In May, I presented at Gainsight Pulse 2017, which drew 4,000+ Customer Success professionals to Oakland. They asked me to speak about the first two years of Customer Advocacy at Crimson Hexagon.
As we started to work on the presentation, it became clear that the theme would be program Reach vs. Relationship. Some programs reach a lot of users but do not foster relationships; others develop relationships, but do not scale well and by their nature have to be limited. A healthy advocacy program will have programs in all quadrants, but it takes time to get there.
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Reach vs. relationship: which goal is right for your advocacy marketing strategy?
From early on, we defined Advocacy’s mission at Crimson Hexagon to be creating programs that enhance a customer’s use of the platform while raising their internal and external profile.
It may sound counterintuitive, but raising someone’s internal profile may be even more valuable to a vendor than identifying those hard-to-find senior titles at name brands. Think about it: your internal advocates have the inherent permission and credibility to advocate for your company within their organization, whereas they may not be allowed to advocate for you externally. This is particularly true for the enterprise customers that are so critical to the long-term health of your company.
For the presentation, I broke advocacy into Years 1 and 2. The first year is an opportunity to try things out, and my recommendation is to focus on programs that promote Reach.
Developing reach early on in your advocacy program
Help Center Renovation: There is an existing Help Center and in the customer survey distributed in the first month of the advocacy program, it received average ratings. We dug deeper and found that too much content was out of date, mis-categorized or redundant. Over time, Help Centers can get unwieldy, and even though you might say the Help Center is not Advocacy’s responsibility, someone had to fix it and we had fresh eyes.
HexaLIVE Webinars: There was a pre-existing monthly product feature/use case webinar, and with a fresh set of eyes, we were able to double registrations while leaving the content development to the coaching and support team.
We also wanted to expand to thought leadership webinars. Rather than just add another monthly event, we created a new series named CoLab. Twice per year, there are 9 webinars over three days, primarily delivered by customers. By compressing the schedule, it became more efficient to develop the content and generate an audience.
User Groups: In year 1, we chose cities where we had the most customers and invited people to lunch at a restaurant. Attendance was great, and customers wanted a follow-up which focused on education. Year 2 saw a 3-hour User Group with a hands-on workshop (read more about our User Groups here).
HexaHUB: In addition to using Marketo, SalesForce and Gainsight, we use Influitive’s AdvocateHub to identify, nurture and manage customer advocates at scale. When it makes sense, we brand things at Crimson Hexagon as HexaXXXX. For example, Wednesdays are HexaBREW, the internal wiki is HexaPEDIA, and our Influitive instance is HexaHUB. This is a shout-out to our hometown Boston, otherwise know as the “Hub of the Universe”.
HexaNews newsletter: We also launched a HexaNEWS newsletter, a monthly utilization report sent to the main point of contact for each customer, and a new user nurture campaign. One thing these programs have in common is that they scale well: there is no more work if double as many people attend a webinar, or are sent the newsletter.
Focusing on deepening customer relationships
In Year 2, the focus begins to shift towards programs that generate relationships. These do not scale all that well, but develop valuable 1:1, personalized connections with customers.
To go back to enterprise customers, one of the reasons why they are so important is that they tend to have more people using your platform than mid-market or SMB customers. With that in mind, we started working with advocates at these companies to develop bespoke programs. These include private user groups, customized newsletters, and targeted in-app messaging. We are also looking into a private version of the HexaHub, so that we could create custom challenges for a company.
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Monitor Success Review: Customers can send us the monitor they have created in the Crimson platform, and we will give them actionable feedback. If you have the type of product with which users would benefit from getting feedback, a program like this has the potential of impacting utilization and developing advocates.
Customer Visits: If a customer is visiting Boston, they are welcome to stop by. Based on their needs, we will bring together the right people, and if they have enough time, they can present to the entire staff. Not everybody in the office gets to hear directly from customers, so this is a great way to get to know each other.
Alumni Program: In an upwardly mobile economy, people using your platform will move on to pursue new opportunities. The relationship does not have to end. Why not offer them free access to your software for a limited time that they can use for their job search or when they land at a new company?
Individual User Health Score: I am super excited about this. Most SaaS companies have a customer health score, and we are also interested in the individual user’s health score. However, health scores typically focus on the vendor (i.e. platform utilization, event registration, how often the user interacts with your company). It may be far more valuable to get a feel for their overall domain expertise or maturity in their field of work. We are calling it the Social Maturity Index. It is being tested right now, with more to come in a future post.
Finding the balance between reach vs. relationships
Advocacy programs have to be nimble. If you hear a need from customers multiple times, it is worth thinking about developing a way to address it. We judge each request on a 1-5 scale, and if the benefit to the customer is greater than the cost and effort, we greenlight it.