Whether you are a musician cultivating true fans or a SaaS based tech enterprise cultivating customer advocates, to scale your word-of-mouth marketing and sales efforts the key is to first provide value to your customers to engage them and, over time, cultivate them into advocates.
You can’t have advocates without engagement, and you can’t have engagement without providing some level of consistent value to your customers.
Now, this was part of the inbound marketing concept, and still is, but instead of just providing a free valuable download for some level of customer data, the back and forth communication is now in real-time and it’s an ongoing conversation – not just 1:1 (you and your customer). It’s now also peer-to-peer between your customers and those in your customers’ networks – they’re talking with each other to share experiences and best practices about you, your product or service, online for all to see and review.
That may seem a bit overwhelming to manage, but that is the point: it is not something you can completely control. You have to build a strategy to participate in partnership with your customers to join the conversation. Doing so provides you the best opportunity to help guide the narrative in a truly mutually beneficial way that is win-win for your customer and you (notice the order of those words “your customer” is first, then “you”).
In that process if you make a point to always first bring value to your customers when you communicate with them, customers will more often than not rise to the occasion to advocate on your behalf. That’s the simplicity of the win-win relationship that starts with engagement – not only your customers’ engagement, but yours as well. You have to authentically want your customers to succeed with or without your product/service...and certainly far beyond your product.
Why is this sort of engagement important?
Your engaging with your customers in a provide-value-and-connect-authentically-because-you care-about-your-customers’-success sort of way not only endears you to your customers, but when word gets out about how you operate in this way you will begin to attract others to you. That means more brand exposure, new business, and more advocates.
So how can you begin to foster that kind of engagement?
There are plenty of voice-of-customer software platforms that help you more easily cultivate your customers into advocates at scale, and fairly quickly, however, if you’re small or operating on little to no budget there are simple tools available to help. In fact, I would argue that it’s more about your strategy, approach, and starting where you are currently at than the specific tools you use.
However, if you can clearly define how you’ll measure your customer advocacy success and even attribute ROI dollars to it, you’ll be able to more easily justify the cost of specific platforms and tools that will help you scale your efforts to drive even more value for your customers and your organization. Things like, calculating the cost-savings of deflecting support tickets with peer-to-peer networking and best practices sharing, or the amount of new, closed/won business that was brought over the finish line by a customer reference.
When there is a will there is a way…
If nothing else, start with communicating to your customers via an email list. Ask your customers in an email how you can help provide more value to them beyond your products and services. Specifically, let them know you would like to create a partnership with them for your mutual benefit.
Ask your customers:
Then invite those customers who respond to invite their coworkers and colleagues to participate in a partnership whereby you communicate regularly with your customers (again tools matter less than strategy here) via email, social media, online groups, whatever you have to use, and consistently present your customers with opportunities to do all the things you asked them about in those questions above, and if you use the suggestions they provided you, you’ll get more participation.
It may be slow going at first, but anything new typically doesn’t start out as a huge success, but if you keep at it and are able to track and identify the impact such efforts are having for your organization, you’ll be in a far better position to justify better tools that make this effort more efficient to scale with great ROI. However, that can't happen without a good strategy first.
Publish Somthing, Anything
Something happens to me as the season of Fall begins to emerge...
I have a creative burst of energy and I get into a mode where I want to create all the time, but I, like many of you, have other day-to-day responsibilities and priorities that seem to stifle that creative impulse.
However, I'm realizing that I simply need to produce writing, drawings, song ideas, business strategies, anything that exercises my creative muscle.
It doesn't matter really what the output is, it's the process of doing it and knowing that consistent effort will lead to improvement in my writing, drawing, songwriting, business strategies, etc.
So, consistent volume of action will improve the overall quality of actions over time. Hence, I need to create and publish something, anything...however, understand why you're doing it.
Why C.I. is More Important Than A.I.
Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) may help your business succeed now and in the future, but Customer Intelligence (C.I.) will always win.
Here’s what I love about the business discipline of customer experience, customer engagement, customer success and advocacy it’s all about using communication to build relationships at scale, but not just any type of relationship, we’re talking about trusted, human relationships.
How do you appeal to an individual human when you are trying to build such relationships at scale?
The answer is that you speak to, and connect with, the individual. Companies are not people. People run companies.
Even if you don’t have the resources to buy fancy technology that helps you easily scale the presentation of personalized communication or information tracks to your fans and customers, you can be personal in your content by writing it as if you are writing to an individual — your target audience. This is the kind of individual with whom you know your message will resonate to help advance the relationship while bringing value to them.
A key is ensuring you’re messages bring value to the recipient without expectation of anything in return…
Or, if you do expect something in the return, that return needs to have less perceived weight in its value, take less energy, or time on the part of the recipient than the value you are providing to them.
Oh, and frame it as an opportunity, not a favor. Favors are not advocacy, they burn people out. Favors make advocates avoid you. Did I mention, don’t ask for favors?
Why is all this important if you’re a solo-practitioner, creative entrepreneur, or even a publicly traded enterprise SaaS business?
Ever since the internet came along — the second marketing rebellion, according to Mark Schaefer — the power of information transferred from companies to customers.
Customers are in control of the purchasing and buying cycles like never before. They research information and ask peers for recommendations rapidly, and in far reaching ways across the internet.
This leads to the lack of control companies have in their marketing — what Schaefer refers to as the third marketing rebellion.
Now, customers are not only in control of buying cycles, but in many ways, the marketing messages themselves because that’s what they trust — hearing from peers and others like them, not the companies producing the solutions.
So, what does this mean for you and/or your company’s marketing efforts?
It means, you have to determine how best to operationalize and facilitate your customers’ to be your marketers and sales people, and product development idea generators and support reps and partner program facilitators, and more.
The only way you’re in business is if you have customers, and in this day and age you’ll need to partner with your customers as part of your company’s extended team (perhaps the most important team members) to create great and engaging experiences that customers help shape and get to own.
Not only does this help customers have the kind of experience they want as they interact with your business, but it makes your job easier by taking the guesswork out of deciding how to provide what your customers need.
The only real way to create such a partnership is to have authentic, real communication with customers that builds trusted relationships.
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