Most companies only think about case studies and references when they have an urgent need, sending a frantic email or Slack looking for a customer to talk to a prospect on the last day of the quarter. To make matters even more challenging, it likely can’t be any customer; instead it has to be one that meets very specific criteria, like industry or size. A scramble ensues. Some companies try building reference programs, sometimes successfully. But more often than not, they end up in a last-minute quest for someone willing to speak about their experience publicly – whether that be for a customer webinar, as a reference for an analyst, or to participate in an interview with the media.
This typically results in a lot of outreach to the same two or three customers, burning them out and creating a perception that they’re the only ones who will speak on the company’s behalf.
Why do companies continue to struggle with this challenge? I believe it’s because they don’t view advocacy as a key product of the customer journey. We need to care for our customers in a way that nurtures their willingness to advocate for us as part of our normal, everyday operations. The best analogy for this approach is the sales process.
Creating Trust and Value
A salesperson doesn’t just ask for the deal on the first call. Instead, they work to build trust and value with a prospect over the course of the selling process, moving from lead to qualified lead to prospect and so on. They know that if they do enough of this work across their pipeline, the number of customers who sign deals will add up to their sales target.
So it is with advocacy. Companies will always need a pool of advocates: someone who will participate in case studies, others who provide references, others who will agree to let you publicly use their name and logo, and so much more. To create and keep this pool fresh, you must nurture advocacy at every stage of the customer’s relationship.
Here are three tips to help you set up your own customer reference pipeline:
• Incentivize advocacy at the time of sale. Some companies include a clause in their sales contracts that offer a discount to customers willing to participate in various advocacy roles. By doing this, customers that might be on the fence have an additional incentive to participate. Sometimes this gentle push is all customers need to agree to engage.
• Build advocacy into every stage of the post-sale journey. Companies can do this by injecting asks and incentives (for both the customer and Customer Service Rep (CSRs)) along the way. Have customers said they had a great onboarding process? Ask them about advocacy in exchange for additional training. Rewarding onboarding staff who land advocates is the perfect way to ensure customers are happy from the minute they engage with your company.
• Carefully collect – and tell – success stories. With collaboration from internal customer advocacy teams, processes can be put in place to connect happy customers with your marketing team, which is responsible for helping to tell those positive customer stories publicly. Your customers need to know that this isn’t all one-sided, and that your goal, always, is to make them look good, too. Customers are typically more willing to participate when they already feel the love.
Using Sales As Your Guide
When companies treat advocacy like the sales pipeline, they get rid of the scramble to round up case studies and testimonials last-minute, and they also avoid bothering the same customers over and over again. Instead, they’re able to focus on building close relationships with customers from the moment the contract is signed. Following the tips above will help any marketer or customer success manager develop the kind of advocacy program they want — one that’s loved by both customer and company alike.