Once you've landed them as customers, the lure of enticing a big brand like Walmart or Pepsi, or a charismatic executive into your advocacy program is powerful. But the reality of doing so is typically quite difficult (though not impossible!). Finding what I call the "hidden gems" among your advocates often turns out to be far easier--and more effective. Nobody else is paying much attention to them, and if cultivated creatively, these hidden gem advocates can provide a lot of pop for your brand and sell a lot of your offerings. |
Here's an approach to finding and developing such advocates, along with a couple of examples from IBM, who has grown quite proficient in this area.
Develop a "hidden gem" detector
Often, hidden gems are:
Note that such firms might not be known outside their industries, and that such customers might not be well known, even within their industries! Doesn't necessarily matter, as we'll see. Next, hold off on inviting him or her into your program just yet. Instead:
- Someone at an executive or C-suite level,
- Who potentially has a great story to tell about working with you,
- At a firm that's in an important industry vertical, and
- That's a leader or otherwise well respected in the industry.
Do a little social research
In the process of getting to know your potential hidden gem, here are some important things to find out:
- What their personal goals are
- What their career goals are
- What their goals are within the firm they currently work for
This is where you might land a hugely effective customer advocate that everyone else, including your competitors, would miss.
How a major technology and services firm developed two hidden gems
For example, one highly admired technology and services firm spotted a potential hidden gem in the data analytics market. He's an executive at a major insurance firm--an industry that relies heavily on data analytics. We'll call the customer, "Bob."
Bob was not particularly well known in the industry, and had little media experience. But it turned out he was quite good at--and passionate about--the burgeoning data analytics profession. And he was quite ambitious. He wanted to be the analytics leader at his insurance company--to become Chief Data Officer. He wanted to get involved in any program at his company that was analytics rich. He also wanted to raise the profile of the data analytics profession in general.
So the firm invested in giving Bob media training, as well as access to experts and knowledge within its research organization, and also partnered with Bob to advance the analytics profession. Before long he was appearing on a variety of platforms at industry events, and getting interviewed by a number of industry and business publications--including a feature article in The Wall Street Journal.
In another critical industry, the firm uncovered another hidden gem: a CIO for a county in Georgia. Once again, the CIO had very little speaking or media experience, he didn't have a large peer network he could evangelize to. But he was passionate about proving that he could help make dramatic changes to education (using the firm's solutions), and in interviews with the firm's customer advocacy team, he was clearly quite competent and articulate.
So the firm invested in him as it had done with Bob, by giving him access to IBM's marketing resources and channels, along with media training, and the result was an advocate far more effective than a higher-profile marquee brand or charismatic executive. The CIO came up with fascinating data that got attention from the media, such as the discovery that kids who aren't good at math often are deficient because they're not good at reading, and that by learning to read, they improved their math scores. That landed substantial "earned media" for the CIO--and for the firm.
So in the often frustrating hunt for those advocates who are willing and able to really move the needle for marketing and sales, give some thought to uncovering your hidden gems.