Everyone gets excited when they first talk about customer advocacy. I mean, who doesn’t want customers to be their champion? They have grand visions of what it could be and believe it can be a catalyst for great things. And it can – and if done right generates tremendous sustainable business value -- although it’s not uncommon for enthusiasm to quickly fade when immediate results do not emerge.
The reality is that every company has powerful customer advocates that can be a game-changer but building successful and scalable advocacy is a process that starts with a solid foundation and is focused on specific measurable outcomes.
Having been involved with two leading advocacy companies (one a word of mouth marketing agency and the other an advocacy technology platform) I’ve seen first-hand how to create a great advocacy program, and how to stop one in its tracks. Below are five common, yet easily solvable, challenges that dampen the power of customer stories:
Starting at the end and skipping the most important part. When most people think of customer advocates, they think of case studies, references, referrals, webinars, word of mouth, etc. While these are the ultimate outcomes, how do you get to them? They don’t magically appear and (very) rarely raise their hands. Successful customer advocacy is cultivated and meaningful success, beyond a couple of case studies, requires a methodical approach. Doing it right takes a little more time to get going but pays off in spades.
Lack of vision and purpose. Customer advocacy isn’t a bandwagon thing, where you do it because all the cool kids are doing it. It’s not about advocacy for the sake of advocacy but rather about achieving measurable objectives and creates tangible business value. Articulating those objectives and aligning the organization around them is critical because it will guide how you approach customer advocates and the specific things you will do to activate them.
Relying solely on technology. There are a number of good advocacy platforms to choose from that can help automate and scale customer advocacy. The challenge many have is that they start off with a bang, but quickly fizzle. In fact, many platforms have pivoted away from customer or employee advocacy for this exact reason. Ultimately, they cannot sustain user adoption. The reason for this is that they rely strictly on the platform’s functionality. The advocacy platform is a tool, not a program. Conversely, successful customer advocacy is a comprehensive approach to enlisting customers to help you succeed, whether that’s by sharing their story, being a reference or sharing feedback and insight to help you get better at what you do. Technology is not the strategy; it’s an engine to enable and scale a comprehensive program tied to specific outcomes. This is a mistake too many companies make. Thankfully, it’s an easy fix.
Missing the Fundamentals. Speaking of user adoption there are a few fundamentals that can help sustain the initial burst of interest.
Lack of focus. Everyone has too much to do and adding one more thing to an otherwise packed slate might seem soul-crushing but activating customers to help tell your story is one of the most powerful marketing moves you have. While many companies believe in and want to benefit from customer advocacy, they may not have the resources or the expertise. That shouldn’t stop them from pursuing it. If it seems like you are too busy to really focus on customers as advocates, find another way to do it. External resources can help organize, guide and coordinate every step of the customer advocacy journey and be the execution engine for an internal point person.