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.
By: Nick Venturella
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.
What inspires you about those you admire?
I was thinking about this, and I think it has something to do with being aspirational.
In other words, you aspire to be more like the person that inspires you.
But, what is it that inspires you about that person?
If you can’t pinpoint one, two, three, or more specifics things then how can you aspire to be more like them?
Just like you, I’ve had some bad bosses and work experiences in my career, but I’ve also had the pleasure of working for some really great bosses who made my work experience at that organization more than worthwhile.
Those good bosses were inspirational, and I aspire to be more like them. They genuinely valued my work. They had real interest in me as a person, and as a result, I wanted to give them my best effort.
Meanwhile, the effect of the inspiration / aspiration continuum is helping me give myself my best effort, which serves me and my own career well.
So, it made me realize that I wanted to aspire to genuinely value the work of those around me and have real interest in what’s going on in their lives, and by doing so, perhaps I can inspire others to be aspirational in a positive way that showcases their best version of themselves...for themselves and others around them.
it’s easy to get frustrated with all of the little things that seem to wrong throughout the day.
When things don’t go exactly as planned the slippery slope of negative self-talk ensues.
So the coffee spilled in the car because you were in too big of a hurry. That doesn’t mean you need to tell yourself how dumb you are for allowing that to happen.
Negative emotions and experiences tend to be remembered far longer than positive ones. However, the positive ones hold the most power to improve your mood, outlook, and mindset, which is why it takes consistent practice to stay in a positive mindset.
Regularly examining the positive things in your life helps build the “positivity habit” (aka: gratitude). This habit can help you feel confident and competent to take on whatever life throws at you.
For every negative thing you can list on a sheet of paper today think hard and list two things you’re grateful for. Then see how you feel afterwards.
Never stop learning.
One way to continually inspire yourself with new ideas is to read.
I like to always have a book or two that I'm reading (or listening to on Audible).
The following list are the books I read in 2018. Not as many as I would have hoped to have read, but hey, 2019 is a new year. The list is not in any particular order.
The list below does contain links to each of the books on Amazon if you're interested in them. No, they are not affiliate links.
Posted by, Nick Venturella
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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 with 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.
Posted by: Nick Venturella
I'm sitting at The Steaming Cup in Waukesha, WI just chilling waiting to start performing my music set here this evening.
It's about 6pm on a gorgeous summer evening. The sun is still out but beginning it's decent. I was fortunate to spend most of the earlier part of today with my two little boys at the beach.
I sit with my cappuccino looking out at downtown Waukesha, which has been revitalized since I grew up here into a great little Arts scene full of art galleries, eateries, wine and traditional bars, and coffee shops, and many establishments host live music at least sometime each week.
I had some realizations as I sat and pondered my thoughts...
When I grew up in Waukesha I used to come downtown here to the original Sprizzo coffeehouse location to play open mic night every week. It's one of the first places I got my music performing start.
Side note...in my opinion the original Sprizzo was the first Arts-related coffeehouse in downtown Waukesha when it opened in the '90's. It changed owners a few times and eventually moved across the street into a newer space before ceasing to exist in 2015. There is a positive arts vibe here in downtown Waukesha that I realize now was really just getting going when I was in my formidable years here. At the time I didn't even know what I was a part of. Now it's a thriving Arts community for other generations.
It used to be I couldn't wait to get out of Waukesha, but I do wish I could have grown up starting my music career with the downtown as Arts focused as it is today. However, I am humbled to have had the good fortune to really start my music and Arts career here. Just by having the opportunity to be a musician, book gigs, promote those shows and sell tapes (yes, tapes) and then CDs, and do so among friends who were doing similar things -- we all learned a ton about being entrepreneurial artists and marketers. That experience has been invaluable.
I guess what I'm most proud to see in Waukesha's downtown is that the Arts are winning there, economically. It's still tough to make a living making music, but in downtown Waukesha it's embraced a little more than in other places. Knowing I have contributed to, and continue to have the opportunity to participate in, the Waukesha Arts scene puts a smile on my face.
These days Madison, WI is truly home with an unmatched vibe and music community, but I'm thankful for having the Arts experiences and exposure I had growing up in Waukesha.
Posted by: Nick Venturella
Whether you're a musician, new startup or an established enterprise, you have customers who are responsible for your endeavor's income.
Those customers are your best sales and marketing team as well as your best source of income growth. But only if you provide them opportunities to benefit from a relationship with you.
Like engaging employees to cultivate internal brand ambassadors and the kind of company culture you want, when you build a similar relationship with your customers you can expect similar results.
However, in both cases you have to be human in your interactions -- these are people you're dealing with, not just numbers on a spreadsheet or assets. That means you have to have good emotional intelligence and provide value to get value.
This is not the time to ask your best customers for favors. Present them opportunities that appeal to their ability to achieve their own personal and professional success. Opportunities that also help your organization -- a true, transparent, win-win.
This can be done at scale with various advocate marketing platforms (Influitive for enterprise level businesses, VIP Crowd for SMBs). These kinds of platforms help you continuously stay engaged with your customers and help them want to stay engaged with you.
You might think of it a bit like a dedicated social network for your customers -- a place to consistently provide your customers content and activities that are relevant to their role as they use your products or services. Because the experience is individualized, by engaging, customers gain relevant industry education, opportunities to network with professional peers and get recognition for their successes while having all sorts of opportunities to provide their unique feedback on (and therefore, have some level of ownership in) the next iteration of your product or service.
There is gamification involved, which is fun and initially sparks action from your customers to engage, but I've found that they stick around because there are more intrinsic values that resonate with the customers once they've started to engage. Those intrinsic values are presented by opportunities that appeal to the customer first, and your company second.
What advocate marketing platforms really come down to is building a reciprocal, healthy relationship with your customers. One that is a win-win, benefiting both parties. You know, like a partnership.
This kind of partnership, is what will extend the lifetime value of your customers. Instead of only having customers that buy one time and leave in a year, you can help keep those customers for several years and even have them interested in add-on purchases from you (this is where current customer growth can happen at scale). However, these things have to be cultivated over time, and you have to remember you're dealing with humans, not assets or numbers. That means you have to want to build real, meaningful, professional relationships.
What's really interesting about this concept to me is that it can be applied to just about any business, and you don't have to have an advocate marketing platform to accomplish some level of this.
Even though I'm a marketer, I'm also, and always have been, a working musician, as such, I keep in touch with those who follow my writings and music -- fans (my customers) -- regularly. Primarily, I do this through an email newsletter that provides exclusive content to my readers that I don't publish elsewhere online.
I try to pack valuable pieces of information in those newsletters that can be useful to the individual humans (fans) who subscribe and consume it. The result is that over time we get to build a relationship and a rapport of sorts. Through opportunities for feedback I learn about my fans' preferences and their ideas for songs or additional products I create, and I take that feedback seriously and implement as much of it as I can to continue to provide my fans (customers) what they've shared they want and need.
The ultimate result, is having customers who have been cultivated over time to become your advocate because you've developed a relationship with them. They trust and believe in you, your business, product or service. Plus, you become their advocate for similar reasons, and thus, genuinely want to see their success because you care about them.
Posted by Nick Venturella
There is something very vulnerable and invigorating about being naked in front of a crowd.
I don't mean that kind of naked. I'm talking about busking as a musician.
In this case it was just me and my acoustic guitar -- no microphone or PA system to amplify the sound for the outdoors. Totally stripped down and naked...at least as naked as I prefer to be in public.
I had a great experience busking recently at the Hilldale Farmers Market this past Saturday morning. It was a rather hot summer day, but worth enduring the heat.
I played my tunes in a stripped down fashion without any amplification for those milling about to each vendor's booth buying fresh produce and baked goods.
As a musician, busking feels a little awkward at first because you're not really the main attraction, it's not necessarily your show like at a club venue where people come specifically to see you perform. In some ways you feel like you're interrupting the market attendees' shopping experience.
However, as soon as you start playing that feeling subsides and it's replaced with a feeling that you're actually enhancing their experience. It's kind of like going to a store to shop and they have music playing over the speakers while you browse the shelves for items you want to purchase. Only, in this case, it's a live musician, which is more engaging.
Busking is fun as a musician because you can quickly tell if people have interest in your music. When they're interested they typical stop to listen for a while or you can see people bobbing their head to the rhythm of the song you're playing. A really nice indication that they like your music is when people drop a few bucks into your tip jar.
When this happens, as a musician, it's important to thank people for giving you a tip even in the middle of the song you're playing, or at least give them a nod to indicate that you saw them give you a tip and that you appreciate it.
In college I used to busk regularly downtown especially in the fall when the new school year started and there was a lot of people around (I live in the college town of Madison, WI).
As a young college student coming into my own as a singer/songwriter, busking was a great time to work out the kinks in new songs. It's like practice with a live audience, and because people are going about their business most are only partially listening so if you make some mistakes as you play no one but you would likely notice.
If you're a musician working on your chops I recommend busking somewhat regularly as a method of practicing. If you pay attention you'll be able to spot which of your songs resonate well with audiences, you can work out set list orders and simply practice your songs. You'll probably even make a few bucks too. I remember as a poor college student busking was always a way to make some quick cash.
Busking for a musician is like conducting market research or utilizing a focus group to perfect your product -- your music and performance -- for your audience. Busking falls into the "honing" portion of honing one's craft. Truth be told, you have to put in the work to get better and better, and if you do, it will be obvious to others.
Thanks for the great experience Hilldale Farmers Market! I hope to be back soon.
Next stop on my summer of shows, I'll be performing at The Steaming Cup coffeehouse in my old stomping grounds of Waukesha, WI. Sat. Aug. 11, 2018, beginning at 7pm. Be sure to come on out.
posted by Nick Venturella
Did you know your customers can help you fix just about any business challenge you have?
Yup, it's true.
Along the journey of engaging your customers, if done well with the customers' interests in mind first and foremost above your own, the customer can and will help you solve most of your business issues.
Things you may not be thinking of related to the above stats are that not only are your current customers likely buying more from you over time, but if they love you, they’re referring others to you, and helping you to close new business as a genuine and credible reference customer.
If ever there was a silver bullet business growth strategy, it’s your current customers.
Are you a new business? Then hustle to get your first few customers and engage the heck out of them. Help them be successful in their business even if it seems a bit beyond the scope of what your products/services are designed to do.
Business is done by people. Be genuine, care about your company, your employees, your customers and their employees. Everyone needs to make a living to support themselves and their families – to live their lives in meaningful ways. If you put forth the effort, I can guarantee you that commercial karma will come back to you in spades.
What are you doing to engage your customers to be wildly successful with your products/services?
Posted by: Nick Venturella
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