Want To Attract B2B Buyers? Research Shows This Is Where Your Brand Must Invest

Advocamp_Logo (1)The modern B2B buyer’s journey is self-directed and influenced greatly by what peers say on private online channels. And brands that aren’t putting resources toward influencing these conversations are going to be left in the dust.

In her research-driven Advocamp 2016 AMP Talk, Laura Ramos, Forrester’s Vice President and Principal Analyst, shares where brands should be investing if they want to gain a competitive advantage and create measurable, long-term value for their brands by empowering their advocates.

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I’m a research analyst. (I know what you’re thinking, “Oh, boy. Another one of these things to listen to.”) So I’m going to start out with a bit of research. How many of you have not yet started, or are at the beginning of your advocacy journey? Aha, there’s quite a number of you. How many of you are kind of in the middle? Good. How about those that are down the road, you’ve been doing this stuff for a little while? We actually have more of a novice crowd here than I thought we would. That’s good to know.

I’ve been doing business-to-business (B2B) marketing research for over 10 years.

I have to say, I am extraordinarily excited about potential that advocate marketing has for changing not only marketing as a profession but how we do business. But we’re only going to get there if we start to treat advocacy as a strategy. I’m here to talk about why your best competitive advantage is going to be the advocates you create.

I always love following Jill Rowley on stage because she sets me up so perfectly. Forrester has been talking about the age of the customer since 2011, and Jill gave you an excellent sense of what that looks like from a sales perspective. What I’d like to do is kind of show you visually what it’s like.

Welcome to the age of the customer

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This is what we mean, by the age of the customer. This is a picture taken from the Vatican Square. This is during the funeral proceedings for the last pope who passed away. You can see, there’s one person down in the corner holding up a flip phone. But this a momentous time in the Catholic religion. Lots of people come to celebrate the life of what was John Paul the II.

This is in 2008. This is five years later in 2013 during the inauguration of the current pope, Pope Francis.

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You can see the difference in just five years. My question to all of you is—how well prepared are you to turn these empowered customers into your advocates? Because that’s what’s new in this digital age. Forrester has been writing about this since 2011. It’s the idea that, in a new business era, your competitive advantage is going to come from your ability to better connect with and serve empowered customers.

That competitive advantage is not going to come from making things more efficient in your business, but from spending money to make money to connect with your customers. That’s the thing that distinguishes this latest era that we’re in. If you think it’s something that’s just related to B2C, or consumers in general, you’d be wrong. B2B is very much empowered as well. We did some research recently with the Internet reseller group where we surveyed 300 business decision makers, companies with 100 employees or more, doing $1,000 signing capability. Of those people, 90% start business purchases online. Three quarters of them said they prefer doing that. They like going online to shop for business, to do things for business. More importantly— which I know Jill Rowley hates this statistic—53% said, “We prefer doing that than interacting with a salesperson because it kind of tells you where we are in terms of wanting to be independent and on their own.”

What are they doing it? Are they just whipping up the credit card and buying things now? Is we have to do is create an eCommerce site to allow those buyers to go online to engage with us?


The answer is they’re also out there finding information. Forrester probably has one of the longest continuous research studies of consumer buying habits related to technology, other than Nielsen. We do most research on people and ours happens to be around technology.


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As you can see from this statistic, it’s other people. People trust other people. Mark Organ asked you earlier to raise your hand if you’d use somebody to give you a recommendation for a purchase that you had made, and he was right. You experienced it, but the data supports it as well. It’s not just people doing this, but business people are doing it as well. Online, people are going to social networks and recommendation websites. In business, these are the kinds of places that they’re going to find out about you, your products, your services, and how well you serve your customers’ needs. There are a lot of people out there talking.

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Sometimes, that talking doesn’t kind of work out the way we expect it to. This is Dave Carroll, he’s a Canadian. This is the famous story about United Breaks Guitars. I think we all know that this happened in 2008. He put out the song in 2009. One day, he had 150,000 views and today it’s like it has 15 million views. It turned out to be a PR nightmare for United. But do we know the extent?

Within four days after his video came out and went viral, United stock went down by 10% costing shareholders a $180 million in value. This is the power of empowered buyers. We may think it’s fun and amusing and a great story, but there are business issues that can happen. There’s business value that can be won or lost when your buyer speak up. Now, it doesn’t always have to be negative, or disruptive. Because we have these things called our fans. As Joseph Jaffe calls them, they are our zealots, the people who love us and who will do anything for us.

Empowering buyers

In B2B, this is what we’re looking for. This is what leads to competitive advantage–tapping into this enthusiasm for our products and services and what we do, and turning it into business value, is a competitive advantage. This is a very exciting time to be in B2B marketing. This is something that we all need to put at the top of our strategy going forward in 2016 and later.

We asked a number of people, “What are you doing about advocacy?” They weren’t different levels, but a lot of them had already made the jump, like some of you who put your hands up into advocacy and were fairly far along.

What makes advocacy special today is buyers are empowered. They are out there sharing their experiences credibly. They’re also out there knowing that their journey is self-directed. They are out making decisions on their own without talking to you, visiting your website, talking to your sales people. You need to figure out how do you put information and communication out there so that they can get to it and listen to it. I think the best way of doing that is through your advocates. Scale is the thing that has really changed in the age of the customer.

Greater brand reach at a lower cost

The other thing is that it really changes the way marketing needs to think about going to marketing, or marketing and sales going to market. We’ve already had big criticism of the funnel because all we’re focused on is putting money in the top and hoping something comes out of the bottom.

It doesn’t work that way anymore. In fact, Forrester talks about not just the buyer’s journey but the customer’s lifecycle. That lifecycle starts with discovering that you have an issue and you need to solve it. Then exploring the options and finally, making a decision. We kind of draw the picture a little lopsided. Those six pieces in the middle are not equal in time. In fact, the first three probably account for the first 10 to 15% of the buyer’s journey. The last three account for the majority.

The other important part of it is that all the advocacy relationships I found in research are being treated like pinpoint programs. In B2B, we’ve always had reference programs, and always needed to have customer references. Many of us do customer advisory boards, it’s side of the really deep end of having a relationship with your customers. But this one program here, one program here, what we’re suggesting in this picture is that you bring it altogether, in treating it strategically, you can really start to develop relationships that go beyond sort of the value of what you’re going to get when they close the deal.

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I believe that marketing is the organization that has the most to win by taking this approach because your advocates are what expand your reach in the marketplace. They amplify your voice and your message without having to pay the cost of traditional media. This is very much like what Joseph Jaffe was saying: let’s start with a baseline of zero media cost and our advocates can help get those voices out there. That’s where part of the value comes from and part of the competitive advantage.

Measurable impact of advocacy

The other part of the competitive advantage really does come from the measurable things that an advocacy program can do for you. Now, I know she’s out there somewhere because she’s speaking later but Liz Pedro is a wonderful example. What she found is that she could create advocates, put the program in place and in a very short period of time, she had 1,400 advocates talking about her brand online on their own, 400-500 times a week.

Now, let’s just say the average time spent is five minutes. They do some tweeting, five minutes a week, if you multiply that out, that’s a whole head count that she’s getting advocates, her customers, her influencers, even employees to do for her instead of having to hire somebody to do it. But more importantly, it’s the 800 reviews on all sorts of sites they’re generating word of mouth on.

At Citrix, Liv Ruben calls this the reference engagement value. Reference is being the program that he’s focused on but references are advocates. They’ve shown this at Citrix by making sure that references are taken care of, that they’re cultivated the right way, that sales knows how to interact with them the right way, that their closing opportunities are shortened much greater and they get much more influence. They can really show a direct connection between the deals that have influencer or references associated with them. It’s measurable. You can see the impact of advocacy. That’s a competitive advantage.

The business value of advocacy

Things that go beyond this, I call the business value of advocacy. The example I’m using is Salesforce. This is one of the companies that we singled out in our research on the age of the customer. The key thing when you read the case study about Salesforce is that their digital transformation is driven by their advocates. They have 1.2 million people that are involved in their communities. Their community has given Salesforce  1,700 ideas that the brand has implemented since 2007. Every one of their releases is driven by what their community and advocates are telling them.

What they found is that people who participate in the community in the past three months will spend two times as much as those who don’t. They get 33% more adoption. Now, this is the kind of thing that makes a company successful: when customers use your product, tell you what they think of it, and work with you. Salesforce has used all those kinds of feedback to really digitize their business. All of the features and capabilities in their mobile application are delivered because of what advocates have told them.

But probably most importantly—and this is where I think it gets harder to measure the business value—the value becomes the kind of feeling that we’ve all had together today talking about what advocacy delivers. It is those engaged relationships that last a lifetime. Those relationships are harder to quantify but they’re interesting from this particular perspective and that we can all relate to them and we can see where that value extends over time.

Engaged relationships that last a lifetime

This story comes from a company called Signature Worldwide. Yhey’re in the hotel training business. In hotel training, the people who work in hotels tend to come in and out of the hotels a lot. They may work for a few years, or they may work for a lot of years, but they tend to circulate around. Being trained on the same software, the same platform really helps Signature Worldwide. They started creating an advocacy program to understand why people like their software. They asked “ Why did they like it and how can we do that?”

This quote from Holly Zoba, Sr. VP Sales Hospitality at Signature Worldwide, I find fascinating. She says: “Before, I had accounts. I knew I had executives in these accounts that I had to have relationships with but I didn’t feel like I had a relationship. Now, through the advocacy program, I know some detailed things like which books my CIO is reading. We chat about those instead of like talking about the weather or other kind of inane things that nobody wants to talk about when they first get you on the phone. It’s not only helped me but it’s helped our whole web of influencers to work with every account in this way. I think that’s the powerful thing about advocacy.”

Creating a successful program

If you’re going to have your advocate program grow, if you’re going to have it make an impact on your business, if you’re going to have it help you be more competitive, these are the things that you need to have as prerequisites.

1. What are your goals?

The first one is to create an understanding of what the program is supposed to do and how you’re going to measure it. What’s the success criteria? You can always start small but think strategically and go big. What does it look like when you have not just 20 or 30 customer references but 100 and every customer that you have is potentially talking about your brand and helping you extend your message in the marketplace?

2. What will you need to change to make it happen?

You need permission to change the status quo. This is sometimes hard because it requires you to put the customer first and understand what’s in it for them is more important than what’s in it for your business. You have to make some investments that you may not have made otherwise in order to always make that customer experience something that will create the trust and show the caring that Keith Ferrazzi talked about in his presentation.

3. What policies will you change around customer outreach?

You have to understand that customers don’t just belong to sales or the customer success management team. Alana Anderson was my research director at Forrester for a number of years. She’s now at Demandware. I remember interviewing her for this report, and she told me, “‘Never’ is not the answer to the question, ‘When is a good time to talk to the customer?’” You have to view those customers as company assets that can help your company grow, not as something that needs to be protected by the account team.

4. What resources will you need?

You must put some resources in place. Right now, there’s not a lot of resources being spent on these kinds of programs. But the combination of technology and human interaction is what helps those resources be very effective. Making these kinds of investments now is going to be able to set the table for creating those experiences at scale.

5. How will you make it valuable for all of your advocates?

Then finally, it’s about having a conversation and, having the right level person speak to customers at their level. If you want to create a broad-based program that gets everybody involved, you need to have both an enthusiastic young personsomebody who’s a social fanatic—and an executive advocate, someone who gets on stage with you, tells your story and commits their business resources to your business resources.

The ultimate question

These examples are making advocacy something that we can talk and share about today. It’s the transition from making us all feel good about it  to making it be something strategic that creates a competitive advantage for your company. Because remember, this is the age of the customer and it’s those empowered customers who are going to set the direction for whether your company is successful or not.

My last question to you, are you ready to survive in the age of the customer or thrive?

I would argue, as you get to know your customers better and work to serve them better, that you will have the ability to create these advocates who will stand at your side to take your company forward.

Forrester Report: Establish Your B2B Advocate Marketing Goals Before Choosing Tech Suppliers
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