Part one in a three-part series.
In today’s customer-empowered world, customer advocacy programs have to step up. That’s a clear lesson from the Advanced Practices (AP) firms from our recent, groundbreaking research.These are the programs that capture the customer stories that are crucial to winning empowered buyers. Click To Tweet
And the AP customer advocacy programs are playing increasingly important support roles in getting those stories out to the market, as well as in creating successful customers in the first place.
Today’s customer advocacy programs are throwing off the old ways of traditional reference programs, which were run as cost centers at the beck and call of ad hoc requests from sales and marketing, churning out PDF case studies that sat on websites unread, and which, over time, were forced completely off the corporate strategy track by such reactive pressures.
The following are two of the key initiatives AP firms use to create customer advocacy programs that fully develop the immense potential of their successful customers to help grow the business.
To harness this latent potential, companies will need to develop their reference managers to play this expanded, strategic role—or find someone who can.
How AP Firms Are Expanding the Portfolio of Customer Advocacy Programs
Find talented executives and managers.
Responding to customer needs and wishes, advocacy programs at the AP firms are deploying advocates throughout the entire customer journey—starting with awareness and going straight through post-sale implementation. This will continue to be an area of considerable innovation, as firms learn just how much their buyers and customers want to affiliate with each other.
To handle the innovation and TCE integration such an approach requires, AP firms are placing talented managers and executives in charge of these programs—such as Misys’s Chris Adlard, Adobe’s Lisa Hanna, BMC’s Kim Ellis, Citrix’s Lee Rubin and Pascale Royal, and FireEye’s Abby Atkinson. They align their CA programs tightly with corporate strategy, help identify marquee customers, and give them advocacy and related experiences that excite them. They get senior management support and “air cover” to get rid of or automate non-strategic busywork. And they hold themselves and their teams accountable for meeting strategic objectives measured by meaningful metrics. As we’ll see in subsequent articles, advocacy programs in the future may well play an increasingly central role in integrating the firm’s Total Customer Engagement (TCE) activities.
Align with—and help drive—strategy.
Customer advocacy managers at the AP firms are taking more active roles in their firms’ strategy —asking a lot of questions of their senior management, and in some cases where the answers are a bit fuzzy, going out and getting the answers themselves.
- What kind of customers do we want?
- What stories do we want them to tell?
- Who are our marquee customers—the ones who wield outsized inﬂuence in our target markets, and whose passion for innovation will pull us toward our future?
- Which customer spokespeople do we need? C-level? Line of business? Implementation?
- What are the advocacy needs of marketing and sales in upcoming campaigns this year?
For instance, Adobe is in the midst of transforming its business—like many of the AP firms— from a product focus and tactical solutions to a broader array of integrated strategic solutions for its customers. Lisa Hanna, the firm’s global manager of customer programs, worked with the firm’s executive vice president of worldwide field marketing operations as well as senior marketing and business unit leaders to get specific answers to questions like those above.
That resulted in a detailed roadmap Hanna and her team then used to cultivate the right customer advocates for Adobe’s new strategy: customers at the C-level in their corporate office, as well as heads of relevant lines of business, who could talk about the broader solutions Adobe now emphasizes.
During execution of the strategy, Hanna received important “air cover” from senior management. She was concerned that references would be requested by the business units to tout their particular product lines. Senior management informed the BUs about the new regime and its focus on broad Adobe-wide solutions—which put a stop to the old requests. In line with their enhanced strategic role, Hanna and her team—and not PR or marketing—are now in charge of setting priorities for the advocacy activities of the firm’s high-demand marquee customers.
In my next article, we’ll look at how AP firms are hiring the right people for advancing their customer advocacy and engagement programs, and how they’re developing more relevant measures to assess their effectiveness.