A new IDC report has found that one organizational tactic has grown 570% YOY among B2B vendors (and no, we don’t mean ABM). It’s customer advocacy programs.

Last year, only 10% B2B vendors surveyed had a customer advocacy program in place, according to the IDC research. This year, “The Role of Marketing in Customer Advocacy” report found that has increased to 67%.

Customer advocacy programs encourage and motivate customer to become vocal brand advocates. They allow companies to formalize and scale the process of asking customers to speak about products they love. (Also known as the practice of advocate or advocacy marketing.)

IDC says advocacy programs increase a company’s revenue in two ways: acquisition and retention.

While 87% of B2B vendors surveyed believe that advocate marketing is “either very or extremely important to their overall company’s success,” the research found many measure the return on investment (ROI) of advocacy through “execution-level metrics,” such as number of advocates they have, rather than impact of that advocacy.

carlos-gonzalesWe recently had Mary Wardley, VP, CRM Applications at IDC, discuss how to show the ROI of customer advocacy programs with Carlos Gonzalez, Vice President of Customer Success Operations at Ceridian, who heads up Ceridian’s incredibly successful XOXO customer advocacy program, as part of our Customer and Advocate Marketing Virtual Summit.

Together, they delved into the benefits and challenges of launching a customer advocacy program, and how Ceridian tracks the outcomes of its advocacy marketing initiatives.

This article shares a few main points from their discussion. You can download the IDC report for free to get more recommendations for starting an advocate marketing initiative at your company.

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How customer advocacy programs benefit companies and customers

At Ceridian, Carlos often leverages advocates for references, PR requests, webinar content, and referrals—all things that increase brand awareness, sales pipeline and deal velocity.

“Advocates are fantastic when it comes to helping drive business in the sales area. We know that peers are talking to each other and if you have advocates who are talking to their peers, they’re your best salespeople,” says Carlos. “We also know that advocates are fantastic talent for the marketing department where they’re looking to create case studies, press releases, things like that.“

Requesting these acts of advocacy doesn’t have to be a burden on customers. It simply requires conveying the benefits of advocacy to customers first.

“We present our reference conversations as an opportunity for our successful customers to show their thought leadership and it’s been very successful,” says Carlos.

Carlos rewards advocates for their efforts, using a points and rewards system that’s part of the AdvocateHub platform the programs runs on. However, positioning requests as a chance for advocates build their networks, share their success story or be in the spotlight makes them more likely to participate.

Advocates do more than help fuel sales and marketing goals. They give every team at Ceridian valuable insights and feedback. “Our reference management team, our marketing team, our sales team, our engineering team, they can all see what customers are ready, willing, and able to engage for these different needs. We’ve gotten to a point where we have a backlog of customers ready, willing, and able to be a speaker at a trade show, to be a speaker at a vertical industry event, to host analysts in their offices, [or] host round table for their industry.”

Carlos sums it up best when he says, “The power of peer-to-peer influence can’t be understated.”

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Reconceptualizing ROI as ROA: Return on Advocacy

As with any initiative, measuring ROI is a huge factor in determining whether or not to keep allocating time and money into it.

Carlos knew that Ceridian needed a way to keep track of the feedback and engagement they were getting from advocates to show executives. And Excel wasn’t going to do the trick.

“We realized we needed a platform that will allow us to engage a large customer base,” he says. “We needed to know who would be willing to do an activity, we needed to know if they’re happy or not…we wanted to know everything about them.”

Using Influitive’s AdvocateHub to power their advocacy program helped Carlos collect the data he needed to target advocates based on their interests or demographics. “Customers can go online or they can go on their phone, and they can review and accept or decline activities. These opportunities are based on their preferences.”

By integrating data from the program with Salesforce, Carlos discovered that their biggest advocates  weren’t necessarily the people who worked at their biggest accounts are. In fact, smaller customers are influencing millions of dollars in pipeline through a few valuable acts of advocacy—including referrals, reviews and appearing in a webinars or case studies.

“We look at some customers who pay a fraction in annual recurring revenue [compared to larger customers]…but they’re impacting tens of millions of dollars in advocacy,”  says Carlos. This begs for a better way to measure the impact of advocacy. Carlos coined the term “return on advocacy,” or “ROA” to describe the full range of payoff that advocacy brings.

The IDC report recommends tracking the following metrics to show advocacy program ROA:

  • Increased deal speed when references are involved
  • New revenue from customer referrals
Influence on new deals from advocate-generated content (case studies, etc.)
  • Increased retention rates and account growth (upsell/cross sell) for customers in advocacy programs

Overcoming obstacles to launching an advocacy program

According to the IDC report, the two biggest barriers companies believe they face when launching an advocacy program fall into two main categories:

  • A fear of lack of customer availability or interest
  • Internal organizational barriers—such as the lack of alignment across functional areas, employee bandwidth, or conflicting internal priorities

Here’s a few ways Carlos recommends you tackle the first challenge. To learn more about internal alignment issues, sign-up for the Virtual Summit to access the full webinar, or download the free IDC report for their recommendations.

1. Understand your advocate’s persona

In order motivate your advocates to act, you need to truly understand them on an individual level.

Carlos says that you won’t see real success with your advocate program “until you engage and understand who they are and really understand their personality, their personal goals, because advocacy is a very personal thing.”

Once you understand whether they’re motivated by education, exclusivity or networking, you can tailor your requests and advocacy program rewards to match their needs.

This requires collecting data and feedback through your program to understand what advocates enjoy, what they’re willing to do, and what they’d like to see change.

IDC also recommends using this data to later personalize your requests to tailor to advocate interests. Having a system that allows for targeting based on advocate data will help. Launching a pilot to collect feedback before a full launch will also improve future customer advocacy program performance.

2. Make advocates feel special and supported

It’s important to position your program, and your requests within it, as an exclusive opportunity for advocates to be elevated.

This is why Carlos presents advocacy requests as an opportunity to partner with Ceridian and be held up as a success story among other advocates.“If you present customers with opportunities that benefit them, that keeps them engaged,” says Carlos. “When we partner with customers with this kind of mindframe, we’re taking advantage of opportunities to really advance them professionally. It’s a recipe for success and they don’t get tired of being successful or having someone help them with their success.”

Carlos also makes sure he offers a wide variety of benefits to his advocates through the program. This way, those who don’t want to be in the spotlight can still advocate for Ceridian in ways they prefer.  “There’s always opportunity to be educated, to learn more, to network with people that can help them personally, to collaborate with Ceridian, to get recognition for the thought leadership and success,” he says.

3. Recognize advocates for their actions

The key to building long-term relationships with advocates is recognizing every time they do take time to advocate for your company. This makes them more likely to help again in the future.

Carlos says there are many ways to reward advocates through a customer advocacy program. “They would like to receive recognition, build their social capital, be affiliated with the leading program and product—they want to be behind the velvet rope so to speak. They want to share their sense of purpose, their passion about human capital management, and they want to show that they have mastery of the space.”

Often, the best forms of recognition put advocates in the spotlight, help them grow their professional network, build their klout, connect with their peers to share ideas and best practices, or get a sneak peek of your company’s initiatives.

IDC recommends offering a rewards using a gamified platform and the SAPS framework, which means offering a variety of rewards under the areas of status, access, power, and stuff.

To learn how Influitive’s AdvocateHub can help you discover, nurture and mobilize your advocates, take a product tour.

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