An enduring question for professionals running customer engagement and advocacy programs is, “How do we get strong support from our C-suite?” Here are pragmatic, powerful steps you can start taking immediately.
Your C-Suite’s Top Priorities: Like the Back of Your Hand
In particular, keep abreast of the top priorities for your CEO, CMO and the head of sales. The phrase “top priorities” doesn’t mean their goals for your program. It means their top priorities, period, and regardless of anything your program is doing. These are the things they devote the bulk of their time to working on. They’re thinking about them daily. They’re keeping them “top of mind.” Their priorities generally include things like:
- revenue growth
- profitable growth
- customer retention (since this is increasingly critical to successful growth)
- new customer acquisition
- profit margins or costs
… and the like. Top priorities in the C-suite are not likely to include how many references you have, how many videos you’re creating this year or how well your advocacy program is integrated with sales and marketing. The C-suite is not thinking about these day to day.
When you want to engage the C-suite—to get their rapt attention—lead with one of their top priorities, and show them how you and your program can make a big contribution to it. Because very likely, as we’ll see, you can.
Frame Your C-Suite’s Priorities in Terms of the Customer Journey
Let’s take another look at the C-suite priorities listed above. Chances are good that one or more of these are top of mind for your C-suite. So that’s where you’ll want to focus.
Suppose, for example, that your CMO is focusing on branding, because your firm (like a lot of firms) is moving your software to the cloud, and perhaps repositioning your solutions as holistic and strategic rather than tactical. Why would this concern the C-suite? Why make it a priority? The answer to this—as well as any of the other priorities mentioned above—is that they are, at bottom, concerned about the impact these changes will have on the Customer Journey.
So pull out a Customer Journey map like this and ask, where is the potential problem in the Customer Journey—the potential gap where customers might leave you—that the C-suite is ultimately concerned about?
In this case, your CMO is focused on branding because the C-suite is worried about the Awareness gap at the far left. Your firm is making these exciting changes that will create huge value for customers—but customers don’t know you’re doing it! You’ve built it, but they’re not coming because they don’t know you’ve built it.
On the other hand, if your C-suite has customer retention rates as a top priority, the problem they’re seeing is further along in the Customer Journey, post-sale at USE. You may be providing a subpar user experience—perhaps deployment isn’t going well and you’re losing new customers shortly after they get started (Product or Services gap). Or perhaps you’re not providing innovative enough solutions, and you’re losing customers to competitors or disrupters who are (Product gap). Or you’re losing customers later in the USE stage because they’re not aware that your solution is keeping up with their needs and feel the need to go to another vendor (Retention/Expansion gap).
How do you learn these things? By attending meetings and getting into the information flows that are addressing these issues. Once you start doing that, often it becomes obvious how customer advocates can help. That’s what BMC’s Kim Ellis did when her new CMO was focused on rebranding the firm. At first, she had no idea how her advocates might help with that effort. But at the branding team’s meetings, she quickly found out.
Whenever the CMO and his team raised a specific question about the firm’s current image in the marketplace, Kim would immediately poll her customer advocates and send the results to him. There was no waiting to form focus groups or to commission an expensive study. Kim could show him, “Here’s what our leading customers think.” He loved it.
At a particularly critical point, the CMO and his team were working on renaming a familiar product—a high-pressure challenge. After much discussion, they narrowed the various choices down to two but were unable to pick one. Kim worked her magic with her advocates. Using gamification “challenges” from her customer advocacy platform, she got an incredible 50% response rate—within 24 hours. The advocates came down decisively, by 80% to 20%, in favor of one of the options. The CMO not only loved it (and went with their choice), he also announced that he wanted Kim’s advocacy program participating in every important branding decision going forward. She became, in other words, indispensable to him.
Suppose, however, that even after getting into the details of your C-suite’s top priority, it’s still not obvious how you might address it?
With a Little Help From Your Peers
Wherever the gap or potential gap is in your firm’s Customer Journey, you may wonder how your customer advocates can help address it. But fear not: Wherever that gap is, and why, it’s virtually certain that your peers running advocacy and engagement programs at other firms are successfully addressing it. And learning how they do so—by familiarizing yourself with peer case studies—will show you how to fill these gaps yourself.
Because if they’re doing it, you can too. Here’s a graphic showing how just a few customer advocacy initiatives, from a handful of leading firms, are having significant impacts on bridging major gaps in their firms’ Customer Journeys.
Customer Advocates are Bridging All the Potential Gaps in the Customer Journey
For example, LinkedIn was concerned about losing customers during the early deployment stages of its Sales Navigator solution. It’s now using customer advocates who are more advanced in their deployments in case studies for inexperienced new users—rather than purely for pre-sales marketing purposes—and is in the process of building a customer mentoring program. Misys is doing the same with its visionary Misys Connect program.
SAS Canada’s legendary Customer Champions played a central role in restoring the firm’s declining customer retention rates by helping to organize local events in some 20 cities, lining up speakers and speaking themselves, participating in webinars and contributing to a newsletter. The entire effort was supported, part time, by a three-person team at headquarters, resulting in full restoration of the firm’s retention rates.
To learn many more examples, see our Advanced Practices in Customer Advocacy and Engagement (Center for Customer Engagement, 2017) or book, The Hidden Wealth of Customers (Harvard Business Press, 2012).
 And by the way, if this sounds like you’re taking on more work—something you’re not inclined to do because you’re already overworked—you might ask yourself: What are you working on now that’s more important than helping your C-suite solve their top priorities?