What Your CMO Doesn’t Know About Customer Advocate Programs

At the change of each year, we scour thought pieces on the web for chief marketing officer (CMO) trends that we must be attuned to in the coming year.

I’m always fascinated that customer advocate programs (CAP) are rarely in the various pundits’ priority lists, at least explicitly.

The anticipated priorities in 2020, for instance, include some form of:

  • Deepen customer knowledge through advanced analytics
  • Improve customer experience throughout the full lifecycle
  • Personalize messaging and content in omni-channel marketing
  • Account-based marketing (ABM)
  • Become a CMO technologist to accomplish the preceding items

We’ve supported customer advocate programs of all different ilk for over 15 years.

We have seen firsthand the power that customer advocates wield in B2B buyers’ decisions in our own sales cycles, as well as those of our customers.

It shouldn’t come as any surprise.

As consumers who work for businesses, we rarely buy something without talking to friends and relatives, and perusing customer reviews―all forms of peer experience and influence. If you like stats, here are just a few that tell the story in B2B.

  • 80% of B2B buying decisions are based on a buyer’s direct or indirect customer experience, and only 20% is based on the price or the actual offering. (SiriusDecisions)
  • Peer recommendations are influencing more than 90% of all B2B buying decisions. (Salesforce)
  • One-to-one peer recommendations, original research, and product reviews are the most influential content in affecting purchase decisions (Content Marketing Institute and SmartBrief)
  • 67% of B2B buyers rank peer reviews as very important when making a purchase decision (Demand Gen Report)

Here’s the puzzling part. Most CMOs, in our experience, don’t even have customer advocate activities anywhere near the center of their radar screens.

Analysts certainly rank customer advocates highly (think Gartner Magic Quadrant, Forrester WAVE ratings). But CMOs? They fully delegate (or maybe more accurately, relegate) customer advocate responsibilities to managers, or at best, directors, in their chain of command.

Why is that?

Correlation Between Growth Goals and Customer Advocate Programs

My theory is that few CMOs have been enlightened to the connection between their own growth goals (and, therefore those of the CEO) and those of the customer advocate program. These are the sentiments that describe their view of CAPs:

  • The advocate program is like a reference “help desk,” lining up references for salespeople in the 11th hour of the sales cycle: reactive, tactical; a necessary evil to close deals.
  • The advocate program is simply a case study/customer testimonial video factory to appease Sales leadership.
  • The advocate program is about collecting marquee logos to prove the viability of an emerging technology.
  • Customer advocate responsibilities are a part-time thing and don’t take much time so they can be tacked onto someone’s existing responsibilities.

Who’s at fault for this disconnect? It’s a combination of CMOs accepting that the CAP’s (any programs for that matter) goals and activities aren’t aligned to corporate imperatives, and advocate program managers not seeing their true potential or thinking strategically.

Build Around Your Sales Stages​

Advocates are an essential component of sales, marketing, social media, events, demand generation, analyst relations, investor relations, PR, and more.

Each of these departments has has goals in support of the company’s growth goals. Advocates tell your company’s story better than anything crafted by marketing. Advocate perspectives are authentic (no spin), relatable (come from personal experience) and speak the same language as their peers.

If you’re in charge of your CAP (or hope to be), here are just a few scenarios for discussion with your CMO. Your company:

  • is launching a new product/service offering. Beta or early-adopter customers logically represent the tip of the arrow of your go-to-market efforts, but only if that’s been planned.
  • acquired a company and wants to ramp up cross-sell opportunities. Your joint advocates can articulate how life has changed due to the synergy realized when both solutions are in place.
  • has identified a new segment ripe for growth. Customer advocates already in that segment, through their shared experiences, reduce risk for early adopters.
  • needs detailed customer experience feedback to support a CX initiative. Advocates have a vested interest in your success, and are the most trusted sources you have.
  • has a mature customer success function measured in part by renewal rates. Renewal rates are certainly important, but a customer advocate is worth multiples of their annual contract value. A CAP can harness that potential.

How can the Advocate Program Become Part of Strategic Planning?​

If you’re thinking, “This is all pretty strategic stuff!” you are right! How can the advocate program become part of strategic planning?

The CAP needs a seat at that planning table. Baked into every tactic designed to support company growth should be a plan to leverage advocates through video, quotes, reviews, speaking opportunities, webinars, PR, etc.

A diligent, dedicated CAP leader will be capable of analyzing growth goals and identifying what program assets will be necessary for goal attainment.

That analysis will point to the need for different types of advocate companies (e.g., industry, size, use case, geo) and customer content (e.g., customer videos, case studies, customer reviews)

This change in CAP perception will be a process because most CMOs’ prior experience with customer advocate programs that have lived and operated in a silo.

The transformation requires executive education, unambiguous, and easy to digest goal alignment, and later, proof of CAP impact. Yes, it’s work, but persistence will pay off. With the resulting increase in executive support, the reach of the program will expand, creating even more opportunities to support company growth.

A CAP is the Low Hanging Fruit of Marketing

It’s time that the customer advocate program is on your CMO’s radar. Sure, it may not be sexy―the latest buzzword, the thing analysts are writing about this quarter.

But with a little illumination, appreciating the value proposition isn’t difficult, and the path to realizing success is a shorter, straighter line than it is for ABM, CX, and AI. It’s the low hanging fruit of Marketing, and it’s always harvest season.

If you’re passionate about customer advocate programs and looking for resources to help build your business case, we have a checklist that will surely help. And if a conversation would be helpful, you can reach us here: info@point-of-reference.com.

David Sroka

David Sroka

CEO, Point of Reference

Point of Reference provides a full complement of customer reference program services to organizations determined to cultivate and capitalize on high value customer relationships. Primary business lines include Technology (ReferenceStor and ReferenceEdge (Salesforce app)), Content Development services, Supplemental Staffing and Consulting. With Point of Reference, clients can finally orchestrate coordinated customer reference activities, inject references into sales and marketing opportunities with less time and hassle, and build a library of 24/7 available customer references to end burn-out.