How to Move from Tactical to Strategic: 5 Essentials Every Successful Customer Advocacy Program Needs

How to Move from Tactical to Strategic:
5 Essentials Every Successful Customer Advocacy Program Needs

Most customer advocacy programs initially start because of a business’s tactical need to supply a reference to a prospect for a sales opportunity. As such, many customer advocacy programs at some point in their evolution were called (and still may be), a customer reference program.

That tactical need for ‘on-demand’ references is often a reactive task. While technology and best practices have advanced to help customer reference managers become more proactive and strategic in the value they provide, it can sometimes be very difficult to change the perception of a program – especially given its humble birthplace in a business. As a result, customer advocacy programs are usually understaffed and underfunded but always the most important program when needed for the most important deal. You have experienced this, right?

The danger becomes when programs STAY in that “tactical only” box. When it comes time to slash budgets, Reference Programs can be one of the first to go because they haven’t gotten sticky enough or properly showcased the true revenue impact those activities have.

So as a Reference Manager, how can you avoid this fate? How do you make that switch from tactical to strategic in the eyes of your company stakeholders?

From Tactical to Strategic: Step by Step

How can you turn a tactical approach into a strategic approach for your customer program? Here are five essentials every successful customer advocacy program needs:

  1. Have sales and marketing agree on a Customer Engagement Strategy. This is a holistic view of who, when, and how your company engages a customer. It includes interaction beyond the sales account manager to such groups as customer success, account-based marketing, product marketing, and customer advocacy.
    “I recommended at that time that we consolidate the disparate teams and the varied programs into one. We needed to treat Client References as a discipline, the same way we treated Advertising.” -Matt Young, Program Director of Corporate Marketing at IBM; Silos Belong on a Farm Not a Reference Program_IBM Story 
  2. Establish meaningful metrics for all pillars of your customer engagement. Metrics may include: revenue impact, program recruitment, customer success stories, social media stats, impact on Net Promoter Score and renewal rates, and online product reviews. Gathering a baseline is important so you can make strategic decisions in the future. Find some helpful tips in this Customer Reference Metrics & Reporting
  3. Leverage Technology wherever possible. For example, many of today’s reference management software solutions can be integrated with various other platforms you have in your existing tech stack environment (like Salesforce, Marketo, Gainsight, Influitive, etc.) and automate the processes you have established in your program for customer engagement, like developing a customer success story, tracking revenue to reference requests or nominating customers for the program.
  4. Get Executive Management Visibility. This is perhaps the most critical piece when looking to transition your program from tactical-based to strategic value driver. CMO’s and CSO’s have dashboards – ensure you have a metric being tracked on their dashboards. All CMO’s want to hear about brand advocates. And every CSO wants to know how and where revenue is being impacted. If you are not at a place where you are being asked for this information then provide it in a way this audience will welcome it. This could be a monthly report on advocacy type activity for the CMO, like new customer success stories, joint press releases, joint advertising, etc. For the CSO, monthly updates on revenue influenced, deals closed/won and new customers joining your program gives more meaning to being proactive in the sales cycle with customer advocacy.
  5. Build Brand Advocates. Make it easy for customers to become advocates to generate content and provide feedback about your brand. Social Media and online product reviews are a great start!

It Can Be Done: IBM’s Strategic Program Transformation

IBM was creative in engaging their customers about their brand. In 2017, the company launched IBM Client Success Field Notes. It is a blog featuring posts written by customers and business partners. “We all know 1:1 reference meetings between clients and prospects are the most effective at helping close business. We are just introducing an authentic voice earlier in the sales cycle with our personalized reference deliverables,” said Jolene Hall, Global Client References Strategy at IBM.

As mentioned above, strategic customer advocacy programs do not operate alone, in a silo. They are integrated into both your customer engagement strategy and your customer’s business. Executive stakeholder alignment and support in these areas can be crucial for aiding in program transformation.

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