This Week’s Big Deal: Align with Marketing on Customer Advocacy

January 21, 2019

Last year’s Edelman Trust Barometer indicated that people are more likely to trust “a person like myself” over almost any other source. The only two options viewed as more credible were technical experts and academic experts.

Consumers report trusting their peers more than analysts, employees, business executives, or journalists.

It’s easy to see why: We see ourselves in others like us. Their experiences are similar to our own. Their opinions and recommendations seem less likely to be shaped by ulterior motives.

That’s why customer advocacy is rising to the forefront of commercial consciousness. And while it’s generally viewed as a marketing directive, I see it as an excellent opportunity for sales and marketing orchestration, with the two sides aligning on a shared focus: developing brand evangelists who can essentially become authentic extensions of the sales team.

The Sales Benefits of Customer Advocacy

Who is the ideal customer? Think back to your favorite experiences as a seller, and the most fulfilling (personally and professionally) deals you’ve swung. Most likely, those buyers were enthusiastic, receptive, and easy to work with. They appreciated your sales approach and they ultimately loved what they bought.

These happy customers are golden, and their influence can be powerful. If we want to connect with more prospects like them, they serve as critical conduits. They have built-in credibility with those similar to them, as the aforementioned Edelman data shows. These advocates can pave the way for seamless sales engagements, allowing the seller to step in with a head of steam.

Last week, I read a good piece by Ben Gibson at Martech Advisor discussing Why Authentic Storytelling is the Key to Customer Advocacy. As you’d expect, the Nutanix CMO speaks from a marketing angle, but as I scanned through Gibson’s three keys to successful customer advocacy, I couldn’t help but think about the unstated potential for sales to get involved.

Opportunities for Sales and Marketing Orchestration

It would be awesome if we had an army of advocates out there, autonomously pointing their peers and colleagues toward our solutions. In most cases, that’s not realistic. Human beings are inherently self-interested, especially when it comes to their careers.

Therefore, we must collaboratively find ways to encourage and incentivize advocacy. Let’s examine this from a sales-centric perspective across the three recommendations laid out by Gibson.

Create Personalized and Mindful Touchpoints

“When reaching out to a potential new customer, it is crucial to stay mindful of quantity and quality of touchpoints to start the relationship off on the right foot,” writes Gibson. As any sales pro can probably attest, prospects tend to withdraw if they feel they’re being pestered.

With that in mind, we should always reach out with a purpose. The “just checking in” message isn’t necessarily a misstep, but it shouldn’t come two days after you last spoke. If every interaction you initiate is transparently driven by your own interests, that won’t likely lead to trust and advocacy.

As Gibson puts it: “Don’t simply reach out when you need something; reach out to spark a conversation and make them feel valued and trusted as a long-term partner.”

Work closely with marketing to manage touchpoints across social media and other channels. Ensure that your customers and prospects aren’t being hit with an overwhelming barrage of brand messaging. Seek to provide them with what they need, when they need it, and take steps to make yourself available if they have questions.

When it comes to requesting a referral or warm introduction, don’t just send out a blanket template message. You’ll likely have more success by personalizing the ask. Through Sales Navigator, you can use TeamLink to identify a customer’s connections with organizations you’d like to get in front of, and then get specific with your request: “Hey, I see you’re connected with Joe from Acme – any chance you’d be willing to make an intro?”

Not only are buyers are 5x more likely to engage with a sales professional when introduced through a mutual connection, but the good word – “I worked with Sherry when we bought our software, she was fantastic” – can make all the difference once that conversation gets underway.

Position the Customer as the Hero

Everyone recognizes the value of case studies and customer testimonials. Marketing loves putting them together and sales loves having them available as collateral. When done well, they are legitimately persuasive. Finding subjects who are willing and eager to participate isn’t always easy, though.

Gibson smartly suggests we improve our odds by framing these narratives around the customer, rather than our own products and services. You want to tell the story of how your solution helped them accomplish something; not how your solution accomplished something. It’s a subtle yet vital distinction.

Customer-centric marketers are becoming more naturally predisposed toward this type of storytelling. Salespeople on the front lines can offer unique insights about the buying process, and might be able to help develop an angle that resonates.

Mix Up the Medium

Once you build up a library of customer advocacy content, you can collaborate with marketing to create a versatile format mix. Videos, PDFs, infographics, and other materials should be included.

With a repertoire in place, sellers can create customized PointDrive packages that are attuned to a specific prospect’s situation and consumption preferences. It’s a lot more effective when you can say, “Click this link and you’ll find a quick video featuring a company similar to yours, plus a data sheet with specs,” as opposed to, “Go to our website and watch all the testimonial videos.”

Aim for Advocacy in 2019

Is creating customer advocates a priority focus for your business this year? If not, should it be?

While this initiative has typically been associated with marketing, it’s impossible to miss the potential benefits for sales when customer advocacy is done right. And, as we’ve established here, there are plenty of opportunities for the sales team to become instrumental in producing these advocates.

“Given customer advocates have a significant impact on how others perceive your brand, it’s worth the time and effort to build real, authentic relationships with customers and foster strong customer advocacy,” Gibson concludes.

Who could argue with that?

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