Launching An Advocacy Program Part 6: User Groups

This is the sixth 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. The fifth post focused on uncovering customer stories.

In-person user groups are advocacy’s highest-profile programs. Done well, they are a great way to develop relationships with and between customers and should be at the heart of your customer advocacy program.

However, they take a lot of work and time.

In this blog, I’ll be covering what your advocacy team needs to consider when running User Groups, and some takeaways from the events Crimson Hexagon has run.

(For more information on managing User Group meetings, check out the blog post I wrote for CMX Hub.)

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First year of customer user groups

Typically, you need about 25 customer accounts in a city to consider it viable for an in-person User Group.

The first time we go into a city, we do a lunch in a restaurant’s private room. This helps us assess the need, determine what people want in future user groups, and identify a few potential advocates. Most of the time, we go in sight unseen and it usually works out, as this is the restaurant’s business. The biggest issue is how to best project visuals.

Due to the nature of Crimson Hexagon’s social data analytics platform, our customers congregate in London, NYC, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Washington. This means less travel, which is good for the staff, but it’s hard on the budget.

Marketing events vs. advocate-driven events

In addition to the lunches, in our first year of advocacy, we did two types of events: spring-time customer User Groups managed by the advocacy team, and prospect/customer events in the fall managed by marketing.

Both are important, as spring events can help a customer utilize what they learn for the rest of the year, and fall events can help prospects make purchasing decisions.

I am not opposed to prospects coming to a user group as long as they are well into the buying cycle. On the other hand, customers are critical to the success of marketing-driven events. Healthy ratios would be 90-10% (customers/prospects) for user groups and 50/50% (customers/prospects) for prospect events.

After the marketing events, we experimented with locations and did reasonably well with inviting customers to lunch, a museum tour and even a visit to one of our customers’ mission control, where they monitor what is being said about them in social media.

The big takeaways:

  • Venues: For user groups we keep away from hotels, and try to find interesting places. Costs are lower and the rooms are less stuffy. In some cities, customers will volunteer to host the event. This is the best of both worlds as the host gets to show off, people like visiting other companies, and it drives down costs.

For example, in Los Angeles this spring, we are using the facilities of an cleantech energy incubator (LACI) in the downtown Arts District.

  • Speakers: When attendees introduce themselves, it is more than just name, company and title. The moderator asks a few questions to get a feel for their use case, favorite feature, and more. To mix it up a bit, everybody can talk about their favorite vacation, or something about them not in their LinkedIn profile. Let’s make it human!

In addition, we ask 1-2 people that register to present on how they use the platform, or ask a few customers in advance.

  • Registrants: Expect a 40% no-show rate. Stuff happens.
  • Staffing: For a user group with about 30 people, three to five staff members will work. It is important not to have too many staff as it inhibits customer-customer conversations. I know it is hard: sales, executives and new employees all want to go. Executives are awesome to have, as it shows the customers how important the meeting is.
  • Rules: Do not think that everyone knows how to behave at a user group. Customers should get seated and fed first. Employees should not spend all their time talking to each other and should show up before the customers, be willing to help and keep their laptops down. As the user groups get bigger and more complex, we have instituted a pre-meeting with the staff in attendance.

Second year of customer user groups

Right now, we are in the marketing stage of the Spring 2017 User Group Tour (check out the landing page for more information). Per customer request, the agenda is longer than year 1 and includes a 1.5 hour hands-on workshop as well as time for networking, a product update and nurturing the ongoing relationships with our advocates.

The Crimson Hexagon platform provides companies with social media insights ranging from competitive analysis to product development, brand health to customer service, and crisis management to influencer profiles. The theme of the spring User Group is “Getting to Insights” with a focus on campaign analysis, one of our most common use cases.

Have you done in-person user groups and do you have any advice to those starting out?

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2 Responses to Launching An Advocacy Program Part 6: User Groups

  1. Great points. I agree with staff to customer ratio. Sales people don’t like to be told no when it comes to attending the customer events. Be firm about the number of staff attendees. Prior to the event, send an email to staff attendees and remind them not to sit down until the program has started, (to ensure that there are enough seats) and that no staff should be served food or get in line at a buffet until all customers have had a chance. I have seen both of these things happen at user events I have run.

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