If you buy something you love, what do you do? You tell someone. The number of times someone has raved about their new air fryer to me is a testament to that technology. “It has the same crispy taste without the deep-fried fat!” That’s advocacy. It’s the demonstration of a positive experience with a product or service; the excitement about something you can’t keep to yourself because you want everyone you know to feel it too.
Living in the B2B customer advocacy world, specifically for technology companies, advocacy has a more complicated dimension because of the considered way that businesses approach investments in new technologies.
Business decisions, especially those that involve a lot of stakeholders and a lot of opinions, require a healthy skepticism. The companies that choose your technology take a big risk when they decide, and every single customer that you win should get your commitment in return, from the start until the end of their engagement with your company. If a customer endorses your product or solution, whether publicly or privately, it means they’ve had a positive experience.
My job as a customer advocacy program manager for one of Yesler’s largest enterprise clients is to amplify customer happiness. As I do my work, I hear customers talk about how their technology investments met their needs, how a previous solution became obsolete, and the impact the new solution has made on their productivity or profit.
Already this year, I’ve heard more than a hundred customers endorse a product, solution, person, or company, and I’m reminded every time that earning a customer advocate is not as simple as the immediate appeal of oil-free snacks.
From the stories we help tell, it might look like advocates are made solely from a good working product. But that’s only half true—it represents only a fraction of what customers will say about their experience with a technology.
It’s not about the product—it’s personal
Simply selling a technology solution and leaving a customer to run with it alone might never get you a positive endorsement. That just gets you seats and possibly negative word-of-mouth reviews. You get endorsements when customers are having a great experience throughout their engagement with you.
Customers certainly share their experiences—positive or negative—when the vendor is out of earshot. This can happen anywhere, anytime in conversations with peers in online communities or at events. Private recommendations for or against a technology are more common than the public recommendations that make it onto marketing’s radar—74% of respondents in our recent survey reported having recommended a technology privately, for example, versus 41% who said they have publicly recommended one.
It’s often during the implementation of new technology that a customer will offer to advocate publicly. The vendor account manager may have offered more attention than was expected, worked side by side with the customer’s team through deployment stages, and assisted with migration, saving the customer time and resources. This kind of recommender has typically been what marketers think of as an advocate because they are visible, and therefore, measurable. These are the customers who participate in case studies or videos, speak at events, or are willing to talk to prospects.
But because so many more recommendations occur privately—what we call “organic” advocacy—at Yesler we think about how to promote advocacy that can’t be measured. We do that by focusing on customer experience and creating happy customers throughout the technology customer lifecycle, from awareness to attrition.
That’s because advocacy, public or private, positive or negative, is directly linked to the bottom line. After a fit for requirements, peer or third-party recommendations are more influential than any marketing material on the decision to invest in a technology. Plus, happy existing customers are more likely to continue to use, more widely adopt, and then buy additional products and services, increasing the lifetime value of the engagement. (Read more about why we take this approach to marketing to high-tech business buyers in the 5A Framework brief.)
And because advocacy, whether direct or indirect, public or private, is always personal, it means your marketing must be, too.
Make happy customers through earnest, consistent actions
Customers see through cookie-cutter, impersonal communication and sense when they’re just a number or dealing with an automated response. In our conversations with IT buyers, they cited poor vendor engagement after a sale as a top reason they abandon a technology. So how do you keep customer experience personal in the age of scale and automation?
Personal relationships. Keep it personal with your decision-maker contacts and stakeholders. These are the IT pros who championed the decision and who are on the hook for implementation, adoption, and ROI. Develop programs with your sales, account, implementation, and support teams to make it easy for them to write personal messages and to ensure a steady experience across handoffs from sales to implementation and account managers. Measure how consistently customer-facing staff follow up and follow through.
Programmatic engagement. Use email nurture to engage employees who need to use the technology to be successful in their work. Although they may not become public advocates, they are likely to talk with peers about their experience with the solution. At some point, they might be a stakeholder in a technology purchase.
Work with your product teams to develop company-wide help guides that you can automate. Speed adoption and proficiency through after-sale nurture emails to everyone in the organization who will use the new technology. Your emails can include advanced tips and tricks, or information about potential implementation difficulties and ways to work through them.
As experts, you should be able to anticipate common questions from customers and address them proactively. Forewarnings about common bugs with helpful fixes foster trust. In our research into the technology-buying process, IT buyers said they didn’t expect implementation to go smoothly. It’s the way the vendor engages to resolve problems that counts and is more memorable, positively or negatively, than the solution working normally throughout implementation.
Invitations to get involved. Build customer advisory boards and testing groups. Offer opportunities for customers to submit suggestions for the product roadmap and implement those suggestions, or at least share what you considered and the decisions you made. Giving customers a say in how the technology evolves not only improves the product through input from those who use it in the real world, it helps ensure that customers get value from the technology and feel engaged with it and your company. Customers know that a solution fails without their buy-in. Keep that in mind, too.
The ripple effect of happy customers
One day I woke up to a story I worked on that had just published. It was about a small company located in Oceania that was personal to me—I had pitched a visual that we ended up creating to supplement the story. The customer was excited by the visual and appreciated our investment in their story. The partner even jumped on to create their own blog about it.
I wondered if the story had momentum, so I checked social channels. I found dozens of shares, likes, and comments across the board from the customer, their partners, the sellers, implementers, and others not even involved in the story. That story traveled by word of mouth because it told about the customer’s journey from awareness to assessment and adoption in a collaborative and engaging way. Most of the comments, regardless of being customer or seller, simply stated that they were happy to be a part of this story—a testament, again, that advocacy is personal.