The following is Alex’s response to the question, “How would you recommend other Customer Success leaders think about building out a customer advocacy program?”
A simple way to think about a Customer Advocacy program is that it’s a sales funnel in reverse.
The Customer Success team is finding potential advocates (or leads), and then working to convert them either through creating goodwill with customers or potentially by adding an advocacy piece into a contract as part of the negotiation. And then, of course, we measure our conversion rate and set team goals about the percentage of customer advocates that we have as a business.
In terms of building out the advocacy program, I have five practical tips for other CS leaders.
1. Start early and track customer advocacy in your CRM
My background is in B2B startups and I often talk with other startups about how to get started with Customer Success in general. And one piece of advice I always recommend is to include “whether the customer is willing to be a reference” as one of the first five fields to track in your CRM. (It’s a binary yes or no response, to start.)
This drives the right behavior very early on around tracking customer advocates. It’s also exactly what early startups need—a reference to grow.
So, start tracking this for high-touch customers even before NPS. And for low-touch customers, an efficient way to build this in (if you’ve already launched an NPS system) is to create a conditional page about whether the customer is willing to be referenced. So, if the customer gives an 8+ NPS, then the next page will ask “from time to time, are you willing to be referenced?” This turns into a lead generation-type tool that feeds into the advocacy program.
2. Ensure the data is accessible
If the team is working really hard to build a list of customer advocates but, say, a sales rep that joined two weeks ago doesn’t know where to go to figure out which customers are willing to be referenced, then your “leads” will essentially go unused. The sales rep will instead ask their peers, who may point them towards customers they recently referenced.
Part of the problem with that is that sales reps will ask customers for references without knowing the context of that customers’ experience with the product. CS knows everything about the customer—their health, when it’s the right time to ask, etc. So the data about customer advocates needs to be 1.) easy for sales and marketing to consume, whether that means having it in the CRM or CS tool, or even having it in a Google Doc or Sheet. And then ideally the data is also 2.) granular in terms of how the customer is willing to be referenced. There’s a wide range of what a customer might be up for—a logo on the website, a reference call with another customer, or a full-on video case study. A secondary benefit of having the data be that granular is that if a customer churns, we immediately know to take their logo or video off our website and other sales or marketing materials.
3. Make sure customer advocacy is infused with other CS initiatives
If Marketing needs a new case study, it’s going to take months to get that secured, produced, and approved. So Customer Success needs to build that pipeline instead of randomly emailing 10 customers when Marketing puts pressure on them.
One way we’ve done that is in our EBR decks. There’s a slide we have at the end of every EBR that we’ll only show if the feedback up until that point has been positive. It has a simple follow-up question that essentially asks “are you willing to share the feedback you gave us with other customers from time to time?”
I find that sometimes CSMs, especially newer ones, are afraid to ask customers this question. Normalizing it by having space for it in every EBR conversation helps.
4. Set the right preconditions for a customer advocacy program
It’s hard to build a strong customer advocacy program if there’s a lot of friction in your customer experience or journey. So CS leaders need to set up the right listening posts and early warning systems so that if a customer is having a problem, you can jump in immediately and solve it. So that when you do get to that first EBR, the feedback is positive, and the customer can become an advocate.
5. Make customer advocacy a KPI
One of our key KPIs is on the percentage of customers that are willing to be an advocate. We target over 75%, because it’s a real indicator of how well we’re building partnerships with our customers and helping them reach their goals with our product.
It’s a much higher bar than NPS for example, because getting a 10 on an NPS is cheap. A customer could have had an amazing support experience a week ago, but they’re not achieving their business goals with the product, and they still give you a high NPS score because of how great that interaction was. In contrast, if I’m asking you to drop what you’re doing and invest two hours with us to speak with our marketing team, getting a yes to that is a real sign of how well your Success team is doing and frictionless your customer experience is.
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