Reference Point
Attracting and keeping more passionate advocates
December 2016                                                                   Gray

Having trouble attracting enough passionate customer advocates? It's a huge issue--a perennial top 2 or 3 challenge in our surveys of customer reference, advocacy and engagement programs.  As a result many firms struggle with questions like how and when to incentivise their advocates--a slippery slope. I've urged firms for years to develop far more powerful ways to engage with advocates. Here's a particularly powerful way to do this.

Find out what "job" your advocate is trying to get done--or would like to do if you offered her the chance. As I've pointed out for years, advocates have powerful goals for themselves and their career that you can uncover and tap into. For example: 
  • To build their professional reputations (get them out speaking, interviewed by the media, put them in positions to support other customers in your user group, leadership positions in your community).
  • Build their professional/ personal peer networks (invite them into your community, advisory board and the like)
  • Have access to your engineers, or C-suite, to have a say in your products or services (invite them into your advisory board again, exclusive forums, etc.)
Following is a set of three questions that will help you uncover such powerful goals -- the "jobs" many advocates would like to "get done." If you practice these, I guarantee they will open some surprising and lucrative doors for you and your firm when it comes to attracting passionate advocacy. Presaged, of course, on having exceptional products and services as the price of admission.

In depth. Peerless peer networking. The best learning experience in the industry. The early registration discount ($200 off) is open for a limited time at the  2017 SUMMIT ON CUSTOMER ENGAGEMENT. To register, please click here.

Want to learn more about the value you can create for customer advocates, and harvest from them? Check these presentations out: 
- Martin Haering, "Creating Customers For Life"
- Bev Barnett and Helen Feber, "Increasing--and Proving--the Long-term Value of Customer Advocates"
- Kim Ellis, How to Win the Heart and Mind of a CMOE (with the help of your advocates) .

This is the most relevant industry conference I attend each year and the networking is invaluable. 
Ginnie Hazlett, Customer Advocacy Manager, Cisco

Attending the Summit two years in a row has been absolutely priceless in helping me build and grow our programs internally. Daniel Palay, Manager, Global Customer Programs, Elastic 



For those customers who didn't join your advocacy program... 
1. Ask why.
Ask a few of the most desirable candidates why they didn't join. Did they CONSIDER joining? What thought occurred to them that tipped the answer to no? Especially valuable are customers who did join, but have since backed off and become "unavailable" for advocacy activities. These can be uncomfortable conversations, of course--but well worth it. 

For example, one client lost out on a very high-potential CIO advocate, who had joined rather reluctantly, and before long became one of those "unavailables." I was able to get her to talk frankly about the experience-outsiders can often do this more easily--and one compelling reason came up: "The only time they showed up was when they needed a reference, or it was time to renew." In other words, she had no sense that the firm's customer-facing employees--including the customer advocacy team--cared about her. 

2. Ask if they feel that you care. 
B2B technology companies in particular are sometimes lax in realizing that their customers value things in addition to the ROI of the solution you're providing. An important part of "the job to be done" includes their experience in doing it, and in particular, they want to feel like their vendor genuinely cares about them-as the CIO did, above. So if this issue didn't come out when you asked #1 above, ask it explicitly. 

For those customers who have joined your advocacy program--particularly the ones you'd like to attract more of... 

1. Ask why. 
In this case, ask why they joined. What thought occurred to them when they said yes? And then ask, why do they CONTINUE to participate? 

This question in particular is going to open up some surprises. For example, one major technology firm who participated in our recently completed Advanced Practices research had a chief data officer who was a bit of an introvert, and didn't have a particularly high profile in the profession. 

But as the firm explored this question with him, they were astonished at how ambitious he was at becoming a leader in the budding data analytics profession, and at how interested he was in raising the profile of the profession itself. The firm's technical people confirmed that the customer was indeed a highly talented scientist with outstanding insights in the field. So the firm invested in developing his media skills and savvy. The result was an exceptionally effective advocate who began appearing on high-profile forums and panels, and even was featured in a prominent Wall Street Journal article. 

2. Ask, "What peripheral or unexpected goals has our advocacy program helped you achieve?" 
For example, when it comes to engaging senior executives in your customer advisory board, they like the idea of having a say in your product strategy and roadmap. But the peer affiliations they develop among other board members can be even more important--and should influence whom else you invite on the board. 

3. Be open to surprises. 
A variation on this question is to be open yourself to surprises from potential advocates. Perhaps the most surprising example--to some firms I work with--is with their marquee customers. Firms often think it's too difficult or even impossible to get them to advocate. But not necessarily, especially if you're selecting the right marquee customers. The best marquees tend to be not only well known in their industry, but also highly innovative. If you work closely with them to build a solution that helps them be more innovative, you'll find it particularly easy to get them to advocate. Why? Because it's now in their interest do so, not just to show how innovative they are, but also to help your business grow so you'll keep investing in the solution you're providing them.
All the best,