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Why customer advocacy should be at the heart of your B2B marketing.

Acquisition and adoption are hugely important for nearly every B2B vendor but prioritising one over the other is a surefire way to lose customers and kill profit margins.

That said, the numbers don’t lie — retaining and growing existing customers has a huge impact on the bottom line. Studies say that acquiring a new customer can cost anywhere from five to 25 times more than retaining an existing one, while research by Bain & Company has shown that increasing customer retention rates by as little as 5% can increase profits by 25% to 95%.

While a certain amount of churn is inevitable, successful companies understand that retention requires a holistic view of the entire customer life cycle  —  starting from the moment a prospect first encounters your product, right through to commitment to buy, onboarding, adoption and expansion. Moreover, returning customers often lead to quality referrals and word-of-mouth reviews.

That’s why it’s key to look at customer acquisition and retention as intrinsically linked rather than two separate entities — and an advocacy programme is a great way to leverage existing customers to bring in new business.

What is customer advocacy and why is it important?

Global research and advisory firm SiriusDecisions define customer advocacy as “the set of activities and channels an organisation uses to build, capture, grow and share positive customer sentiment.” And it’s fast becoming a critical component of any modern B2B marketing strategy.

In fact, according to SiriusDecisions’ 2017 B-to-B Buying Study, previous customer experience is the top driver of B2B purchase decisions, followed by the influence of customer references and testimonials.

That’s why a growing number of organisations are choosing to invest in programmes that ensure customers will share their experiences with peers, whether that’s by way of positive reviews on sites such as CapterraG2Crowd and GetApp, referrals or partnering on case studies and testimonials.

What drives customer advocacy?

While customer advocacy starts with providing a great experience and ends with word-of-mouth marketing, it’s important to remember that the former doesn’t end with the sale.

According to Oracle, customer experience encompasses the entire customer life cycle, “from early engagements through ads, social media and marketing content to the nurturing, buying, delivering and service.” To that end, cross-functional collaboration is key, requiring people from marketing, sales and customer success to come together to provide a positive experience across the entire customer journey.

That can be anything from marketing content that’s clear, concise and human, to listening and responding to customer needs, to service that goes above and beyond.

If customer experience isn’t already a focus for your organisation, it should be: it’s set to overtake price and product as a key brand differentiator by 2020, as a Walker report pointed out.

How to get started with customer advocacy

Remember, the purpose of an advocacy programme is to create happy customers who will champion your products and services through word-of-mouth marketing. Think of it as your organisation’s well-deserved prize for providing a world-class experience.

Not sure where to start with your own customer advocacy programme? As with any business activity, it’s important to set goals and objectives before diving straight in. The SiriusDecisions Customer Advocacy Model sets out activities in three stages:

  • Define (the why): What’s the reason for creating a customer advocacy programme? Is it to generate new business, retain existing customers, or both? How will progress be measured?
  • Design (the what): Who are the key internal stakeholders? What does your ideal customer advocate look like and how will you recruit them to the cause? What resources are necessary to make this programme a success?
  • Develop (the how): What steps are required to put the plan into action? What’s needed to grow reach and impact?
Need some inspiration?

Salesforce is a great example of a B2B brand leveraging customer advocacy. The global tech giant’s community of Trailblazers (as it calls its most accomplished users) are front and centre everywhere from its Dreamforce and World Tour events to ad campaigns and other marketing collateral.

Not only do these Trailblazers show potential customers how much they love and support Salesforce, but they’re also on hand online and offline to answer questions and share their personal experiences with the products.

Similarly, the e-commerce platform BigCommerce includes existing customers in the speaker lineup of its Make It Big online conference, giving them the chance to share their insights and expertise on the current state of e-commerce and offer tips on how other sellers can reach their full potential.

Cloud-based identity management solution Okta takes a different tack, hosting the annual Oktane Awards to recognise customers who “equip their organisations with the right technologies to drive innovative solutions to today’s toughest business challenges.”

There’s even an Evangelist award, the winner of which takes advocacy to the next level, participating in speaking events and reference calls throughout the year and “sharing their Okta success with customers, partners and peers.”

Whether your organisation wants to put time and effort into getting more user reviews and testimonials or sees referral programmes as a great way to encourage new customers to try out your product or service, it’s worth keeping in mind that advocacy is an ongoing process that starts with providing a great experience.

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