Part two in a three-part series
In this article, we’ll look at how AP firms are hiring the right people for advancing their customer advocacy and engagement programs, as well as learning to do more with less. The reasons for this are actually a bit of a paradox:
- Increasing the understanding of the strategic importance of customer advocacy programs. These are summed up nicely by Saar Shwartz, Vice President of Product Marketing & Analyst Relations at BMC, who participated in our recently published research: “Customer advocacy is foundational to what we do at BMC.”
- Persistently tight budgets that are allocated to these programs.
Hire relationship people.
Here’s an astonishing fact. In many firms, very possibly including some who are reading this report, no one is building long-term relationships with customers—even their marquee customers. Sales and even account managers aren’t doing so; they’re too focused on getting new deals, and in any case, they tend not to stay long in a position or with a firm.
Who knows the names of your marquee customers’ families? Birthdays? What do they want for their careers? Their lives? Without such knowledge, how can an advocacy program help them build their careers? How can your firm connect emotionally with them?
AP customer advocacy programs are placing significant emphasis on personal relationships— especially with their marquee customers.You don’t build relationships with companies, you build relationships with people. Click To Tweet
At BMC, Saar Shwartz and his customer advocacy manager, Kim Ellis, place major emphasis on building personal relationships with customers— especially the marquees.
Ellis has reorganized her team so that each member will have more time to build deep relationships with customer advocates, with a focus on the firm’s marquee customers. She credits that for turning the program from one with little passion among its customer advocates to one in which key customers are approaching the CA team, asking, “When can we do our next video?” During its most recent sales kickoff, the firm wanted three top customers for a short panel. Ellis and her team had no problem finding three customers, despite the fact they had to fly to get there—for a 20-minute panel! Ellis attributes their willingness to the reorientation of her team toward developing personal relationships with key customers. “That would never have happened, even a year ago,” says Ellis.
Lisa Hanna at Adobe is particularly focused on building personal relationships with the firm’s marquee customers. Her team has gone to an account management (AM) model for its advocates—which, sans commissions, aligns them with customer advocate needs better than traditional account managers are.
Hanna explains: “We have a tight team with only four reference managers who have 25 to 30 strategic accounts assigned to them. They are measured by pipeline penetration: At least 80% of the reference targets in their pipeline should be references by fiscal year end. They’re also measured by the value of the reference participation in key Adobe business activities that directly impact awareness and business closure.”
Do more with less.
For some years, analysts and research firms, recognizing the importance of putting buyers together with happy customers, have been urging firms to increase the budgets of customer advocacy programs. So has the Center for Customer Engagement.
But it’s not happening. Even in AP firms who “get it,” budgets for advocacy programs aren’t increasing.
BMC’s Shwartz explains: “When you cut salespeople, the impact on revenue is very apparent. It falls noticeably and in a very short time. But when you cut resources and even headcount for a customer advocacy program, the short-term impact is not so noticeable—it can be negligible. Of course, the long-term impact is significant. You’re compromising your long-term relationships with your best customers. But that doesn’t get the attention that short-term impacts do. It’s just the nature of business.”
AP customer advocacy programs are learning to deal with this—which may not be a bad thing. Frugality often spurs innovation.
A focused, strategic approach helps them to set priorities—indeed, to enforce priorities. With Lisa Hanna put in charge of developing Adobe’s marquee customers, the CMO wasn’t about to allow anyone, including the product-focused business units, to get her off that track.
To stay focused on priorities, advanced practices advocacy managers automate as much as they can. Lee Rubin at Citrix, knowing his small team couldn’t hope to keep up with ad hoc reference requests from sales, created a searchable, self-service system they could use instead. And he made sure that the system worked well by a) consulting with sales and marketing during development, and b) enforcing its use. “I’m sorry, but every reference request has to be made through our automated system,” says an auto-reply email to such requests.
And they make generous use of customer ranking or “tiering” to help further set priorities. The result? Advocacy managers have time and resources—despite their scarcity—to fully develop relationships with and leverage their most important customer advocates.