How to Distinguish Between Happy Customers and Loyal Champions


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It’s no secret that customer champions are something for which every cloud software company strives.

And while many companies invest the time and resources to create a connection with customers (and in doing so, build loyalty), most companies have a hard time distinguishing between a base of happy customers and those whose brand affinity knows no limits.

And in my experience, those champions are the ones that can fuel marketing campaigns that help build companies. Identifying potential champions (and then cultivating them) are two related, but very separate challenges.

If you’re lucky enough to have a stable base of happy customers, how do you actually go about identifying them – and encourage to them to advocate for you?

Define Your Criteria

The first step can be as simple as identifying and defining the characteristics you want “champions” to have. That includes determining the profile and behaviors you want to see and measuring based on that criteria. It’s different for all companies, but the most commons criteria I see revolve around referral frequency, social media presence and industry know-how.

In our efforts at Sage Intacct, we look for customers who have the following in each of our market segments (based on company size) and by user type (CFO vs. controller vs. IT):

– Microvertical expertise
– Accounting & finance expertise
– Strong social media presence
– Compelling use case/ROI
– Early adopter of new features
– Articulate speaker (web vs. in-person)
– Repeat customer
– Refers friends/colleagues

Map Out Associated Activities

Once you have defined your criteria, it’s time to identify the activities that will start to help customer champions show themselves. Some of these will be easy to spot, others will be more intangible characteristics about the customer relationship. Here are a few things I see companies value:

– Actions Speak Loudly: Champions go beyond touting brands via social media and to their network. They fly out to events to speak on a brand’s behalf. They attend not just the annual customer conference, but any type of regional event it holds. They refer their friends and colleagues and put their personal reputation on the line.

– Commitment Despite Issues: Champions see the long game. No brand is without bumps or immune from poor decision-making. Champions will experience these blips (whether it’s an impossible upgrade or service slowdown) and maybe even disagree with some product decisions, but it won’t interfere with the long-term brand love they’ve built. Apple is the obvious example here. While many might complain about changes in cord types or chargers, they still continue to purchase their products exclusively.

– Take You With Them: Champions take you everywhere they go. Today’s workforce is more transient than ever and a true champion will make your offering a requirement for every new job they take. When this happens, not only have you created an amazing advocate, you have created a self-generating revenue machine.

Measure Success

Too many companies forget this crucial step. Companies must find a way to rank customers with ease and confidence. More often than not, I see companies do this by assigning number values for each activity to determine an overall advocacy rating. At Sage Intacct, we look at a number of different factors when determining if a customer is happy vs. a real champion for our business. These factors include:

– Bookings impacted by champion
– Number of referrals submitted
– Number references performed
– Number speaking engagements completed
– Participation in early adopter programs
– Number of ideas (product enhancements) submitted
– Level of participation in Sage Intacct community
– ROI/Business impact of implementing Sage Intacct
– Level of product usage
– NPS survey scores
– Number of external reviews completed

Regardless of which measures you decide to implement, you should ensure you have the resources to consistently track and update them (the best option is in your CRM system so that you can map to bookings impact and other pipeline data). In some cases, less is more to ensure quality of your data. After ensuring you can consistently measure your defined success criteria, develop the minimum threshold for each of them to be awarded champion status. You can then easily report on your customers and where they are on their journey to becoming a champion customer.

Don’t Expect to Outsource

Customer engagement platforms like Influitive have seen significant growth because they make it so much easier to scale these efforts and provide customers an easy way in which they can opt-in to advocacy activities and earn rewards for advocating for the brand. However, there is no one-size-fits-all solution that engages both tactical day-to-day users and executive sponsors. I’ve found, for example, that executives prefer strongly to just talk to other executives and you’re not likely to find them logging into a third-party service to advocate. To develop loyal champions, you will need to develop a multi-faceted program that reaches all of your user types.

These kinds of behaviors and beliefs unfortunately can’t be automated or measured by software. It takes a much more hands-on, intensive approach that requires time and investment. It’s one reason why so few brands excel at putting real champions at the center of their company’s marketing efforts – and why so many are in search of a magic fix to come upon them.

(Hint: If you can’t tell already, it doesn’t exist.)

Kathy Lord
Kathy Lord is Senior Vice President, Sales & Customer Success at Sage Intacct, where she leads sales activities and operations, supporting both the direct sales team and the channel partners. Kathy has nearly 20 years of sales management experience at startups and major software companies, such as Proofpoint, Biz360, Trading Dynamics, Ariba, and Hyperion. Kathy holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Agribusiness from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo.


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