Cross-functional collaboration is critical to the success of an advocacy program. But getting there? “I won’t lie and say it’s easy,” says Tiffany Beddow, Director of Customer Marketing at ON24.
Wrangling everyone within your company to help guide your customers’ advocacy journey—from marketing to product to customer success and sales—can be a complex process. But over her five-plus years in the field, Tiffany has transformed from an advocacy novice to a seasoned professional and developed a number of strategies along the way.
Sometimes the effects of advocacy defy measurement, but the fruits of Tiffany’s program are evident: ON24 advocates are 37 percent less likely to churn. What follows is the story of how Tiffany built a thriving program by nurturing cross-departmental relationships, redefining the customer lifecycle, and encouraging her demand generation team to commit valuable time to the cause.
Setting up an advocacy program for success
When Tiffany took over customer marketing at ON24, she was starting from scratch. “The program was just a spreadsheet,” she says. Though already an experienced advocate marketer—she had inherited an advocacy program at a previous company—she never had the opportunity to design her own.
Tiffany quickly set big goals for the program, dubbed the “Webinerd Network”:
- To enlighten and train customers on the ON24 Platform and industry best practices
- To foster community by connecting customers with one another
- To put customers at the center of the ON24 brand and marketing strategy, using customer success stories and champions to create demand
She wasted no time: With the help of Influitive, which she had used previously, her AdvocateHub back-end was up and running within a record six weeks of her start date.
Moving into leadership was an eye-opener
Even with her early successes, taking on a leadership role brought a host of new challenges and responsibilities for Tiffany, like managing her team’s budget. “Managing a budget gives you a whole new perspective on how advocacy programs work. You have to ask, ‘Hey, what is the whole department spending? How much are we spending? Is it working?’” she says. She had to learn a new method of project prioritization that took finances into consideration.
Perhaps even more importantly, Tiffany gained a new perspective on the customer lifecycle. “We had all these folks within our company that touched the customer, but nobody who was focused on the overall experience,” she says. “Part of the goal for me coming into the director role was getting all these people who normally engage or touch the customer to map out the journey together and ask, ‘What does it actually look like? What do customers need at each point? What are our goals during this time period? What must we do to improve the experience?’”
For Tiffany, it became clear pretty quickly that collaboration and enablement needed to be her top priorities. She had to ensure that everyone was on the same page and that customer-facing staff were saying the right things and had access to the right content.
Nurturing cross-functional cooperation
Working with teams that span account management, customer success, training, and product can be a challenge. The key is to align everyone to work toward the same ultimate goal; this way, having different perspectives can be seen as a strength rather than a hindrance. “It’s tough when you have a lot of folks in the room,” says Tiffany, “but if you get through it and you get everyone’s buy-in, it really clears the way for your team to move fast and move forward.”
It helps to have a CEO who sees the value of advocacy. “Our CEO is passionate about our customers and wants everything we do inside or outside our product to put the customer experience first. Customer feedback is key to understanding what customers need,” says Tiffany. Through the AdvocateHub, Tiffany can deliver it. She’s able to solicit the feedback of thirty to forty customers within a day. “It’s a good pulse check,” she says, noting that this feedback allows the company to understand what’s working and where they should pivot. “We can ask, ‘Is this something we should focus on or should we pass?’” she says. “And we can realize, ‘Wow, this is a lot more important than we thought.’”
How do you earn cross-team trust? “I wish I could say it’s a fast process, but it starts with empathy. Even if you have those anecdotes and those proof points, sometimes, you need to build rapport, and that takes time to understand what they care about.” Here’s Tiffany’s strategy:
- Balance the asks. Since customer marketing lives at the intersection of so many different departments, it’s important to understand their different needs, while only taking on what can be realistically accomplished each quarter. Planning ahead is key.
- Get feedback from the customer community. For instance, to determine whether an improved mobile experience should be a priority, ask. Tiffany surveyed her advocates about this and it served as the proof her product team needed to work on those changes.
- Build trust by meeting with stakeholders one-on-one before any big group meetings. This ensures they are involved in the process and bought in before it’s time to make any final decisions.
- Report on successes in their terms. Find out what each stakeholder holds dear (e.g. referrals for demand gen, product feedback for product teams) and regularly share those quantitative and qualitative results.
Following these principles allows Tiffany to ensure every department that customer marketing interacts with is on the same page and there are no curveballs.
Why ON24’s demand gen team loves advocacy
One big success for Tiffany has been her collaboration with demand gen. Having an advocacy program means access to a potentially limitless source of customer stories. Tiffany ensures her marketing team takes full advantage so that they understand why they should help her. “We do a customer spotlight webinar series once or twice a month where we get a customer on the record,” she says. “They tell their story, showcase their work, give tips, share lessons, and talk about best practices and successes in an authentic way.”
That content is virtual demand fuel. “Our demand gen team sends customer content to people who are mid-funnel to help them understand what success could be with ON24, and ideally accelerate their buying journey,” she says. “It’s become a vital content resource for demand gen, sales, and more importantly, our potential users.”
The value of this relationship plays itself out in the numbers—better leads and faster conversions means a healthier pipeline—and when it works, customer marketing generates more resources. The cycle powers itself and at ON24, customer marketing and demand-gen work in symbiotic lockstep.
An advocate for advocates, too
Influitive has been a big part of Tiffany’s customer advocacy journey from the beginning. When she arrived at ON24, she immediately thought to use the platform. “It made me look like a rockstar, engaging our customers in this special hub and rewarding our biggest fans with ways to make them feel special,” she says. “It was great to be the face of a new program and to start making an impact quickly.”
Using Influitive means Tiffany is plugged into a community of other customer marketers, just like her customers are plugged in with other customers. “Influitive has definitely been key to my career by introducing me to peers in the space—it’s among the most important benefits,” Tiffany says. “I’m sure most customer marketers would say the same, but talking to, hearing from, and learning with others who are also in the day-to-day weeds goes a long way.”
The results of Tiffany’s program speak for themselves. The churn rate for a regular ON24 account is 15.4 percent while the churn rate of a “Webinerd” account is significantly lower, at 9.6 percent. “Our strategy is to always invest in our customers because we believe the more we invest in their experience and build programs that solve real problems, the better our results will get.”
Tiffany’s advice for customer marketers
In Tiffany’s mind, the role of customer advocacy is only going to become more important. As expectations in customer experience rise, so must customer marketers, to get more customer stories into the buying cycle. And if your team hasn’t started, it’s never too late. “You can build these programs, even if you’ve not done it before,” Tiffany says. “I mean, clearly I did it.”
As advocacy becomes more prominent, customer marketing will intersect with other departments in more places, and accrue more responsibility. “Customer marketers won’t just own advocacy, they’ll own the reverse end of the funnel, from signup to renewal,” she says. “That’s why it’s so important to build those strong relationships with the whole company from the get-go.”
“I don’t see demand gen or customer marketing being two separate functions,” she says. “We’re all responsible for working together to build an awesome customer experience. Don’t be afraid to speak up about advocacy. You’re the voice of the customer and they need to be heard.”
Related: Advocacy Marketing Dictionary – Customer Experience CX