In this age of social sharing and almost limitless choices for buyers, B2B firms need to continuously provide value beyond the sale. As we discussed in our recent review of B2B marketing trends to watch in 2017, B2B advocate marketing is gaining traction as a means to engage and reward clients.
As consumers, most of us have encountered loyalty programs from retailers, credit card companies, airlines and more that reward us for the purchases we make. The emerging trend of advocate marketing takes the loyalty program one step further by encouraging loyal customers to become active advocates for the business. Forrester notes, advocate marketing programs focus on nurturing relationships with the people who have a personal experience or expert perspective to share about your firm.
Online reviews and user-generated referrals have been a part of the B2C world for quite some time and, as with most digital behavior, are becoming the norm in the B2B world as well. Of course, customer references and referrals have always been valuable to marketers and sales people — the rise of social sharing has only intensified their impact. Some of the advantages include:
Referred customers are generally more likely to remain loyal over time. Debbie Bain of Fleetmatics confirmed to Forrester: “Referrals are happier, stickier customers. They correlate positively with satisfaction and retention.”
References can shorten the sales cycle as prospects do their research online. Showing prospects who else has successfully used a product or service helps a company stand out from its competitors.
Relationships with referring customers are deepened and often follow the individual to a new company. As the workforce becomes more mobile, establishing bonds that span across jobs creates highly valuable, long-term clients.
Recommendations from peers are considered more trustworthy than information produced by a company. In fact, according to the 2015 Edelman Trust Barometer, people are more likely to trust someone they perceive to be like themselves than a company’s CEO.
With over 80% of a prospect’s due diligence being conducted online prior to ever engaging with a company representative, establishing trust through a testimonial or referral is particularly important. Every professional has a network of friends and colleagues who tend to be like them in terms of career level and business-related interests and memberships. As these potential customers use social tools and peer recommendations to research their purchase options, advocate marketing programs can provide the social proof that differentiates one firm from another in the buyer’s mind.
An effective customer advocate program begins where any other activity does: with a well-defined strategy. What are the goals? How will success be measured? What motivates our best customers and how will we reward them for their activity? What are the things prospects would most like to hear from current customers? These are some of the questions that should be addressed during the planning phase. It’s also important to remember that advocacy programs have significant worth beyond expanding a firm’s reach and collecting positive testimonials. They are also a mechanism for nurturing and rewarding the best customers. Ensuring that participants feel genuinely valued is a critical element of any program for both engagement and enhanced good will.
What is turning individual positive word-of-mouth comments into a powerful marketing tool is the combination of technology and social media. Platforms like Influitive and Dynamic Signal create scalable platforms to maximize the reach and influence of these raving fans. Each allows a company to create an online hub in which they can invite their best customers to participate in challenges and earn rewards. Challenges may include activities like re-Tweeting a piece of content, writing a brief testimonial, making a referral or uploading a photo of the customer using the product. In return, participants typically earn points that may be redeemed for things like gift cards or special access at events. Interestingly, many firms are finding that customers value badges and being atop the leader board over monetary rewards.
For firms that have invested in the technology and processes to leverage the power of customer advocacy, the results are impressive. For example, Forrester reports that Citrix tracks a reference engagement value (REV) metric to track the influence customer references have on sales wins. In 2014 the company was able to attribute $250 million in closed/won deals and determine that another $500 million in their sales pipeline were influenced by a referral.
As another example, Docu-Sign launched the Advocates HQ program with Influitive’s B2B advocate marketing platform to increase social media engagement, generate more reviews and capture referrals. Their online hub provides a way for advocates to get information, earn rewards and easily make referrals. There are also engaging ways to provide testimonials, such as sharing how a user’s life would be different without Docu-sign. Since it’s launch, the program has grown to over 1,000 advocates and evolved from an engagement strategy to a lead generation engine that influences over $3 million in the company’s sales pipeline.
As the competition to recruit top talent also increases, many companies are also using B2B advocate marketing programs internally. Similar to client-facing programs the goal is to increase engagement among staff members and have them share their experiences and approved content among their networks. This is a powerful way to increase your company’s reach as there is typically only an 8% overlap between a company’s followers and its employees’ followers. Dynamic Signal reports that employee advocacy programs can generate a 14x increase in brand awareness and 700x increase in content engagement. At the same time, companies are seeing a 12% increase in employee engagement among participants who also report feeling more inspired and optimistic about the company’s future.
B2B advocate marketing programs offer substantial benefits to companies that take the time to invest in the technology, systems and processes needed to achieve scale. And, of course, the importance of having a strategic plan and goals for the program are essential to realizing a return on your investment. For firms that have made these commitments, the results are impressive.