Without a doubt, word-of-mouth recommendations are valuable and vital for company growth. Word-of-mouth recommendations are the biggest factor behind 20-50% of all buying decisions.
If your customers have a good experience with your brand they are far more likely to become promoters of your brand or certainly offer endorsements.
If you do enough research, you will find that approximately 60 to 80 percent of the B2B sales decision making process is over before buyers contact a salesperson. Buyers are increasingly doing their homework and they will look at reviews online. How was the customer experience? Are customers complaining or praising on social media channels? What does their Better Business Bureau profile say about them?
Today’s buyers will first consult their friends and colleagues to see if they had a positive or negative experience. This all happens before the sales representative is ever brought into the sales process.
Customer advocates of your brand are highly effective at bringing in more organic leads through referrals and social shares than any advertisements you can buy. People trust their friends, and rarely make a purchase without sourcing it out first.
The fastest way to get more interest in your brand is to encourage your advocates to promote it. Some of these promotions take the form of testimonials, participation in case studies, word-of-mouth marketing and social sharing. The usefulness of advocate marketing to your sales department can be summed up in one word: leads.
Your advocates should know that you value their business and that they always have an open door to give feedback on their customer experience. Advocates are your biggest cheerleaders and they can be instrumental at gathering information about new product launches.
It is important that an advocate also knows that your brand would not be where they are, in part, if it were not for them. This is true in our business and we often will thank our customers for their continued support of us. We don’t like to refer to them as a client, we think of them as an integral partner to our operation. That’s why we refer to them as such.
This is where having a healthy and active customer advocate program will help your customers become promoters of your brand. What are the specific goals of a Customer Advocate program? Do you want an increase in referrals? Do you want to build customer loyalty that equates to repeat customers? Are you in need of better communications with existing customers which you feel will lead to more referrals? Once you figure out what your goals are, the how do you measure effectiveness? Do you review Yelp or Google reviews? Do you look to social media to monitor mentions of your brand?
Start by earning the trust
To start a customer loyalty program, the first step is developing a trust with your customer. More importantly, build this relationship for the long term. This is where having account managers exceeding the expectations of customers by providing exceptional customer service comes in handy.
Start by considering, informing your customers about company activities, or company goals and successes. Customers who feel part of the company experience are more likely to act as ambassadors for your company.
Invite your advocates to your headquarters to meet with key product teams, communications and customer-focused executives. Be prepared to listen, and be attentive to their requests. The key is to acknowledge their ideas, without coming across as defensive. After this effort, you’ll have a strong sense of who you’ll want to work with more closely.
Finally, and this is an important one, there can be no financial incentives for being a advocate. If a financial reward was given for each referral, recommendation, or share on social media – then the recommendation may not seem genuine and could be called into question at the critical stage of customer research. You can provide them financial incentives from time to time but that should not be an incentive for participating in the program.
It takes a lot of work
Your team will need to work hard at getting advocates to promote your brand. Here are a few examples of actionable promoters can do to elevate your brand.
- Write a recommendation on LinkedIn, Yelp, etc.
- Follows on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.
- Act as a reference from time to time when our sales team is working with a prospective customer.
- Participate in a case study.
- Write a testimonial on your website.
- Write a blog post talking about how we were able to solve your problem.
Customer Advocate Ideas & Strategies
Here are some ideas that could help to make this program a success:
If a customer makes a recommendation and the company adopts it then the customer should get a reward and public recognition on company’s social channels.
- Set up a virtual “ideas” board like they have at Dell for customers to fill out and give feedback.
- Conduct exit interviews to get insight about the overall process of working with your brand.
- Invite advocates to be a part of an internal working group with the company, round table discussions, etc.
- Give them heads up about new product launches, sneak peaks, etc. This will go a long way to cementing loyalty. By showing that you are making an investment in them they will make an investment in you.
- Provide customers with speaking opportunities at trade shows, conference panels, etc.
- Provide advocates a forum to write a blog post on your website.
- Invite advocates to exclusive beta testing prior to product launches.
- Consider creating a game. Advocates can collect points, badges etc. and then redeem them for prizes.
- Create a company partner badge that can be applied by an advocate on their website, business cards or marketing materials. You could also create a poster or sign to be displayed in the advocates place of business (think Better Business Bureau signs).
- Cross-promote your customer’s business on your website as an incentive to promote your brand.
- Special invite to meet with and provide feedback to the CEO.
Your team may want to consider putting in places sample recommendations for LinkedIn, etc. You should also consider releasing a case study with a handful of happy customers every quarter. Finally, your team has to be aggressive at asking for follows, and likes on your social media platforms.
You cannot assume that even your most loyal cheerleaders have done this even if they have been instrumental with generating leads for you. Just keep at it. With hard work and time, your efforts will pay off. Soon you will see the power of a successful customer advocate program!