How A Huge Software Brand Uncovered Legions Of Loyal Advocates

In June 2014, Chris Peltz, Chief of Staff, SPM Customer Success at HP Software, launched a small advocate marketing program to engage 50 of the brand’s top enterprise customers. The goal? To make them happier by creating a better customer experience. In less than nine months, the program quickly grew to close to a thousand advocates who were actively creating content, driving product direction, contributing to marketing efforts, and acting as references. In his Advocamp talk, Chris shares how companies can create deeper connections with their customers and unleash the potential of their hidden advocates.

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I’m a huge Walking Dead fan. And part of the title has a couple of meanings. One is that show sort of drives you in, right? It drives you in and you’re addicted to it. Think about how your advocates might be addicted to your products. But the second meaning is (and the word zombie it is not meant to be critical or negative on our customers), but it sends sometimes that feeling of, you’ve got all these things you want them to do for you, right? You want them to create a case study, participate in a call, and they just don’t seem to do to anything. How do you get them to do more of what you want?

You really have to think, though, maybe you’re not asking the right question.

So what I’m going to do is start with a little background about our company and what we did and how we look at customer advocacy. I’m part of HP Software, and in particular, part of our IT Management group. And one of the product lines that we sell is around IT Source Management. We’ve got over 2,000 enterprise customers, all in IT, and many of them are very loyal to us, and we’ve had them for a long time.

But about two years ago, we started a Customer Success Management team that I am a part of with the sole goal of making those customers, and our top accounts, happy. And we’ve been very successful at that. We’ve also had for a number of years very traditional reference programs. And what I mean by that is programs where when you sign a deal with a customer, you get them to be a reference. And often they go in some database and forget about it. And when it comes to having to actually get a reference for some purpose, it’s very challenging. I don’t know if anyone has faced that, but we face that every day.

So, we really have three things that we want to address with customer advocacy:

1.The first is what I call reference agility. We want the ability to within minutes (in some cases) get references. Maybe it’s for a call, maybe it’s for an analyst. We wanted to speed up how quickly we’ve worked with references.

2.The second piece is around product collaboration. So, we have things like Customer Advisory Boards. And those are good. But often, they’re not ongoing connections or relationships between customers and product managers. So, we wanted to build that collaboration and have it be sustaining, ongoing—a true relationship.

3.The third very important piece is we wanted to create more customer-driven marketing. Not marketing pieces that our marketing department developed, but ones our customers could create, because we felt they could be a lot more valuable to other customers than our own pieces of content.

So, what we felt is that a customer advocacy program could really help us deliver a true, deep, meaningful connection to our enterprise customers in such a way that it would provide value to us. But more importantly, we felt it could provide value to them. That really is the key message or theme throughout this talk today.

What I’m going to do is walk through how we got started. We started roughly last April/May. It was a project that we kicked-off with Influitive. It actually lasted about 3 weeks from start to kick-off or launch. We wanted an online experience. We wanted a gamification-based approach. So it was actually a very easy decision for us to make to choose Influitive. And then, as part of the approach, we had to start with: what are some of the program objectives we want to drive in this advocacy program? And this was an essential step. We wanted to really focus on our references. We wanted more social media content from our customers. We wanted a closer connection between product and customers. We sort of picked a set of five and we drove all of our work around the launch against those objectives. And then the other key piece is understanding all the players involved. Who is our audience? Who are the customers we care about?

We decided to start small with our core strategic customers that are CSMs and we were already engaged with them, so we already had a relationship. And we also needed to understand internally who the staples are. What were all the groups in HP that had to buy in to this approach? Who were the product managers, the marketing department support—everyone in HP—that played a role? They need to understand what that role and what their expectations were.

In June 2014, we launched our hub with Influitive called HP ITSM Insiders. We actually launched it at the HP Discover event in Vegas that we have each year. It was a tremendous success. Even though the actual size of the community was small, because we focused it, the learnings we got back from that were just incredible. So, just as some examples, two things really came out of that.

First, our customers started to learn more about what our offerings were, which sounds almost kind of ridiculous that they didn’t know about new innovations, new things we’re doing. Through the platform, they were getting that in real time and they could provide feedback to us and get a closer connection to HP. But the more surprising result we had from the launch was the connections they established with others in their industry.

And to give you a great example of this, as I’ve mentioned, every year at this event, we have our Customer Advisory Boards, and typically they’re the same set of folks that participate in the CABs. One of the guys, who’s also part of Insiders, came up after the event and said, ‘You know, I’ve been sitting next to these same people for the last two or three years and I didn’t really know them.’ For this event, when we launched it, they came and said to me, ‘We actually had built our relationship online through the platform, and when we got together for the CAB, we already felt closer. We had this connection through the experience.’ And they were able to carry that forward in the physical world. So this notion of a blended experience between the online experience—which in our case was through Insiders—and the physical world through events really worked for our customers, and it’s something that we weren’t really expecting.

But what I want to do is kind of take it to where we’re at today. We started in May/June of last year with about 50 advocates, and then had about a hundred by the time we launched. We’re close to a thousand advocates in less than nine months, and these are advocates that are engaged and participating in driving a ton of content that we need for our organization. And the great thing is that this is not just customers. We’ve got partners involved. Even employees are taking a part in the program that we have.

Power of social media

What we learned here is that the impact that our customers’ tweets or blog has on the rest of the industry is 10-fold or 20-fold what one of us can do on the HP side. And it’s much more viral. If we have even 10 of our customers tweeting something and then each of them re-tweet, it’s amazing how fast some of our messaging gets out in a matter of minutes in some cases.

Building connections and community

The second piece—and this is all driven from the analytics experience—is the connection that we’ve been able to build between customers and our product organizations. So we try, in many of the activities we do in our program, to have surveys, questions, and so forth, and build a way for our product management team to get involved, to provide feedback, and to talk to these customers. The end result—even if we don’t implement the majority of things that our customers are asking for—is that our customers value that connection. They see ‘You’re listening to us,’ and even if we do one or two things that they want—not a hundred of them—it is huge for them. That value is there, and that’s why they keep coming back to the Insiders—because of that connection.

Gaining valuable references

Last one I’ll mention here is on the reference side. This has also been a huge success, if it’s related to getting a reference recruit or having someone speak to an analyst. As one recent example we participated in the Annual Gartner Magic Quadrant. And in those MQs, you always have to give customers to Gartner to have them interview and call them. In the past, this has been somewhat of a painful experience, where we’re working to give the right people, to pre-interview them, and to screen them. With our AdvocateHub, where before it was a challenge just to get five of them through the process, we were able to get 50 or 60 of them in a matter of hours. And the great thing about this is these were advocates that we didn’t have to screen. We’ve already screened them. They’ve been part of the program. We know the things that they’ve done, right? We know their participation. So that has been incredibly successful for us.


What I’d like to do is turn to probably the biggest success we’ve had to date. I know some of you have done e-books and the like with your customers, but for us, this was huge. This e-book, which came out a couple of weeks ago, is an IT Best Practices e-book, and was written entirely by our advocates. No one from HP wrote one single line of content other than the formatting and for our brand. They wrote it all. And in this e-book, there is no mention of our products, nothing about what our products do or anything like that. It is a set of best practices that they’re experts in. And for us, and our marketing arm, this is huge. Even though we don’t talk about our products, it has a lot more weight than a product brochure might have. But more importantly, this is a huge piece of content for the customer. Even if that’s just a little blurb that they put in an e-book, think about how that can help them in their career for any kind of advancement. They’re author on an e-book that’s out there in the public. It’s extremely valuable for them. That’s the key message here: what are you doing to make your advocate successful, not just making yourself successful?

customer_engagement_advocates_chris_peltz_hp_advocamp3What I’d like to do is walk through some of the things that we learned, some of our best practices.

1. Have fresh, fun & engaging content

The first is try to have in your program fresh, fun and engaging content. For us, the keyword that we learned in this experience was having fun content. And it’s interesting because in the space we play in, we didn’t think that fun content would be that valuable to our customers. In fact, that was the most valuable content because what they told us was ‘We’re in IT;  we’re dealing with Helpdesk and all these systems day-in and day-out. We want a stress break. We want to unplug and go do something that’s completely disconnected from our day-to-day.’ They saw our program as that stress-free. And by the way, when they went and did something silly or fun like, you know, some puzzle, they also did two or three other things that we wanted them to do. So, as an incentive model, it actually work that we didn’t expect for this particular kind of an audience. Make it as fun as you can, get them in, like with The Walking Dead, and them give them more of what you want them to do.

2. Finding the right type of gamification & rewards

The second thing is actually on gamification. We were hesitant about how gamification could work for us. And I say the result we found, this whole notion of rewards, it doesn’t work for the majority of people. In fact, I think there were only, like, 8% of our customers who actually redeemed points for rewards. The majority didn’t. And that’s because they are not really motivated by rewards. What they are motivated by, at least for our customer base, is to win. They’re motivated to compete. They’re motivated to be higher up in the leader board. So, what we’ve done is at any given time, we always have two or three contests that are active, and it could be a really silly contest, like vote up who is going to win in the Super Bowl or something else we want them to do where they’re competing and their only motivation is they want to win. They want to be on the top. We give them points for that, but that’s not really the end goal. The end goal is to bring them in because of that competition, all those contests, and they do other things that will help us out.

3. Start small

The other piece of our best practice I would say is, and I kind of mentioned this at the beginning, definitely start small. Don’t try to bring in hundreds or thousands of customers in your program. Pick 25 or 50; learn from that experience and then grow up from there. We definitely learned a lot when we started in our program. We made modifications and we grew from that. And as you can see, our numbers kind of speak for themselves. Definitely follow that advice if you’re just getting started in a program like this.

4. The best advocates might not be who you think

And then the other piece of advice I’ll give you—this was another surprise for us. We came in to the program with the belief that we knew who are our biggest advocates were. We were looking at our big customers, those that were giving us lots of money and said, ‘Well, those have to be the best advocates.’ What we found was that was far from the case. We found many of our biggest advocates and customers we had never even spoken to. Even customers that were more critical of us were stronger advocates for us than we had ever thought. They were critical because they supported what we believed in.

The key thing here that I would say is be open. Be open to who an advocate could be for you, because you would be surprised where you might find them.

5. Stay continuously engaged with your advocates

And the last thing I will say is when you’re thinking about a program, your advocates or customers will probably come and participate, but they might not stay. And the reason is you have to continue to support it, and to be engaged with those customers. This requires effort. It requires resources. Make sure you have those people in place, and if you can’t do it yourself, find an agency that can help. This has really been an important learning for us as it relates to getting our program going and keeping it active.

 Let me close this with this: the most important thing I want you to take from this is focus on what matters most to your advocates, not what matters most to you. Your objectives are important, and that’s how we started the talk. But what’s more important is how do you translate those objectives into the things that the customers and other advocates you have value?

At the end of the day, this is not about awakening the zombies in your customers because they are not doing what you want. In some respects, it’s about awakening the zombie in each of you and thinking about how we turn this around so that we’re actually their servants and not the other way around. And if you can do that, you’ll get to a point where advocates are participating in your program not because they have to, or because you’re forcing them to, but because they want to.

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