Customer Marketing Demand is Growing

Here’s How to Scale Your Advocacy Program

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During my time on a B2B SaaS Customer Marketing team, I was able to triple our advocacy output, build an active community, and help get our company listed as the leader in the Magic Quadrant for the 1st time, among other analyst initiatives.

Your Customers & Future Advocates Want To Connect

For many B2B SaaS companies, your customers want the ability to talk to other users. They want to see how others are managing their strategies, using features in different ways, what they’ve tried and how they’ve prioritized their goals.

“Customers want to know what other customers think, how they strategize, what their goals are… they want a constant ability to consult with & brainstorm their next move.”

They want to meet other customers. 

But this isn’t an easy feat for the company. There are several obstacles to building a thriving community that delights customers. Then you have to tie your results to significant metrics of the business, namely; revenue. That’s where this guide will help. 

The What

As Enterprise-focused SaaS companies continue to grow, market and customer expectations change. There’s always a forward-thinking company doing something new to stand out. Right now, one of those newer focuses is customer marketing & advocacy. 

And a community is a major pillar of advocacy.

Community is where your customers gather to learn from more experienced practitioners. These members are already taking a step to be closer to your team, your brand, and other customers. This puts them in the perfect position on the path to advocacy. 

Contract signed >> Onboarding >> User >> Education/ Community >>

Member >> Reader >> Participant >> Engaged Member >>

Posting Member >> Advocate

The transition from user to community member to advocate is a natural journey for serious customers who want to be the biggest successes. 

Your Customer Marketing Efforts Require A Community

An engaged community is an asset that gives to almost every department. The Product team gets feedback and ideation, Customer Success gets early indications of issues with the account, Support finds new ideas for self-support, Sales gets referrals, Marketing gets leads, and there’s more. 

“With a community, advocacy can scale, sales get much-needed references,
and you can finally beat competitors on important analyst reports.”

You see, several teams need access to customers for successful development, closed deals, feedback, and future requests we can’t imagine. At the same time, customers want a community; they are attracted to the value available among your other customers.

When customers participate, they slide into advocacy with very little effort, making it much easier to scale Customer Marketing efforts and meet exciting goals. 

Community Is the Path to Long-Lasting Advocacy Programs

No matter how you shape it, you need a lot of customers to create a long-lasting successful Advocacy program. 

That can either come the hard way by working on change management to get other teams bought into new processes, goals, and projects OR by building something that attracts members itself.

This is the difference between pushing other teams to help you and getting their support because it is in their and the customers’ best interest.

“Yes, Customer Success will send members to your community – to you!
And you can nurture them into advocacy.”

So, no more contests, SPIFFs, pushing, or begging.

The How

5 Pillars of Successful Community & Advocacy Programs

Customer Programs, Community Engagement, Building Connections, Team Collaboration & Nurturing Advocates

Customer Programs

A customer program is an initiative that is created to help educate, entertain or support customers. This can be a mentorship program, 1:1 introductions, a top contributors group, etc.

Often times a community will have several programs and events to attract members to participate. We just need one really good program to start.

One of the obstacles to getting customers to join your advocate program (and community) is that they don’t see a lot of value in it for themselves.

Even with communities, everyone has been asked to join a community to learn, share, and network. It no longer sounds special, interesting, or necessary. Customers want to know exactly what they’ll get out of their time.

  1. Our first job is to build a program that offers customers specific value.

    Customers want to connect with others, but it has to be easy; you can facilitate that. 

  2. This should be a simple/easy program that doesn’t require a lot of planning, building, or preparation.
  3. You’ll have to promote this program to various customers to get them involved. You can add these programs to various onboarding and customer communications to get customers to join.
  4. You should be able to get your first program started rather quickly in order to start helping you scale your overall results.

Customers Programs I’ve started:

  • Monthly match program – customers filled out a profile and indicated the categories of customers they wanted to be introduced to. Each month I picked a different customer to introduce them to. This program was very successful. 
  • Weekly informal strategy call – I run this for Customer Marketers, we hop on, on Fridays at 2PM and discuss any questions, news, or industry topics that come up. Think of it as 20 practitioners jumping on to help you succeed in your job.
  • Expert community columns – each week run a column by someone with expertise in your community, give this a special place in social media, the customer newsletter, and call it out on thee community itself.
  • Top contributor group – Allow your most engaged and helpful members to be part of a top contributor group, these members can post special pieces, collaborate on posts, and host AMAs.
  • Topic online meetups – Another thing I do for communities is put together calls about specific topics. For Customer Marketing, we will have a call on Community Building, Tools used in practice, Driving reviews, etc.
  • Spotlights – You can put a member in the spotlight every month, quarter, or week. Let them share what they love about your industry/profession, their favorite resources, and helpful tips for others. Make it an announcement on the community and put them in social media. Put past spotlights in the running for being a speaker at your next customer event.
  • Contests – how members participate is totally up to you and the winners can get a range of rewards from an award nomination, to a charity gift, to a cash prize or trip.
  • Live events/ user groups – User groups are very popular especially as the world gets back to live and hybrid events, encourage your members to plan and host, so you can scale the program.

The monthly match program & weekly calls seem to be the most popular programs in 2021-2022.

You’ll have to ask your users to see what they are most interested in. 

These programs can be set up before you have a community in place. They contribute to building your community, become the draw to it, and help you learn more about customer needs for future initiatives.

As part of joining your programs, I’ll often require that customers must also join the community platform. This is where they’d fill out the form, do a survey, indicate interest, etc. Of course, this can only happen when your community is in place. 

Community

Now that you have something to attract customers, you’ll need to build up the community. It’s through the discussions, answers, connections, and opportunities that you’ll build a healthy flow of activity that nurtures your customers toward advocacy.

Upfront, this will take a bit of time, but it’s not entirely different than the relationships you are already trying to build with customers through an ad-hoc program. However, with the community, you’ll quickly see other interactions and content entertaining and educating your potential advocates without your help.

You’ll also notice that as you are building discussions and nurturing your relationships with members, you’ll see indications of what they’d like to do as advocates. You’ll also find numerous stories of experience, triumph, expertise, and success in your customer community. Now, you can start to envision your program scaling.

Community Engagement

Getting community engagement is going to look different to everyone. If you already have an active community in your company, you’ll need to work closely with that team to identify potential advocates, invite them to your programs, and eventually ask them if they’d like to learn more about your program through a quick call.

If you don’t have one, it’s time to start. I recommend starting with 10-20 customers who are interested in working very closely with you as you learn about their needs, choose the best permanent platform, and slowly invite additional cohorts of members to join.

Here’s a short intro to starting a community:

  • Get 12 Beta members
  • Manually curate & create all content
  • Start two events or program
  • Do a lot of marketing & promotion
  • Listen to member feedback
  • Build stronger programming

Community Platform

The platform doesn’t need to be expensive; it just needs to fit seamlessly into your users’ existing habits and preferences. For a lot of B2B SaaS companies, I recommend Slack. While Slack wasn’t built to be a community platform, there are additional tools that provide the CRM and reporting back end that made it a difficult choice.

You won’t ever see the SEO value a community can bring with an on-site platform, but you will be able to get engagement fairly quickly and this is often difficult with new discussion forums. However, if I had to suggest the best solution for an on-site community, I would recommend Vanilla forums. I appreciate their long years of being in business, mature features, ease of use, and flexibility.

There isn’t enough space on this page to fully teach the topic of starting a community. But I do hope it’s helped you consider the value the community can bring to your program.

This next section is about how I immediately segment new community members for future advocacy requests and message personalization.

Community Members into Advocates

I believe that any customer who joins the community can be considered an advocate because they are taking steps to be closer to the company. Additionally, by asking each of them 1 question, you can figure out what type of advocate they would like to be.

Based on Laura Ramos’ article on the 4 types of advocates, I ask:

How would you like to participate in the community?

  1. Educate and learn from/with others.
  2. Share my honest feedback and experiences.
  3. Grow my career through various opportunities.
  4. Collaborate with X Company on cool projects.

The top 3 answers indicate users who become your most active members, and because you know what motivates them, you can nurture them into the appropriate activities. The following is an explanation of the answers listed above.

  • For example, Amy joins and wants to educate others – she will be active in answering questions in the community; you can message her when a topic comes up, and she’s an expert in that area.
  • Jon wants to share feedback & his experiences. You can ask him if he’d like to turn that into a blog post when he posts one of his stories. He’s also likely to leave honest reviews, join product betas, and generate ideas for the company.
  • Stephanie wants to grow her career. She will participate in events, speak on webinars, write content, and network with your team and members. You can ask her to share her expertise in a blog post, have her be a reference, etc.
  • Collaborators are usually VP-level and up. They won’t normally participate much in the community, but it’s nice to build a relationship and get them onto CABs, EABs, or Champion programs.

Building Connections

At the core of any community, you’ll find relationships, the ties that bring people together to become something more than the sum of all parts.

At the beginning of your community, you’ll have members connect with the community manager, and then further connections need to be arranged between members.

These initial connections are usually around making introductions, helping members get comfortable posting in the community, reminding them to visit (building habits), and listening to what is important to them.

I tend to ask new members if there is a topic they are hoping to learn more about.

These relationships (in fact, every single relationship) contribute to an active community that feeds your customer marketing initiatives & the company’s success (and you’ll never know what connection will bring that success).

“Every person, every relationship, is important in the beginning. Each one adds to the community, sometimes 1x, sometimes 2x, sometimes 10x – you’ll never know who will make a significant impact.”

Start by getting several members into my founding members group, then help them connect with each other by making introductions based on their interests, projects they are working on, goals for the year, favorite sports teams, and even steps in their career.

From here, you can offer a variety of calls to discuss hot topics; this helps immensely with the sense of community, which again contributes to the active community.

One of my secrets to building these connections is in the follow-up. When you’ve come to one of my events or ask for a recording, I might make specific recommendations about when to join us, who to talk to after, or even when to listen in on the recording for a certain topic.

I do this when I have the time to connect 1:1 with members, when I need to encourage activity, and when I want to bring more attention to something we’re working on.

Here are a few tactics I use to help make connections:

  1. Ask new members what topics they’d like to learn or share about (keep track in a spreadsheet)
  2. Reach out to members who haven’t posted after a couple of days and ask them to comment on a specific post in the community (leave the link too).
  3. Tag members that you think would be helpful for a post in the comments. Take a look at your spreadsheet to find the best members for this.
  4. Put together impromptu calls, these could be weekly calls, topic calls, etc., but when you get several members together, they connect on their own and increase the sense of community.
  5. Make introductions between members who are working on similar projects.
  6. Post and comment a lot – even if it’s to say thank you for the post OR to say you are looking for someone to answer the question. Every comment you make builds relationships with all members who see it.

Collaboration

During your community building, you’ll talk to several other teams. Once you are closer to launch or once you have your beta members contributing, it’s time to think more about these other teams.

You want to ensure you add value to your team members’ goals; then, you can collect value from those teams for your customers.

It’s usually by collaborating with other teams that you’ll learn about the metrics your programs will influence. This is how you’ll find out exactly how you impact revenue.

‘I live by: I need to build my internal community to make sure I have the most value to offer my external community.”

After speaking to most teams, I usually pick a couple of teams where I can immediately add value to their KPIs – I will:

1) show that I’m a team player who supports them as well as needs their support

2) build a relationship that will support the community and my programs in the future, whether just through resources or by sharing our value back to our executives

3) learn about their goals – when I can help them make progress, they are happy to return the favor

4) build a community they can happily share with customers

It’s very easy for a community to add to the education, social, content, and sales enablement teams.

Based on the initiatives they are working on, I can give them content ideas, content creators, content for social, and feedback for courses and certifications.

Once I’ve given them value and worked on those internal relationships, I can also ask for support.

  • I can ask the social media team to share upcoming programs or events
  • I can get lists from the education team about who has completed certifications (and is likely to become an advocate someday)
  • I can ask for sales relationships that are already being used as references for my advocacy initiatives.

It’s imperative that you build these relationships; this is how customer-led growth works, it has to permeate and make change within the organization, and we do that by enabling other teams to see and add value.

To start working with other teams, ask how you can help them reach their goals, set up monthly calls with the 2 teams you can start with, and after 6 months, add another team and move the first 2 teams to as-needed calls, bi-monthly or quarterly.

I also start a monthly email and ask stakeholders if they want to be updated monthly on what I’m doing for customers; this is sent internally only.

This is a long race, it’s change management, and it’s absolutely necessary to the future success of your programs both in community and customer marketing, as well as your future as a department in the company because as these teams see your value, they share how necessary it is to have these programs.

Here are some ways I’ve exchanged value internally.

Sales:

  • Get reference suggestions for new customers
  • Enter the customer journey in the sales cycle
  • Ideas for gifts and sales enablement (there are often special reports & offers for prospects only, you can get them for your advocates)
  • Find out what’s attracting leads
  • Metrics to prove reference value
  • Metrics to prove expansion value you are generating
  • Made the community accessible for prospects (it’s a great selling point)
  • Sent references & optimized the process & guidelines for getting references

Product:

  • Get reference nominations (product knows some customers too)
  • Run surveys, get hand-raisers for their studies, get feedback
  • Have them share their roadmap or upcoming release with the advocates first
  • Have them participate in events with members
  • Run ideation campaigns for product
  • Get usage metrics
  • Find out what they would have paid to have a company run surveys and get feedback for them (the value of your program contributions)

Marketing

  • Run lead campaigns for expansion
  • Identify ideal accounts for new offers
  • Share traffic & activity metrics
  • Get content from product marketing
  • Get loss leaders for customers
  • Run surveys for them
  • Get data on surveys they’ve run & share it
  • Find use cases
  • Get customers to participate in marketing

A Big Caveat to Collaboration

Collaboration is important to building a great community and experience for members, but along this path, you will find some pushback.

Whether it’s a new process, software, or team member, you’ll have to work on slow gains. Few things are impossible, and you can always visit a CMA Weekly call to ask for help.

Cultivate Advocacy

Now for the fun part – Advocacy!

Depending on how quickly you need to churn out advocates, you might start nurturing and creating advocates while your customer programs take shape. That’s OK, but now it’s time to shift from an ad-hoc approach to a scaling mindset.

In this phase, we want to optimize the tools we have and our approach to getting customers to participate and become advocates. IE: You want to be great at knowing your tech & reporting functions.

I’ve reviewed Customer Marketing & Advocacy products on LinkedIn to help you choose software to purchase, but realistically we often have to work with whatever we inherit.

Many Customer Marketers only use spreadsheets, so here is an advocacy scorecard I’ve created:

But what does this program look like when it’s scaled?

  1. Invite customers to the community (highlighting your programs)
  2. In their onboarding ask them how they want to participate (Laura Ramos advocacy types)
  3. Add all members & any answers to your spreadsheet
  4. In their early time as a member reach out (if possible, but if not, send a message in the community DM or on LinkedIn) It’s optional to get all members, but really try to get anyone who answered your question about participation.
  5. Thank them for joining the community and ask if there are any topics they want to learn about (keep track of answers).
  6. Put any helpful details in your spreadsheet.
  7. Add content to the community and keep referring to your spreadsheet to see who would be interested – send them a DM or LinkedIn message when the topic they enjoy surfaces.
  8. As members participate in conversations watch for their stories. (Add details to your sheet)
  9. Invite members who have shared to jump on a call and share their story with you. (mark this as an intro call on your sheet)
  10. Ask them if they’d like to share their story in a blog post or webinar
  11. Invite them to the Advocacy program
  12. Give them access to space in your community where they can hand-raise, leave reviews (or get the review links), opt to be a reference, etc.
  13. Every week (and every time it’s necessary) look at your internal goals and compare them with the data you have. Do you need references? Who isn’t already a reference in your advocacy program? Who have you categorized as a Validator (4 types)?
  14. Send these small groups specific invitations to do a certain activity and offer them a thank you.
  15. Each week update your sheet with points for activities (until you can figure out a tool like Zapier or Airtable to automate this).
  16. Every two weeks, put together an Advocacy newsletter to send to help them earn points/badges/opportunities.
  17. Continue working on engagement and connecting in the community, various opportunities will present themselves and by keeping your eyes open to the extensive content being created, you’ll find members ready to naturally move into advocacy.

The hardest part about scaling is keeping it all organized. You absolutely need a system and some automation to help you manage all of the internal requests, customer requests & follow up, customers preferences, hand-raisers, dates, statuses for case studies, verification on published content, and completed asks.

I really like Influitive. They can even help you make the business case for your executives. But, this scaling is very possible with multiple software combinations.

I’ve recently played with Softr and Airtable to create an internal tool for tracking these things. There is a lot of manual entry BUT, you’ll learn some tricks that help you optimize your time.

My success: To get the results from the beginning of this guide I used Influitive; Advocacy & Community.

That’s about all for now. I started this guide in September 2022 and updated it in November 2022.

Please message me on LinkedIn https://linkedin.com/in/marygreencny to connect, share your feedback on this post, and ask about the services I offer.