If only reading your customers’ minds was as easy as peering into a crystal ball…
Then you could get to know them on a personal level—a necessary part of laying the groundwork to engage them. The benefits of creating an engaged community are twofold: first, you’re cementing customer loyalty by adding value and giving them an incredible experience. And second, you’re able to access golden insights from your customers that can (and should!) inform every part of your business strategy.
I still haven’t been able to get my hands on that crystal ball. But in my experience, the next best thing is an advocate marketing program.
So how do you get to know your customers well enough to develop a program that truly speaks to them?
Read on to learn about our tried-and-true methods for engaging customers. Plus, see 4 examples of how top advocate marketers are cultivating thriving communities using these approaches.
1. Poll customers through an interactive survey in your community
First, you need to create space for users to connect with each other and your team through either an interactive engagement or advocacy platform, an online community, or a private social network. Having a two-way channel of communication will give your customers a sense of purpose and empowerment, which you can’t easily achieve via one-to-many email blasts or content campaigns.
Then, you can survey customers to gauge their interests. Gaining insight into not just their professional lives, but also their personal interests will make it easier to engage with them. It’s important to collect and store this data in a way that will make it easier to segment your customers and tailor their experience in the future.
How Carbon Black engages customers on their own terms
Carbon Black, a leading provider of endpoint security solutions, wanted to save time sourcing customers for product feedback and PR opportunities. Kate Cohen, Senior Manager of Product Marketing, leveraged an interactive advocacy platform to help her team recruit, engage, and reward several hundred customers.
Via the platform, members are first asked to specify which activities would interest them most. Based on their feedback, they’re presented with relevant (but optional) opportunities to interact with the Carbon Black team.
“The ability for our customers to opt in is priceless because they can decide when and how they want to engage,” says Kate. “When we were doing manual outreach before, it was a time suck for us to figure out who to get in touch with, and then reach out one-by-one. We also experienced a lot of advocate burnout because we were going to the same people over and over again. Now, we don’t have to worry.”
Carbon Black’s team has gone from weeks to days regarding the time it takes them to source customers to participate in UX research and interviews for PR opportunities.
This survey asks advocates to indicate what activities they’d like to learn more about in the future.
2. Build trust by showing off your personality and encouraging customers to do the same
Introducing your customers to the people behind your products will make them feel closer to your company and will help to humanize your brand. Also, enabling them to get to know each other better—on both personal and professional levels—will build trust.
This makes it more likely that your customer-facing teams will get honest customer feedback and insights, and that your customers will respond to your requests for advocacy in the future.
How Hero K12 starts relationships off on the right foot
Jessica Mitchell, Customer Marketing Manager at Hero K12—a provider of cloud-based student behavior management software—gets to know her new advocacy program members better by asking them to partake in a “5 Things About Me, 5 Things About You” challenge when they first join. Through the challenge, both customers and the Hero K12 team share personal details and fun facts about themselves. Then, Jessica personally responds to each submission. She also sends a personalized note to all new members.
“People advocate for other people—not for faceless companies. I knew that if our advocates got to know me better as a person, they would be more likely to lend a hand in the future. I make a concerted effort to know our customers on a personal level because they are champions for our business!” says Jessica. “We also encourage them to introduce themselves in the community so that they can connect with other advocates.” By personalizing the customer experience, Jessica inspired 900+ engaged advocates to submit referrals (which generated $113K+ in revenue), sourced 243 testimonials, and uncovered 43 new referenceable customers.
Jessica shares both professional and personal details with advocates, so they feel closer to her.
3. Show them your fun side to increase engagement
Just because your customer relationship is a business transaction, doesn’t mean it has to be boring and impersonal. Show them your team’s fun side. Spice up your typical customer communications with pop culture references your customers will enjoy.
Also, go beyond messages that are topical to their industry or role. Using timely references to current events, like sports or holidays, will show off your team’s personal interests and make customers more likely to engage with your campaigns, and share their own passions.
How Quick Base makes collecting feedback fun
To make the process of collecting customer feedback fun and engaging, Davin Wilfrid, Senior Manager, Content & Customer Advocacy at Quick Base—a no-code platform for building applications—once asked customers to complete a ‘Mad Libs’-style challenge in which advocates were asked very straightforward fill-in-the-blanks questions about the product. The request for feedback worked really well because it was easy for customers to answer—compared to more open-ended questions that require more effort.
“Busy professionals won’t read anything longer than 200 words with no bullets, and they won’t wade through the fluff to find the point of your content. You have to give it to them quickly,” says Davin.
The 100+ responses collected had a deep impact on the Quick Base product team. The SVP of strategy even shared the results across his entire organization and encouraged managers to share responses internally.
This fun and fast request made it easier to understand what value customers get from the product.
4. Learn what your customers truly value to motivate them
To deliver value that goes beyond a typical vendor relationship, you need to ask your customers what they need to prosper (aside from successfully using your product) and give it to them.
By helping your customers solve bigger professional problems, network with peers, or master a new skill, they’ll see you as a trusted advisor who really understands them, instead of just another software provider.
With the right technology, you can use the data you collect to customize the content and advocacy opportunities you show customers in the future.
How MongoDB empowers customers to become bloggers
To teach other developers about MongoDB—an open-source cross-platform document-oriented database—Francesca Krihely, Senior Manager of Developer Marketing, empowered members of her advocate community to create content about their use of the software.
“A lot of them had indicated to us that they wanted to start blogging,” says Francesca. So, in her advocate community, she created a series of educational resources about how to become a blogger—from writing tips to web hosting suggestions.
In response, MongoDB had over 120 blogs written by their advocates in the first year— all because the company removed a few obstacles and equipped advocates with helpful tools.
Francesca shares the content her advocates create to make educating the entire community easier.
The future belongs to companies who embrace their advocates
Getting to know your advocates is arguably the most important—and the most difficult—part of launching an advocate marketing program.
But if you invest the time to deeply understand the pain points, personal interests, and motivators of your advocates, the payoff will be enormous. Why? Because you will have the blueprint for creating a program that they will love.
And once you’ve built a community that advocates love, encouraging them to advocate for your brand and spread their love will be a piece of cake. No crystal ball necessary.