No one believes you anymore.
That’s the reality businesses are facing. You can talk about yourself and the amazingness of what you do until you’re blue in the face, but people aren’t convinced. Your messaging will only resonate if the listener has already been primed with peer recommendations. Advocate marketing is how you get there.
Read more: 5 ways B2B communities increase profits
Your advocates need a microphone
The Forrester report Advocate Marketing Creates B2B Customer Relations That Last A Lifetime shows peers and colleagues what are now the top sources for learning about products in the discovery stage of the buyer journey. Trusted references have always been the backbone of sales, but in the age of the customer, peer-to-peer referrals are the pathway to lasting success.
The 2016 B2B Buyer’s Survey Report from Demand Gen supports the Forrester analysis: half of B2B buyers say their peers are now who they turn to to make purchase choices, up 30% from 2015. Many companies invest in written or video case studies in an effort to prove the value of the product and services. This approach is effective, particularly video or visualised data that a prospective customer can easily add into their internal business case for your product.
But the businesses that shine go a step further, by building programs that make it easy and rewarding for customers to socially validate the value you bring them.
Ambassadors, not references
When politicians campaign, they often use surrogates to wave their banner in the field. More than just an endorsement, these surrogates are a true extension of a brand. Their own stories and experiences echo and underscore the messages of the campaign, rather than sounding like a hollow press release. (Well, the good ones do. And isn’t it easy to spot the ones who aren’t convincing…?)
Your B2B organisation needs its own surrogates. People who can credibly validate your market claims and to a broader audience than you can reach on your own. Technology has closed the gap. Advocate marketing is how you edge ahead.
How advocate marketing works
Advocate marketing is creating, identifying and building relationships with true advocates of your business. You then create content, conversations and experiences led by those advocates, designed to attract new buyers from advocate peer networks. Start with extrinsic motivators like rewards and gradually connect with more intrinsic motivators like personal passions.
Focus obsessively on customer success. This will breed advocates as customer win bigger with your business over time. You can do this through online forums, content hubs and other surrogates or ambassadors empowered to help customers solve problems.
Let your best advocates into the ‘inner circle’. Appoint an advisory group. Hold an exclusive event. Gather their feedback (and act on it). See if there’s a role for customer advocates in existing partnership or affiliate programs. Unlike B2C influencer marketing, B2B advocate marketing should focus on depth and relevance rather than pure reach or virality.
It’s the opposite of gamification – it’s authentication.
Read more: Top B2B social media marketing myths
They want to be influencers – let them!
Many B2B customers include some component of thought leadership in the strategic communications and brand positioning of their own businesses.
They want and need to be seen as market leaders, engaging with experts across sectors, and driving innovation in their domain.
Tap into that need and help them be seen as leaders in their own networks and customer communities. Give them relevant information and access to experiences that helps them build personal and professional brand value. Connect your best advocate with content and speaking opportunities – where you will feature as a part of their story.
If your advocate program lets them ‘under-the-hood’ of product development they’ll feel even more valued, and creating more personal stakes for you to succeed.
The sell is never the end
Once the deal is done, that’s when the work of smart marketers really begins.
Consider how customer advocacy programs and initiatives can enhance the ROI of existing marketing and sales efforts, and connect to the bigger picture of your business.
As a customer of yours… how I can be shown success, be coached along a roadmap to get there, and ultimately improve my own brand and marketing by sharing the work we did together?