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Reference Point:
Tips on Scaling Your Advocacy Program
April 2015                                                                    

At this year's Summit, "Sustaining and/or scaling our customer advocacy program" came in as the second most cited challenge among our attendees. (#1 was "Attracting passionate customer advocates," which I've addressed in two recent newsletters, here and here).

When you need to rapidly scale your advocacy program--due to rapid growth of your business, or mergers/ acquisitions--here are some tips to keep in mind.

1. Don't Do More of the Same
The need to scale is an ideal time to start by asking, "What can we stop doing?" What are we doing that we can automate (start with the hand-holding concierge services many advocacy programs provide to sales)? Do we really need to create a slew of new customer content, or can you repurpose terrific existing content that buyers aren't seeing in its current form?  Are we cultivating too many customer advocates, many of whom are unlikely to make any real contribution to growth, or can we narrow our focus to just high-potential advocates, influencers and contributors? Senior management and stakeholders will be far more receptive to considering such questions when you're in high-growth or acquisitions mode.

2. Think Big
To successfully scale for a growing advocacy program, don't forget to scale your own thinking. You must move beyond measuring quantity of references or testimonials, which bear no real or arguable relationship to business growth. Start tying your advocacy program to metrics your senior management monitors. If in doubt, engage senior management in agreeing on what you should measure. At the 2015 Summit for example, Hannah Shane showed how she worked closely with her CFOs, first at Rally Software and now at Cloud Elements, to develop measures for her advocacy programs that really resonate with senior management.

3. Get Selective
Over the years, I've occasionally encountered firms that want to be "100% referenceable." If you need to serve a rapidly expanding firm, my suggestion is to get selective. Determine which customers can provide the biggest advocacy impact--what I call your potential "rock stars"--and focus first on cultivating them. You can find them relatively easily with a few questions. Which markets and business lines are most important to our growth? Which customers (and prospects) are most influential in those markets based on brand, reputation, participation in industry forums and the like? Btw, one group is not necessarily a source of high-potential advocates: your biggest spenders.

4. Position Your Program as Part of the Customer Lifecycle
... as opposed to a stand-alone cost center supporting sales and marketing. In a rapidly expanding business, advocacy should be viewed as a very important--and thus strategic--component of success. Here's an example. At the Summit, Jane Hiscock showed how IBM makes very careful assessments of how its customer advocates derive value from participation in the advocacy program. They keep tabs on their marquee advocates' business and social aspirations which the advocacy program can help them with. For example, some clients want to meet peers in adjacent industries. Some want to be thought leaders. Some want to drive change. Some want to be recognized for their success publicly. Some want to manage risk. Advocacy programs that understand these drivers are going to have a lot more success recruiting and getting amazing advocacy.

5. Stop Limiting the Advocacy Options You Provide
Don't fall into this trap (and it's a common one): designing your advocacy program around marketing and sales needs. Equally important is creating great experiences for your advocates. Here's a great irony: if you're having trouble engaging high-potential rock stars, or  they're suffering "reference burnout," it's often because your offering too few options. Check out the advocacy aspirations in #4 above, and look at the possibilities they open up: participating in you customer community, forming an advisory board, speaking at industry events and so forth. If you offer rock stars appropriate opportunities to do such things, they'll be jazzed. Plus it's one of the best cures for "reference burnout," which is the last thing a rapid growth business needs!