Launching an Advocacy Program Part 5: Customer Stories-thumbnail

This is the fifth post in a series about launching a customer advocacy program. In the first post in the series, we looked at building a team. The second post looked at data integrity. The third post focused on best practices for communicating with advocates. In the fourth post, we looked at best practices for collecting customer feedback.

One of the key roles of advocacy is to work with sales, marketing and customer success to coordinate the process of identifying customer stories and use cases. This can also include working with customers for reference calls, presenting at conferences and speaking to the press and analysts.

Of the many advocacy programs, these are among the most challenging because:

  • Sales and other customer-facing people have their favorite go-to people, stories and use cases, but may keep them to themselves.
  • There is a tendency to rely on just a few great customers who are willing to help out, but ask too many times and they will burn out.
  • Prospects want to hear from customers that are just like them. The better you get at it, the more requests with greater specificity you will receive. However, it can be hard to identify a senior-level person at a Fortune 100 financial services company based in Europe using the platform for competitive analysis.
  • Customers may allow their employees to be on a phone call, but not provide a quote for a press release. Your contact may have even received permission from their manager for a quote, but when it goes to PR or legal for final approval it is denied. The trick is to get to PR or legal as soon as possible, so they can guide you and you will know if it is not going to happen before expectations have been set.

Keeping track of all the people and stories in a Google Doc is a challenge. There are customer reference tools, but they are best suited for companies with hundreds of salespeople and thousands of customers. There are also customer advocacy tools which help, but they only solve part of the problem.

In this blog I’ll share the processes we use to generate valuable advocate content.

The Advocate Marketing Playbook
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The process of uncovering advocate success stories

Typically, finding customer stories starts with a “marketing ask”. Quarterly, marketing identifies their focus (i.e. retail, travel, automotive) and we work on sourcing case studies for print use cases, blog post, videos or webinars. When the advocacy team or a CSM identifies a lead, we offer it to marketing. If they accept it, they take over and create the content.

If marketing does not accept it, advocacy either creates a single use case slide for sales and CSM’s to use in their conversations or we produce a customer-facing webinar. The slide is structured in the following way: the question they were trying to answer, what they learned by using the Crimson Hexagon platform, and the impact the platform had. If we go down the webinar route, the story will become part of advocacy’s CoLab series where two times a year we do nine thought leadership webinars in three days.

Another technique is that anytime a customer is speaking at an event and it is recorded, advocacy makes a three to five minute excerpt, focusing on the customer story. The first time we did this was at the January 2016 company kick-off, and we have since created audio excerpts from conferences, marketing events and webinars to generate content.

Let’s take a deeper look at the kick-off.

Sharing advocate stories and building social proof

Advocacy was asked to coordinate customer presentations for our yearly kick-off, so that employees who do not interact directly with customers would have an opportunity to hear from them.

We brought in five managers of social media analyst teams from across the US and the UK. Other than the year-in-review corporate presentation, they were welcome to attend all of the sessions. They also stayed for an extra day of training, account meetings, visits with the executive team and a product update.

Rather than have each customer do a 15-minute presentation, a panel discussion was organized. The common thread was how each of the customers used the analysis and insights from our platform to raise their internal profile and get a seat at the table when business decisions are being made.

This talk was edited into a 6-minute audio clip in a way that each person and company were masked. This made approvals much easier.

Side-stepping content approvals: the benefits of internal vs. external advocates

You might think advocates who can talk about your company publicly are key. However, with Crimson’s unlimited user model, internal advocates are just as important in that they can introduce the platform to colleagues with other use cases.

In 2017, we are focusing on identifying and mobilizing internal advocates at global enterprise accounts. To that end, are there any existing programs that can be customized for key customers?  We are looking at:

  1. HexaNews. Every 6 weeks or so, we distribute a customer newsletter. The idea is to create a customized version for a specific account we want to expand into. But, it has to be more than just slapping on their logo. We would ask the power user on the account to write the lead article about their use of the platform, an event, a success story or a best practice. The bespoke newsletter would then be sent to contacts by either us or the customer. (It would be worth doing some A-B testing to see what is best.)
  2. In-app messaging. We use Intercom as a way to communicate with users when they are in the platform. A message can be targeted in many ways including to users at a single company. The best messages are platform-specific and focus on utilization, however, a message could complement the lead article in the bespoke newsletter.
  3. User groups. For the right company with enough users, we’ll schedule an on-site or online user group meeting just for them. This way, the agenda can be customized and participants are more open with their colleagues. This is super effective in increasing utilization and identifying new users. Plus, it internally engages advocacy with CSM’s and other teams.
  4. Hexahub. This is what we call our advocate marketing program (powered by Influitive). There are a few ways to create a place for people from one company to receive targeted challenges and compete in fun or educational activities in an engaging way.

We know that a customer will not have an appetite for all of these, and our goal is to have a global enterprise customer take advantage of one or two of these programs.

To summarize, there are lots of ways of generating and delivering customer stories. Stories that are shared within an organization can be easier to capture and just as important as stories shared with the outside world.

Other resources to help you tell your customers’ stories: