- Peer-to-peer selling is changing the dynamics of how to leverage customer advocates
- Customer advocacy management and reference platform tools have become invaluable to increase productivity and reach
- Customer advocacy management technologies help support important areas such as demand creation, retention and reputation management
Peer-to-peer recommendations and word of mouth – online and in person – are changing the sales game for b-to-b organizations.
Your prospects are looking for your customers’ recommendations, so it’s critical to have a strategy to make your customer advocates your best sales team.
The reality is that today’s technologies are allowing prospects to gain insight from simple online searches and customer reviews in blogs and social networking sites, shifting the power to your prospects. Marketers are realizing that to protect and accelerate sales opportunities, they need to leverage their customer advocates and make it easy for prospects to find them.
The good news is that advocacy management and reference platforms are becoming a critical technology in the marketer’s toolkit to aid in the identification of sales opportunities and acceleration of the sales cycle – and they are going beyond the traditional applications. As new technologies become more agile, marketers can take a tailored approach to their customer strategy and utilization of these platforms and extend usage far beyond traditional reference program management.
The best tool across all buying stages is the voice of the customer – where customers tell their stories in their voice to their peers. Customer advocacy and reference platforms enable marketers to define their requirements on the basis of the buying scenario they are trying to address and ensure the right assets are used at the right point in the buying cycle.
These platforms are helping to address questions that buyers have during each buying stage by providing the right assets to help to fill the funnel, cross-sell, upsell and contribute to moving customers from one buying stage to the next. For example, when a prospect is trying to determine what solution is the right choice, ROI case studies (online, audio, video, live presentations), quotes, company logo usage (presentations, online, print, advertising) can help move the prospect towards committing to purchase.
It’s important to have a customer strategy that goes beyond the selling cycle and covers the post-sale journey, and it’s essential to ensure that advocate activates are used in the most efficient way. Because of their relationship, these customer advocacy/reference platforms and account-based marketing (ABM) programs are the new power couple. The platforms can help account-based marketers better understand how positive customer sentiment materials and interactions can support needs within an account that are often identified by other platforms (e.g. customer insight management platforms, sales force automation [SFA] systems, customer success management tools).
The evolution of the customer advocacy and reference platforms allows marketers to leverage them well beyond the buying cycle. Additional uses include sales enablement, retention and reputation management, demand generation, and ABM activities. The flexible nature and integration with other systems – such as SFA systems, social platforms and marketing automation platforms (MAPs) – are enhancing the value, utilization and effectiveness of the advocacy assets. In addition to helping organizations activate and manage customer advocates across the post-sale journey, some solutions provide capabilities to gather multimedia (e.g. audio quotes, video, online feedback from customers and partners) and connect peer feedback in almost real time. As the trend of peer selling and influence continues to shift and strengthen, so will customer advocacy and reference platforms – and new vendors will emerge.
Here are some questions to ask to help with the selection of the right customer advocacy and reference platform for your organization:
1. Can the platform dynamically provide content based on your buyer’s journey and personas, ensuring the right content is utilized at the right moment?
2. Can the platform understand customer sentiment and intent? Will this act as another repository that integrates with customer intelligence management solutions, or will it replace this technology?
3. Does the platform provide easy reporting and analytics? Will it provide analysis of the customer advocacy assets and hidden value in its utilization?
4. Is the platform easy for the customer, partner and the sales force to use? Self-service and ease of engagement is critical to platform adaption.
5. Does the platform have native integration capabilities with core platforms such as MAPs, SFA systems, content management, and Web analytics tools? The platform must seamlessly and easily integrate with already utilized platforms.
6. Does the platform vendor provide APIs to systems and tools it is not natively integrated with?
7. Does the platform support and integration with multiple channels (e.g. chat, online, social, and the Web) to capture customer advocate opportunities?
8. Does the platform automatically provide content management updates, or will this need to be another system your team monitors for assets refresh?
There are currently many reliable tools and platforms available that fully support most of the requirements discussed. One especially compelling differentiator is a vendor’s strength at content management and sales enablement. Look for vendors that enable assets to live in a central repository and make it easy for the sales force, customers and your partners to find and utilize advocate assets at the right moment, at the right time with the most up-to-date content. Stay tuned as this category evolves and matures to become an essential part of the marketer’s toolkit and critical technology stack.