Why customer advocacy programs in B2B marketing should be more than just customer stories
We know customer stories are powerful. Customer experiences engage, influence, educate, and entertain others like them far more than promotional content.
In a world where more and more buyer research is conducted online, success stories are a valuable part of the B2B marketer’s tool kit, offering tangible authenticity to a company’s claims when developed and used correctly.
Are buyers spending enough time digging deep before making decisions?
Recent Gartner research finds that when B2B buyers consider a purchase, they spend only 17% of that time meeting with potential suppliers.
Because it’s difficult, challenging, time consuming. Perhaps it’s easier to draw on different and often online sources to research and evaluate vendors.
It is worse if you have close competitors. Gartner reports that when buyers compare multiple suppliers‚ the amount of time spent with each sales rep is as low as 5% or 6%.
In complicated sales processes, the need for powerful marketing becomes even more essential – to the point that there are few things more powerful than customer advocacy.
“There are few things more powerful than customer advocacy.”
Velo client, Sage works extensively with the UK’s small businesses, and their latest “Boss It” campaign focuses on customer advocacy as it has a clear link as a primary source of influence.
Talking to industry colleagues, success stories are the central plank of many of their advocacy programs and, in many cases, the extent of them too.
But advocacy should be more.
The real power is often when you can ignite a customer, so they discuss, influence, and share their experiences with other customers to change perceptions, drive leads, and expand your marketing reach.
Without doubt, stories are part of this, but an effective customer advocacy program is greater and uses additional techniques.
In his book “The Messenger is the Message”, Mark Organ explains how the person telling the story is as powerful as the story itself. At Velo, we couldn’t agree more, and although some elements of his approach might be open to question, we’d recommend checking it out.
(That last line in making a recommendation is an example of what he’s saying!)
A proper advocacy program should be more than stories. In B2B marketing, we strive to influence every stage on the buying cycle. We’re trying to prompt different behaviours, including:
1. Lifting awareness
We don’t need to drop painstakingly obvious references to noise, attention spans, and goldfish to know that there is a clear trend towards short, bite-sized content that calls out a product and how it solves customer pain.
This type of content is perfect for sharing and commenting on social media. It ignites customer networks with thought leadership and relatable scenarios, amplifying and lifting awareness. (Like this blog article promoting Mark’s book).
2. Sales acceleration
Nothing is more reassuring than a reference call with a similar business which has been there and done it before. Companies that offer prospects the opportunity to talk directly to other customers demonstrate transparency and trust, providing a unique viewpoint with real experience of how pain points were handled.
They can also learn about some of the softer aspects such as their adoption experience of a product.
Having a bank of willing customers is a vital part of any advocacy program. They should reflect your strategic priorities – the primary industries, geographies, and product experience you are targeting.
3. Testimonials & feedback – The Sage Experience
Sage always “Start with the customer” which has led to the development of an in-depth feedback program. The company uses several different methods – external review sites, a regular NPS survey, advisory boards, beta testing with selected customers, and regular conversations – to bring together insights to inform the business roadmap.
Our leadership team is committed to connecting with customers as part of their objectives.
Building relationships and understanding customers’ viewpoints means getting to know them as people, as leaders, and as businesses. Their world is larger than their relationship with Sage, although Sage products are key to how they manage every aspect of their organisation.
Sage really does help them “boss it” and works hard to ensure they are consistently clear. It isn’t a one-off initiative.
Feedback programs involve much more than gathering testimonial quotes for marketing copy, although what we as an agency often call “voice of the customer” adds depth and colour to all our marketing copy.
The advocacy program at Sage needs to work at scale, globally. It is extensive, wide-ranging and needs to be programmatic. This is why we manage it using Sage Champions, our club based on Influitive’s portal. But the mechanism itself is not the advocacy program. The program is what we do through it.
“A proper advocacy program should be more than stories.”
To summarise – a proper customer advocacy strategy has customer success stories at the core, but it is much more than that.
Interested in exploring the Sage Champions approach to customer success stories and advocacy?
Check out the Sage case study here or to start a no obligation conversation, click here.