As the buying journey continues to become more buyer-centric, progressive B2B organizations such as Citrix, Blackbaud and Code42 are finding value in using customer advocacy programs to create brand authenticity through the help of content, referrals and social validation.
Laura Ramos, VP and Principal Analyst at Forrester, highlighted the growing value of advocacy marketing for creating authentic content at the 2016 Content2Conversion Conference in Scottsdale, Ariz. During her session, she highlighted how customer advocacy has evolved into a competitive differentiator for many B2B companies looking to expand their brand reach at a lower cost.
“If you think about it, customer case studies, testimonials, referral and references have been the lifeblood of sales forever,” Ramos said, during her session. “It’s really important in B2B marketing to be able to have validation for your claims that what you do is what you do, but also having customers that sing your praise and sing it to a broader audience that you can reach.”
This growth can be attributed to the evolution of the buyer’s journey in the “age of the customer,” according to Ramos. She said that “buyer behavior has changed; and if you think this is just a consumer change, you will be wrong.”
There has been significant growth in buyer-controlled customer journeys. A research report from Forrester, Advocate Marketing Creates B2B Customer Relations That Last A Lifetime, shows that peers and colleagues are the No. 1 source (22%) for gathering information during the discovery stage of a purchase decision. Other notable sources include tech information websites (21%) and tech analysts (18%).
Demand Gen Report’s 2016 B2B Buyer’s Survey Report revealed similar findings. Almost half (49%) of B2B marketers list their peers and colleagues as a top source of information, rising significantly from 20% in 2015.
Ramos noted in her session that 74% of buyers go online for business purchasing, and more than half (53%) would rather research online than speak with a salesperson.
“We’ve entered a new era where competitive advantage comes from knowing your buyer and using that knowledge to better serve and delight your customers,” Ramos said. “The ability to compete is being slowly whittled away by tech and the cloud, all that’s left is how well you can relate with your customers.”
Four Types Of Authentic, Advocate-Driven Content
Advocate marketing enables B2B companies to produce authentic content that attracts buyers because that content is coming from the voice of the customers — which is more valuable to prospective customers during the buying process. Whether it’s in the form reference programs, case studies or customer advisory boards, these customer relationships enable B2B companies to create consistent, valuable content on a budget.
“When the customer is successful through [the buying] lifecycle, that engagement turns into advocacy, which extends your voice in the market without having to spend the same time, manpower and money through traditional online and offline marketing approaches,” she said.
Ramos highlighted four types of authentic content that can be produced through customer advocacy:
Validation: The brand highlights how it’s having a positive impact on a customer’s business. This can be in the form of customer case studies, references and social sharing.
Education: The goal is to help current customers use a product or service better. This can be in the form of company forums, communities or hubs, as well as brand ambassadors who can help customers troubleshoot problems.
Dedication: The brand spotlights customers that are the epitome of a success. This can be in the form of MVP programs, referrals and speaker bureaus.
Inspiration: Brands can turn to their advocates to further grow the relationship and offerings of the company. This can be in the form of customer advisory boards and other business collaborations.
Ramos noted that as B2B organizations get into the areas of dedication and inspiration, they can become much more adept at building deeper relationships. She highlighted how the SaaS and cloud computing company Citrix mainly focuses on reference engagement to create social validation for its brand. Customers can also earn points that can be redeemed for rewards such as tickets to a user conference through a program that asks them to do things such as talking to people on the phone or participating in case studies.
She pointed out that this marketing program successfully supported sales: “They had over $250 million in closed/won deals that have been influenced by this reference engagement,” said Ramos. “The program also influenced an additional $500 million in pipeline.”
Other companies who have seen success in formulating a customer advocacy program include:
Blackbaud: When some of the nonprofit software supplier’s advocates reached out and said that they hadn’t seen a lot of reviews for the company on review sites such as G2 Crowd and TechValidate, Blackbaud asked the community to provide reviews. In a short period of time, Ramos said, “Blackbaud received so many reviews that it drastically moved the company on G2 Crowd’s Grid system into the ‘Leader’ category.”
LexisNexis: The legal, business and risk management services company set up intimate sessions for customers and prospects to meet with one another and with company executives to share ideas. The value of this is most of the customers presented their own case studies, and this helped the company decrease its sales cycle from nine months to four months for prospects who attended those meetings. Ramos also said that “the company closed more deals in one quarter than it did in the prior two years.”
Where To Start
“If you need to ask permission from sales to chat with a customer, you are not in a position to succeed.” — Laura Ramos, Forrester
When starting out with an advocacy program, Ramos said that it is important to break down the traditional silos where many B2B organizations continue to house their departments and programs.
“Companies have programs running, and a majority of the time one program doesn’t know that another program exists, and they are not being leveraged collaboratively and collectively together,” said Ramos. “When you create that relationship and move from a program mentality to a strategic/relationship mentality, customers will be more likely to stay with you as they move from place to place.”
This also enables B2B companies to bring more value to their current client base. Advocacy programs that incorporate educational content can help customers be successful at their jobs, while inviting them to be a part of the brand community and gain the value they need.
“This can then be the foundation for an advocate program by building that relationship, then getting them involved in more [activities],” Ramos said.
To get the ball rolling with an advocate marketing campaign, Ramos told marketers they should have the following:
- A clear understanding of the program’s objectives, measures and success criteria.
- Company buy-in and an understanding that an advocate program will “change the status quo in your marketing initiatives,” according to Ramos.
- A view and understanding that customers are shared company assets. “If you need to ask permission from sales to chat with a customer, you are not in a position to succeed,” Ramos said.
- Resources (budget, content and people) to engage advocates on a weekly basis. “It doesn’t have to be a lot, but it has to be enough to allow you to increase the amount of communication between the brand and its customers,” she said.
Advocacy programs also position B2B companies that are in a highly technical field to bring some personalized humor and fun into their customers’ work lives. This also enables marketers to get to know who their customers are and enhance their relationships with brand evangelists.
Ramos cited Code42, the endpoint software backup solution provider, as an example. The company’s offerings are very technical, so it “tapped into its inner geek” to create offers in its customer rewards program that would resonate with their target audience. This included a monthly beef jerky club, a quarterly “LootCrate” and free Fandango movie tickets. The company saw its brand advocates generate up to 45% of its original spend thanks to referrals.
Ultimately, long-term advocacy success requires a commitment to customers first. “Having successful, happy customers who advocate [for you] is the ultimate way of bringing their goodwill to the front,” Ramos said. “[It is] an important asset in your marketing initiatives.”