This is the first of an ongoing series that will cover the journey of starting Crimson Hexagon’s customer advocacy program.
Advocate marketing as a discipline came about as a result of the limitations of three B2B tech trends:
- Customer reference programs only effectively scale at large organizations
- Marketing automation’s primary focus is on prospects, and advocacy is much more than nurture campaigns
- Customer success managers are great at 1-1 customer work but are challenged by 1-many customer activities. For example, do you really want each CSM to organize their own user groups and other advocacy programs?
When I initiated Brainshark’s advocacy program seven years ago, we were early adopters and had to figure it out on the fly. Today, advocacy is well on its way to being professionalized.
Crimson Hexagon is typical in that it waited until it had a strong base of customers to start its advocacy program. Now that advocacy is being more widely adopted, companies should consider instituting advocacy earlier in their lifecycle, perhaps when they reach as few as 100 customers.
Deciding when an advocacy program should start and where it should live means thinking about who is best to manage it.
In this post, I’ll outline the structure of Crimson Hexagon’s team and offer interviewees interested in advocate marketing roles a series of questions they should ask before taking an advocacy-focused position.
Building an advocate marketing dream team: internal vs. external hires
When first forming their team, many companies starting an advocacy program will look inwards to promote a candidate rather than find someone from the outside with advocacy experience.
Having been on both sides of that equation:
- The pros of an internal person are product and customer knowledge. However, they will lack organizational legitimacy, as they do not have domain experience.
- The pros of an external person are knowledge of advocacy and a fresh perspective. This gives the position organizational legitimacy. However, the new person does not have the product knowledge and they need to determine if a deep understanding of the product is an immediate priority. If not, time during the crucial start-up phase might be better spent in other ways.
If the person responsible for advocacy is going to be part of an existing customer marketing effort, a more junior person—perhaps coming out of support—would be a good fit. On the other hand, if your company is making the commitment by starting a new department, you are probably going to hire an experienced person from outside the organization.
Structuring your advocacy team
The Crimson Hexagon job description for my role did a good job summing it up:
As the Director of Customer Advocacy, you will help chart the course of our advocacy program. You will develop programs and tactics that strengthen our relationship with customers. Your impact on our customers will reach far and wide, from one-on-one to one-to-many outreach, from customer reference management to sales enablement, and regional user events to strategic executive events.
Next, we hired an Advocacy Specialist who came out of the support organization, which meant that the team has instant product and customer expertise. We looked for a person with email marketing and event experience as well, and were lucky to find it.
Six months after the launch, the advocacy program grew and new programs were added, meaning it was time to add a third person to round out our team. In order to add more depth, we looked for someone with community-building experience and had to look outside of Crimson Hexagon. Their tasks include:
- Managing the Influitive advocacy platform
- Overseeing the Help Center and community site in ZenDesk
- Maintaining data integrity in Salesforce.com
We’re keeping the team purposefully small at three, as it allows us to be nimble while having the resources to respond to both customer and company needs.
I recommend for every five to ten customer success staff you have, consider hiring one advocacy person.
Good questions for advocate marketers to ask their interviewers
When interviewing candidates for a position, I learn as much about the person from the questions they ask as from the questions they answer. A lot of people have the skills. The applicant’s goal should be to demonstrate that they understand the company, the role of advocacy and the position. Then we can mutually determine if the fit is a good one.
Here are some questions you might want to ask a hiring manager before taking on an advocate marketing position:
1. How long has there been an advocacy program and is this position a new one?
The answer will let you know if it is a start-up group or a new position that needs to prove and define itself. A new group and position will give you the opportunity to impact direction. Established ones will are easier to join and get up to speed.
Be prepared to answer and have examples for the counter-question: are you someone best suited for lots of change or do you prefer stability?
2. What are the key 2016 goals and metrics for the company and the advocacy team?
A company should have three types of goals around advocacy: company, team and personal goals.
A. Company goals. One of Crimson Hexagon’s KPIs is continuing to increase our NPS score, on which advocacy can have a direct impact.
B. Team goals. A typical advocacy program’s goals are to:
- Foster a community among users
- Identify and energize advocates
- Generate stories for marketing, sales and customer success to use in their work and for customers to share with each other.
Some are hard to quantify and for year 1, you may need to guesstimate the number of advocates you expect, which will affect how many stories are developed and or how many advocates participate in events, etc.
C. Personal goals. These should be developed with the advocacy manager.
3. Does customer advocacy live in marketing or in the customer care organization?
My guess is 90% of advocacy teams live in marketing. That’s because marketing has the budget, and if the top priority is to generate leads that’s where advocacy probably belongs.
At Crimson Hexagon, the Customer Care group is made up of customer support, coaching/implementation, professional services and customer success. Advocacy is the newest group to join Customer Care. I believe it’s a super important message to customers that their new advocacy program is aligned with the customer facing part of the organization.
4. Does advocacy have a budget?
This is a more important question than you would think, as it shows organizational commitment. Managing without a budget slows you down and makes it hard to plan. Thankfully, we are responsible for our budget.
5. What opportunities are there for advancement?
Crimson, like so many other tech companies, has a young workforce. As we are growing, it is a priority of the management team to identify career tracks so we can invest in and keep employees.
Our expectation is that, after a year, an advocacy hire could consider:
- Becoming a Customer Success Manager
- Joining the professional services team as an analyst
- Going into support
- Moving to another department
6. Does the company’s product resonate with you?
The last and probably most important question is the one you have to ask of yourself. Although I am not a data analyst, I love looking at data in order to determine customer utilization patterns and related trends, so working for a social media data analytics and insight platform is a fit for my DNA. Is it a fit for you?
If you don’t love what the company you work for does, it will be hard to motivate your customers to become raving fans.