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Reference Point: Lessons From the 2015 Summit on Customer Engagement
March 2015                                                                               Gray

Some 215 of the world's top thought leaders, subject matter experts, managers and executives in the field of customer engagement and advocacy gathered for two full days of in-depth presentations and idea exchange at the 2015 Summit on Customer Engagement last month.  


Participating companies included IBM, Citrix, Salesforce.com, GE Healthcare, Siemens, LinkedIn, Amazon Web Services, HubSpot, 3M Health Information Systems, Intuit, Dropbox, Plantronics, Ariba, Intel, LANDesk, VCE, Cisco, EnerNOC, NetApp, Red Hat, SAP, EMC, Genesys, Alcatel-Lucent, JDA Software, Oracle, Epicor, Dell, Ceridian, Neustar among others.  

Following are 10 key takeaways. For the more in-depth, long form version of this article, please contact me (replying to this email is fine).   


Buyer's Continue to Self-Educate, Relying on Peers

The data continues to build that buyers want to hear from their peers throughout the Buyer's Decision Journey, in whatever form they want to use. For example, Dell pointed out that 30% of today's B2B buyers engage with mobile content prior to making a decision, while 58% engage with peers. Some 80% say word-of-mouth influences their purchasing decisions. Nine out of 10 say that when they're ready to buy, they'll find you.

Implication: Does your firm understand how your buyers are purchasing?

Implication 2: Treat your buyers as customers already. You're simply meeting different needs - to learn, seek solutions and to engage with their peers in the process. The customer experience begins long before purchase.

Customer Advocacy Programs Should Lead the Entire Customer Experience Effort...

... IF they step up and assume a strategic role in their company.


That's because no other group--including sales or account managers--is more invested or interested in customer success than customer advocacy professionals. In addition, they have the core skill set: special skills for building CA relationships, telling their stories, and providing value in exchange in ways that preserve the integrity of advocacy.

This isn't just theory. Misys's Chris Adlard, for example, showed how his Misys Connect team (formerly the advocacy program) is doing just that. It has dramatically expanded in order to unify, automate and industrialize the improvement of the customer experience. This strategic, global initiative has been rolled out across all client-facing functions in order to create customers for life.

The effort drove adoption by over 80% of the firm's sales force in less than a year, while accelerating client relationships in ways that are driving significant cross-sell and up-sell opportunities, along with increased loyalty as well as increased advocacy from customers.


Implication: If Customer Advocacy programs don't step up, then eventually--with the progression of today's buyer toward wanting to hear from your customers--someone else will in your organization will.


Customer Advocacy Programs Continue to Create Operational Excellence...

For example, Citrix has developed an automated system that delivers customer content to sales, where and when they need it in the sales cycle. Hewlett-Packard is moving beyond expensive, time consulting, individual case studies to a content generating platform that uncovers financial and operational metrics achieved by a large swath of its customer base.


Implication: Stay abreast of what your peers in this field are doing, and achieving.


... BUT, there is a Big Disconnect in the State of the Field

Buyers increasingly look to outside sources, particularly their peers, as they progress through the Buyer's Decision Journey. Senior management is increasingly aware of this. So far so good. But here's the big disconnect: They're still not funding it.


Key factoid: 83% of respondents to our 2015 Survey on Customer Advocacy and Engagement acknowledge that customer advocates are "critical" or "valuable" to the sales process - but the majority still allocate less than 10% of their marketing budgets to such efforts!


Implication: Customer advocacy professionals must continue to educate their senior management. And when it comes to demonstrating the value of their programs, they need to speak the language of the C-suite rather than going to them with hat in hand. As Amir Hartman put it, "It's time for this profession to grow up."


Repurpose Your Customer Content. Relentlessly.

In a campaign to its analyst community, Dell achieved remarkable, industry-leading email open rates of 52%, 47% click-through, and 6,200 views, by distributing 134 personalized apps. The key: the app creatively reformatted existing (but ignored) customer content, and made it compelling and easily available to analysts traveling to Dell's annual analyst conference.


Implication: The problem with your customer stories isn't the content, it's where, when and how you present it.


Creating Passionate Customer Advocates: Motivation (powerful) vs. Incentives (questionable)

Beware of incentivizing customer advocates. Far more powerful are the principles of human motivation.


These include, Recognition, Access (to company experts and developers), Affiliation (with peers), Knowledge (as opposed to marcom), Enjoyment (providing advocacy opportunities advocates intrinsically like doing).


Implication: If you're relying on incentives, points, rewards, etc. to "motivate" advocacy, you won't get passion.  The only thing incentives might motivate is the desire to get more incentives. Create passionate advocacy by tapping well known principles of human motivation. After all, customers are people too!


Get Conversant With Social Norms

With transactional customers, businesses are guided by market norms. But with customer advocates, as well as customer communities, they should be guided by social norms.


The difference? If your local baker provides you with a cake, you pay him. If your mother-in-law provides you with a cake, you thank her... invite her to the party... reciprocate (in a non-monetary way). You get the picture.


Develop Your "Trustability."

The key to building powerful customer relationships--including customer advocacy relationships--is building extreme trust or "trustability." Boiled down, this means, "Practice the golden rule."


Your Competition is Amazon.

Your firm's competition in today's world isn't your industry competitors. It's Amazon. And the gold standard for Customer Experience isn't "delighting" the customer. It's being "frictionless."  Like the experience you get with Amazon.


You Can Get Potent Customer Advocacy Sooner Than You Think.

You can often start getting potent customer advocacy before you determine ROI or other results from your solution. Even before you've completed implementation! Based on an actual example, I showed how you can get a marquee CIO advocating in the early stages of implementation of the solution. 


Help Advocates Affiliate With Each Other

Customer advocates very often would like to affiliate with each other. And they often flourish when they can hang out with peers.


Implication: Get creative about getting advocates involved in your customer community. Provide them with special affiliation, leadership, presentation and other opportunities.


Implication 2: Your customer communities are hot breeding grounds for new advocates you may not know about.


Implication 3: Customer communities provide substantial business impacts, which can include: generating more loyalty, reducing services costs, and generating more advocacy.


To Sum Up the 2015 Summit

All the pieces are in place for firms to make dramatic progress in winning business with today's buyer:  

  • Buyers are making it very clear they want to hear from your customers, which is arguably the most important long-term trend in marketing and sales.
  • Many companies increasingly understand how to develop passionate customer advocates and get them into these conversations.
  • There is a growing awareness in the C-suite of the importance of doing so.

The question remains for any firm wishing to exploit this opportunity: Who in your firm will lead the charge, strategically and operationally?



All the best,
Bill Lee
"There's really nothing I've seen like it in the country." Lisa Arthur, CMO, Teradata Applications 
"When it comes to developing high-impact customer relationships, I found out very quickly that all roads on that issue lead to Bill Lee." Jackie Breiter, VP,Customer Success & Flagship Program, CA Technologies  
The Hidden Wealth of Customers  (Harvard Business Review Press)
"One of the most insightful business books I've read this year." Dorie Clark, Forbes Online 
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