If you could meet anyone, who would it be? Chances are you’ve got a must-meet list in your head, even if you don’t realize it. In fact, if I asked you right now you’d probably come up with a name or two in seconds.
I’ve got a must-meet list as well and so does everyone else I know. We’re all driven to connect with people we admire and can learn from, whether personally or professionally.
My question is: why do we so often ignore this must-meet list when it comes to our advocacy programs? Why do we forget to thank advocates with amazing people-meeting opportunities that build strong ties with our best customers, help us understand what they want and how they use our product, create buzz around our initiatives, and send powerful positive messages about our brand?
Don’t let this fall off your advocacy program strategy list. Connecting your best customers with the people they want to meet is one of the most powerful tools in our advocacy kit.
In this article I’ll talk about how I discovered the benefits of connecting advocates with the people they want to meet and how you can do the same.
The power of personal connections
When I started my first advocacy program in 2008, I struggled to come up with ways of thanking my program members for their amazing efforts. At first I went with product gift cards and this was a big mistake for two reasons:
- They’re expensive.
- They send the wrong message to advocates and the greater community.
Remember acts of advocacy stem from an affinity for a brand and its products, not getting cool stuff. (There are two exceptions to that rule: if the gift cards are a one-off surprise—not a motivator—or the cards play a small part of your thank you strategy but are not the main focus.)
Luckily for me I discovered a much better way to thank them. Here’s how it happened and why it was so powerful.
The power of the must-meet list
One of my early advocates, let’s call him Frank, had done some amazing things for us, especially around writing blog content and helping other customers create photo albums using our online platform. I thought that the only value for him was the satisfaction that his photography and expertise were being publicly celebrated and utilized. I was wrong.
One day out of the blue Frank said, “I want to visit your office. I’m going to fly out there.” Frank lived on the other side of the continent and was offering to travel to our location on his own dime. He was also in his 80s. Wow. Amazing, Frank.
Needless to say, Frank’s trip changed everything. I saw his face genuinely light up when he met me and other people in the office. He truly enjoyed making personal face-to-face connections with everyone at the company. To me, office and colleagues spelled normal, but to Frank they spelled extraordinary. This was his mecca.
From that day on I made sure to take advantage of connecting advocates to the people they wanted to meet, whenever and wherever possible. Some opportunities were ad hoc and others were well planned, but that must-meet list was always on my radar.
In my subsequent gigs at tech companies I developed processes for incorporating must-meet opportunities into the fabric of the program and these efforts never failed to bring results. Whenever I did, our advocates felt more connected and engaged, which led to higher participation. They blogged about our products, spoke about our brand in their local schools, universities and even coffee shops, created videos, shared on social, and helped fellow customers.
One moment stands out for me in particular. We were at our biggest company event of the year and my colleague managed to set up a meeting between several advocates and a sales engineer. After the meeting one of the advocates came up to me and said it was the most important part of the entire experience for him. I had never seen him so animated. This calm mature IT engineer was talking like a teenager, full of energy and inspiration. Why? Because he’d experienced a must-meet moment. Millions of dollars had been spent on this event, with every kind of bell, whistle, speaker, and fever-inducing freebie imaginable, and what stuck in this man’s mind? A conversation. To him, THE conversation.
Now that I’ve told you about my must-meet journey and the benefits of connecting advocates with people they want to meet, let’s talk about your journey and how you and your company can discover those same benefits.
Top five must-meet list best practices
1. Ask your advocates who is on their must-meet list
To connect your advocates with the people they want to meet, you need to find out who’s on their must-meet lists. So ask them. Also ask what they want to learn about and dig down to specifics to be sure you make the connections relevant. Make this process scalable through platforms that allow you to collect and track the most up to date feedback automatically. Most important, follow through to make those connections happen!
2. Achieve scale with calendared conversations
You may think, “Come on Rachel, I can’t make separate connections for each and every advocate. That’s hundreds of conversations!” You’re right, you can’t. So here’s what you do: schedule group conversations on a regular basis, focusing on the most popular must-meet asks. Push reminders out through old-fashioned email or work with a platform that will allow you to automate the invite and RSVP process. Make these conversation regularly scheduled events, using tools that allows video and screen sharing. If you have a worldwide advocate audience, find a time or times that will work with the majority of zones. And if your advocates are power users, devote only 20% of your time to presenting and 80% to conversation. Power users want to ask deep-dive questions and receive in-depth answers.
3. Don’t be shy with your superstars
“Rach, I can’t ask the VP of Product Development to meet my advocates—she wouldn’t be interested.” Awww come on, don’t chicken out, she might might surprise you.
High level execs, at least in large companies, usually live a 24/7 life of talking points, company visions and speeches. Meeting with a small group of their best customers can be a refreshing change and provide them a view they don’t usually see. Give them a chance to say yes. Same goes for other company superstars. You may think they’re unreachable, but you’ll only find out if you ask, and more often than not, they’ll surprise you with an affirmative.
4. Advocates come first
You’re balancing a lot of goals when it comes to advocacy: your company, program, stakeholder and—most importantly—advocate goals. Make sure your advocates come first, especially when it comes to their must-meet list.
Let’s say your product marketing team thinks a high-level overview of the latest product is just fine for advocates, because their product expert is too busy. But you know your advocates want a deep dive into features and functionality. Push back and get what your advocates want: the expert. If you don’t, you’re going to weaken your program because no one’s goals will be met. Your product marketing team may grumble at first, but when they see the benefits of an enthusiastic group of advocates (like awesome conversation, valuable product feedback and social media buzz), they’ll realize the expert was worth it.
More importantly, your advocates will appreciate the robust conversation and information they can directly apply to their jobs. This positive experience will improve your program results through higher advocate engagement and loyalty.
5. Look for hidden gems in unexpected places
Must-meet treasures lie just below the surface of your initial list; you just have to dig for them. If you’re lucky, the treasures may even present themselves to you!
That’s what happened to me back in 2013. My colleague and I were talking about the brand new look of our social media displays. The displays were made up of of nine large monitors that formed a giant square, showcasing live feeds of company-related social media activity from all over the world. These physical displays were permanent fixtures in our our social media department and company visiting center, a museum/inspiration area for visitors to walk through. She asked if I thought our advocates would be interested in a virtual presentation of our displays and giving feedback on their new look.
At first I thought no, our advocates are IT die-hards who want to talk IT product. No way they’d care about fluffy social media display stuff. They were active on social but that was irrelevant, right? …Or was it?
After more digging I discovered advocates would get a behind the scenes look at how the system worked and would speak with someone who was an expert user—in other words, a must-meet candidate. This new information led me to cautiously move from no to yes, but I was nervous. Would anyone show up? Would this crowd be bored to tears? Was my treasure really fool’s gold?
I shouldn’t have worried. Their affinity for social media and fascination for the workings behind platforms turned out to make this a perfect must-meet fit. Back-and-forth conversation flowed and one advocate loved the visuals so much he asked what the pricing was for the displays. (Conveniently these displays happened to incorporate our product.)
Now that you’ve discovered the benefits of connecting advocates to the people they want to meet, and learned how to make it happen, you need to take the first step: ask your advocates for their must-meet lists!