than just giving the content you’ve created, your sales champion will be more inclined to utilize the final product. And once the rest of the sales team hears about their success, you’ll have an entire team of champions.

Step 2: Choosing a Customer Group

Notice that I didn’t say choosing a customer. That’s because when you’re inviting customer advocates to participate in anything, some will just be too busy to participate. The average B2B email survey response rate is 5–15% (at Upshot, we average around 50% invite to acceptance), so it’s important not to have your heart set on the “perfect” customer; instead, think about a group of customers who can help you achieve your goals.

Your target segment can be based on industry, the product/service they use, or the customer’s role (either in the buying decision, or use of your product/service). By lumping together customers based on the above criteria, you can align your marketing efforts to reach specific audiences. Also, inviting three to five at a time (not just one) helps you move the process along quickly, rather than spending weeks or months waiting to hear back from that one perfect customer.

But what happens if they all say yes? First, celebrate that you have so many customers who are willing to advocate for you! We’ll go into detail on how to handle this scenario in Step 4.

Step 3: Frame Your Offer With a Benefit

One hurdle in generating consistent UGC is the ask. Many marketers have asked the same group of happy customers for all their advocacy needs—case studies, quotes, reviews, etc.—and asking them to participate in yet one more form of advocacy feels just a little too needy.

The trick? Don’t position your ask as an “ask.” User-generated content doesn’t just help your business generate new leads and build brand awareness; it also gives the participating customer an opportunity to build their thought leadership and professional profile.

Start with that—the benefit. And then move into the nuts and bolts of the proposal. Just like the Challenger Sales methodology created by CEB, great salespeople don’t push their wares. They become their customer’s partner in success.

Your customers are human, just like you, and they want the same things. They want to be recognized for their achievements, a raise or a better job, speaking engagements, etc. These are the payoffs of building thought leadership. When you help them add to their library of content, you’re giving them exactly what they want.

Here are a few ways to frame the offer that put the benefit first:

  • Hi {Customer}, did you know conference organizers all over the world are looking for experts just like you? They’re searching far and wide for people with your skill set to share their knowledge and grow our field. But they can’t find you! Let us help. We’d like to offer you the chance to showcase your expertise…
  • Hi {Customer}, have you gotten a raise?! Because we know you deserve one. We’ve heard about your recent success at _____ and we know if more people heard about it, you’d get the recognition you deserve. We’d like to help you get that admiration by offering you a chance to…
  • Hi {Customer}, _____ in CS/Sales told us about the amazing work you and your team have been doing, and we’d like to make sure the rest of your organization knows just how hard you’ve been working. Don’t let your efforts go unnoticed; get the appreciation you deserve by accepting our offer to…

Step 4: Handling the Overflow

In Step 2, I discussed why it’s important to invite multiple customers at a time to participate in a story. However, what happens when everyone says ‘yes’?

Well, first you give yourself a high-five. Then, get to work.

If you kept your offer email slightly ambiguous—as in: We’d like to offer you an opportunity to showcase your expertise and be recognized in your field—then you now have a group of ready and willing customers you can utilize for all kinds of forms of advocacy. They don’t all have to be technical white papers or long case studies.

Below are a few ways to generate UGC that both showcases your customers in a flattering light, and helps you generate leads and awareness.

  • Webinars
  • Podcasts
  • Video testimonials
  • Blogs
  • Social media posts
  • Blog or forum comments
  • Conference speaking slots

Notice what I left off the list: reviews, referrals, and quotes. These are all one-sided asks, which are perfectly acceptable requests after a customer has received value from you. These forms of advocacy in which the customer receives very little or no value should be limited to only after you’ve helped the customer achieve their goals.

Think of it like a staircase, and a referral is the top step. With the right strategy, you can offer your customer something in return for each act, making it a mutually beneficial journey the whole way up.

Advocacy marketing staircase

Next Steps: Distribution

Now that you have a group of amazing customers who have generated highly valuable UGC, what’s next? How do you get all this demand generation gold in front of the right people?

An effective distribution plan is crucial to maximize the ROI of your content. So in the next post, I’ll discuss distribution channels, how they work, and which ones provide the biggest return. Stay tuned!

Related UGC creation resources:

Video: “Why No B2B Company Should Write Their Own Customer Stories”

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  • Coca-Cola “share a coke” is a great example of user generated content. This one is a fantastic marketing technique in which they encourage the customers to customize the bottle with consumer names and upload the picture on social media channels with #shareacoke. Through this advertising technique, they revived and improved customer engagement.

    • Jillian Wood

      Thanks for sharing, Acton! Social campaigns like that can often drive UGC creation. I wonder how they measured the value/impact of those shares? (I’ve never worked in B2C social, so metrics are quite different from B2B/trade.)