Transcript: How to Position Customer Advocacy as “Must-Have” Instead of “Nice-to-Have” with Claire Grove

On this episode, I was joined by Claire Grove, Customer Advocacy and Storytelling Strategy Director at ServiceNow. Previously, she ran UK customer advocacy at Microsoft, as well as the EMEA customer reference program at Salesforce. Claire has this incredibly calming energy and it’s clear just how much passion she has for this work. We talk about how customer marketing can become more strategic vs. tactical, the importance of learning to say “no,” and why being yourself, along with a good sense of humor, is key to building trusted relationships with your customers. Without further ado, here’s my conversation with Claire. 

Margot Leong: Claire, I’m super excited to have you on Beating The Drum. Thank you so much for being here. 

Claire Grove: I’m really excited. Thanks for the opportunity. 

Margot Leong: Absolutely. First off, I’d love if you could start off by introducing yourself. So can you tell us a little bit about your background and focus specifically on the work that you’ve done within customer marketing and advocacy?

Claire Grove: Sure. It’s been a heck of a journey over the past 20 years, or 20 plus years, actually. So, most recently I started working for ServiceNow. My job role is looking after customer advocacy and particularly around strategy for EMEA, also part of the global team. So that’s been really exciting. I’ve also worked for other organizations like Microsoft, back in the day, So it’s always been very much customer-focused in everything that I’ve done, whether it’s been across marketing or comms or customer success. 

Margot Leong: You have such an incredible breadth of experience, what keeps bringing you back to this type of work? What do you enjoy the most about it? 

Claire Grove: I absolutely love my job. So it’s been really funny over the course of the time that I’ve been working in this area, people have said to me, you know, what’s next? What’s the next job? But genuinely I absolutely adore what I do. It’s one of the only roles in marketing, where you are so often in front of the customer and the opportunity to build those relationships, reflect the voice of the customer back to my own organization, but also really create some win-wins for the customers, find opportunities for them to share their stories – that gives me so much energy.

Margot Leong: Yeah, I think what’s really interesting about this role in the best sort of incarnation of it is where you get to blend storytelling and service, acts of service, to your customers.  Have you always just been really energized by being customer-facing? Were there previous roles where you noticed that? How did you get into this space? 

Claire Grove: Oh, gosh. That’s a really interesting question because very, very early on in my career, I’d have been petrified at talking to customers. So I actually fell into dcustomer marketing completely by accident. So I had started work for a small tech reseller. As often is the case in terms of the reseller world, there’s not always a lot of budget for marketing. So I realized actually the way to maximize our presence and our PR was to work with customers to do that. So it’s always much more interesting if you can get a customer on stage talking about the relationship and how you’re working and what the solutions are and the benefits. 

So that then progressed. I went to work for one of the manufacturers and I was in a field marketing role. It wasn’t really customer-focused or, or sorry, customer-facing probably more accurately. And then there was a change in management and the new director coming in didn’t know really whatt to do with me and my role wasn’t really a good fit anymore. And they’d seen that I’d done some customer-facing stuff and given me the opportunity to go out and build case studies, which is where I started.

Margot Leong: Got it. So you were starting off with the foundational elements of what turns into a great customer marketing program, which is the case study part, right? 

Claire Grove: Yeah. Although when I first started, it was pretty much case studies and challenge, solution, benefit, and how many of those could we do. And it was really interesting at the time or frustrating at the time, because every time there was a budget cut, I’d be told, Claire, you know, your budgets being pulled. And the third time this happened, I thought, what can I do to stop this happening? Because I’m bored. I don’t want to be bored. I really like what I do. 

And I realized, that what I was doing was seen as a nice to have. There was no commercial imperative behind me doing it. And realistically it was a cost center rather than a value add. So I had to start thinking about how am I able to be more relevant, so not just to the customers, but also my business and how can I structure things and start measuring things so that people really understand how important this is and that it’s not just a soft, fluffy, nice to have actually. If we’re not doing it, we’re doing something wrong. And as I said, that was quite early on and I think customer advocacy, customer marketing – how ever you want to term it – was really in its infancy. So it was an interesting place to be. 

Margot Leong: I feel like the metrics and the value-add piece is something that customer marketing still really struggles with, right? I’m sure that you’ve seen the evolution from even thinking about it as purely references and story-based to now advocacy and customer marketing. A lot more companies are adopting this, but I think at the same time, you fall into this trap if you’re not careful, where basically it gets very tactical. At that role, when you were brought on for the case study side, how did you think about the value add then? 

Claire Grove: Oh, very differently to how I think about it now. I just don’t think it was ever thought of, I think even at the very start, I thought, well, there’s no way you can measure this beyond the number of stories that you create, the number of case studies and a lot of the organizations I’ve worked for in the past, at that time, were, focused on, can you go create 50, 100, 200 stories in the year. Well, yes I can. But actually, what is that going to offer? And what’s that going to bring? And so being in this discipline for so long has its advantages in the fact that I’ve made a lot of mistakes. So now we’re at the point where ServiceNow is the beneficiary of me learning by those mistakes and getting to a better place. Wherever you go, I think 9 times out of 10 people say, the numbers of stories that you create, that’s fine. 

But I think in our roles, it’s not just enough to be a content creator. You have to really get involved and work out what’s the amplification. Now I’m not a PR expert. I’m not a campaign marketing expert, but I work with people who are really, really fiercely bright and intelligent, and are excellent at their jobs. So how do I hook those custom stories into those other areas to try and embed the voice of the customer throughout our organization?

And then the metrics change, because it’s not just about the numbers of stories that you create. It’s actually – we’re taking on some of those marketing metrics or some of those comms metrics. It then becomes about reach and do all of the marketing campaigns have a customer story as support. What’s the open rates, what’s the dwell time? What are people doing? Are they bouncing off? Are they clicking on the next call to action? 

And same with the comms piece in previous organizations, I’ve been very much working hand in hand with our PR colleagues to look at how many customer interviews are we doing with the media and actually what’s the reach of those interviews and what’s that bringing us. And if we had to pay for that level of coverage in advertising, what was that equivalent spend? So the more that you can build in the metrics and show hard dollar metrics, that changes the conversation and in previous organizations where I’ve been able to prove that, that’s what’s got me funding for the program and helped it grow. 

Margot Leong: I think that in sort of piggybacking off of their metrics and really proving out that value, I think is a really smart way to go about it. Let’s say it’s the beginning of the quarter or right before the end of the quarter. How do you think about projecting out specific metrics you’re trying to hit then? By end of Q1, is it like, I want to achieve this many interviews or impressions or how do you think about that? 

Claire Grove: That’s the one piece that I don’t like because you can never – it’s more difficult to predict it. So you have to treat it like a sales pipeline and you have to have in pipe – if it’s a qualified pipeline, at least 3X. So I know that for every three customers I’m talking to you about doing a reference, probably one will come out in that quarter. You always have to work back and I get really excited by the art of possible. And so I struggle not to overcommit. I have to be very realistic about it because actually, you can have lots and lots of conversations with customers, and it’s great to build the relationship, but it could take a year to bring somebody on board, depending on the size of the organization. And then you’ve got the flip side where people just get it, you’ve hit them at the right time, the right place. They want to take part, you can have a story created and approved inside of a month. 

So it’s a bit of a balancing act, but in terms of the way that we think about it, we do have targets, we do know that for us to help drive our business forward, we need to have customers to support that. And then it becomes a case of looking at what are sales looking to try to do and achieve? Are their solution areas that they’re really trying to focus on? And then how do we line up our stories behind that?

So again, you can be all things to all people in this role, and the mark of success is when people across the business are saying, well, hang on a second. Why won’t you tell my customer story? And so it’s that delicate balancing act, but it starts and finishes with: what was it that your business is trying to achieve?

Margot Leong: Yes, exactly. I definitely always encourage for other customer marketers to not just be everything to everyone, because it can be very easy to fall into that trap. And I think that if you’re in this type of role, you’re generally pretty empathetic and you want to help everybody, but then in doing so, you almost sort of are limiting yourself in terms of thinking about how to achieve the actual value that the business needs to go forward. 

Claire Grove: Yeah, you’re absolutely right. Because I think the biggest learning I’ve ever had in my whole career has been how to say no because if you’re focused on that north star, if you’re focused on your strategy, that’s what enables you to say, look, I know it’s important to you, I can’t help because of X, Y, and Z. But what I try and do is – so, we have a customer story in a box, for example. So, for those areas that we can’t help, actually, we’re still enabling others to be able to tell stories in a quality way that means that they’re still going to be amplified. It’s just not something that we’re going to work on because it’s not fitting our strategy. So being able to say no is a skill I didn’t think I’d ever need to learn, but absolutely it’s been a necessity over the years. 

Margot Leong: An issue within customer marketing is that we’re always stretched very thin and we don’t typically get a lot of headcount or a lot of budget. There’s only three ways to make something scalable, right? People, processes or technology, you know, right. Where can I leverage one of these three areas to make it easier for us to do the jobs that we need to? So talk to me a little bit more about this customer in a box idea. 

Claire Grove: Yeah. So you raise a few interesting points. I’d like to come back to the technology piece as well, but in terms of the customer story in a box, it’s really about getting people to think about: what is it that they want to achieve? Which sounds really stupidly simple, but it’s amazing how many people say to me: can you ask the customer these questions? 

Margot Leong: I completely agree.

Claire Grove: I can ask any question you like, but you might not get the answer that you’re looking for. So how about telling me, you know, what, what messages do you want to learn? And then let’s just ask this question a number of different ways to get those types of answers. And so it’s more about getting people to think about things slightly differently.

And when they are interviewing, when they are putting together content, making sure, you know, we’re a global company, we can’t have differences in quality because we’re all reflecting the brands. We’re all reflecting the quality message, customer-first message, which is an ethos that is spread across our organization. So actually by helping people achieve that standard and that level, that’s going to help them because it’s a story, whether that’s written form often, that they can use and they can amplify. So it’s more about having a little bit of a framework and you’re always going to have different local nuances perhaps, but making sure that the policies there, that it doesn’t matter who it’s being written by actually, it looks like a company asset, it doesn’t look like somebody who’s just gone rogue. 

And when you were talking about the technology, it’s really interesting. I think the pendulum swings at different stages. So I’ve seen instances where customer marketing departments, advocacy departments, think that they can save the world by implementing technology and deferring to that. So they rely on the technology to do the job and they think, great, I don’t have to have any customer interaction. That’s happened. I’ve seen, I’ll protect the names of the innocent, but I’ve seen one program that was always held up in high esteem. It was seen to be the program that everyone aspired to. To get to that level. They implemented technology as a way of creating scale, but they forgot about the human element. And then all of a sudden, over a period of time, they weren’t relevant. So the customers weren’t happy. They weren’t really getting what they needed. There was no value in it. And unfortunately that department got disbanded. 

So I think you have to be smart. You have to create scale because the more successful you are, the more people want the stories that you can tell and the references that you can build, you have to be really deliberate with the technology that you employ to help you do that. And you must never ever forget that it’s humans first and it’s been really interesting to say that swing over the years. 

Margot Leong: I completely agree. I think customer marketing is pretty prevalent within tech. But then at tech, you’re at odds a lot of times because the name of the game is scalability and automation. And I think you make a great point, which is that the currency of what we’re doing – a lot of it is about social capital and developing relationships. And so I think it’s always encouraging people to think about relationships, always in a long-term context. 

Claire Grove: I mean, it’s interesting. Because you know, technology should always augment and support and actually it should free up your time to give you the ability to forge those relationships. And that’s where I’m lucky with where I work today because ServiceNow, we talk about making the world of work work better for people, and I get to take advantage of that technology, to take out some layers of complexity, sticking around reporting, things like that. So that then means that I can focus on the things that are really important. So how do you build trust? How do you demonstrate relevance? How do you live and breathe this customer thirst ethos? And it’s been fascinating. 

Margot Leong: So Claire, something I also wanted to dive a little bit deeper into, as you mentioned, one of the best tools in your arsenal for this role is learning how to say no. How do you typically approach that conversation? Let’s break it down a little bit.

Claire Grove: Yeah, it’s really, really hard and it doesn’t come naturally to me. My business, my whole working life is about creating win-wins. So I’d say “no” feels completely alien to that sometimes, but I think you have to remain absolutely determined to meet your strategy. That’s not to say that you can’t wane from that, but ultimately you’re there to deliver something and that something is whatever it is that you need to do for your customer, whether that’s internal customers or external customers.

And if at the end of the year, I say to my business, great, we’ve developed 200 stories and I say, fantastic, what was the impact? And it’s not helping us in a particular vertical industry or with a particular solution set, or actually it’s being so tactical that customers have said, thanks very much, and then that’s the end of the engagement.

Ultimately I’m going to be judged on what I’m bringing to the business and what I’m offering our customers. So you have to just be really clear. And so for me to say no, I’ll often try and help find other ways around it. We’ll direct people to other places. But sometimes you just have to say, look, I’d love to help, but this is the reason why I can’t help. I think as long as you’re clear, people get it, people understand it, and that’s certainly helped me over the years. 

Margot Leong: You’ve worked at some pretty large organizations and so I’m sure that that comes a lot of customers, comes with a lot of requests from reps. I’m sure that there’s no shortage of people coming to you and saying, feature my customer, my customer is great. How do you respond to that?   

Claire Grove: Yeah. Well, it’s interesting, especially when people come up to me and say, oh, can you tell a story with my customer? I had that a lot in previous companies as well, because again, success breeds success. And I quickly learned after a few awkward conversations with customers where I realized there actually wasn’t a story, the first thing I ask now is, okay, well tell me the story. And if they say, well, they’ve got this product. Okay, but what’s the story? And it encouraged them to go off and find out a little bit more. So sometimes it’s self-fulfilling because if you, just through the act of asking questions, if you don’t get anything back, there’s becomes that realization that actually it’s not really a story to tell. And again, you’re going to waste your customer’s time, you’re going to waste the business’s time. So you have to be really firm about the win-win. And there are times where we’ve run out of budget or run out of time, and then it becomes a discussion around, look, can’t do it now, but we can prioritize for next quarter or whenever or through working with other departments.

There’s 101 different ways you can tell a story and not all of them fall into my responsibility. So our colleagues in comms are always really keen to be talking to customers to set up media interviews, even in terms of internal comms, it can be just as valuable for a customer to share their experiences to an internal audience. So there’s normally ways and means of being able to create those win-wins, but it’s not always going to be something that I can put time or budget to. 

You’ve also, you can’t forget the customer angle because sometimes customers are put forward for things that just aren’t in line with the messaging where they want to be. So I never go to a customer and say, what do you, what are the sort of story – I always wants to sit and find out more about what is it that they’re really doing? What are they trying to achieve? What’s their comms goals? Once we’ve got an understanding of that, it makes it so much easier because you can say right, now I understand your direction of travel. Now I understand some of your end goals. Here’s the ways that we can help you and telling your story through these channels will put you in front of X audience or whatever that might be. And again, creating that level of value requires a different conversation. 

Margot Leong: Yeah, I think that there’s so much to think about in terms of how to manage the inbound and the pipeline of potential versus what is going to move the business forward. That’s why I like thinking about it in different tiers, right? Advocates can go into all these different buckets. They don’t all have to do the same thing and they don’t honestly all need to have like a case study. 

Claire Grove: Yeah, you’re right. 

Margot Leong: I know that we’re both really passionate about partnering with the customer and making sure that what we’re doing with them is a win-win all around. So I’d love if you could talk to me more about your philosophy there.

Claire Grove: Yeah. It’s really interesting. So again, over the course of however many years I’ve been working in this area, I’ve come to realize that there are often reasons why somebody would agree to work with you. And the reality is a lot of customers won’t work in this way. They want to be able to say yes, but they might need help convincing their comms department, for example. And so really it’s about being relevant. 

So if I’m talking to a C-level exec, what are the reasons why they would normally agree? And that could be as simple as just demonstrating corporate foresight, you know, responsible spend, whatever that might be and how they’re going to further their business, so that reporting back to stakeholders or stockholders, even, through to, if you’re working with somebody in an HR department, for example, now, how do you help them be seen as the employers of choice? 

And so there are some common themes, but not all things fit all people. So again, it starts off with that conversation and then it’s about working out how can you create that win-win? I think the most important skill that I’ve learnt in this type of industry and in this type of role is that you have to be an active listener. So you have to go in, you have to listen to what your customers are telling you, you have to listen out for little clues and you have to be prepared to ask the questions to dive deeper in. 

And what I mean by that – so if I think back to a previous organization, there was a fashion house that I really wanted to work with. They had all of the technology that we were trying to promote at the time, they had a really fascinating use case and I’d been trying to get in there for possibly nearly a year. And they finally agreed to a meeting and the meeting started off with: look, Claire, why on earth would we want to be associated with your brand? Your brand is technology. We are a fashion house. We sell to 20-somethings who are not in the slightest bit interested in the technology that you have to offer. And they were right.

But what I quickly realized was they still needed to recruit IT people. And actually, if you are a techie and you have the choice of going to work for a major technology vendor, why would you then go and work for a fashion house? So it became a slightly different conversation around, well, look, you know, how’s your recruiting going? How can we tell the story in a way that you can use it in your recruiting efforts, show the cool stuff that you’re doing. And by the way, if you come and talk at our events or allow us to put your story on our website and drive to it through marketing campaigns? That’s your talent pool. So, that was absolutely a light bulb moment for me when I realized that actually I should be listening really carefully and closely because often you can create a win-win from that. 

Margot Leong: What are some of the questions that you typically ask in order to even get to that? Because I completely agree and I think that we should be doing more to think about leveraging the full power of the company resources we have at our disposal to help our customers in any way that we can. I’ve always just never liked it where I’m like, okay, let me go down the checklist of things that you’re willing to do, Mr. And Mrs. Champion. 

But I’m curious, how to be a better active listener and what are the types of questions you ask to even get to that point where you see potentially, these are ways I can help you.

Claire Grove: Yeah. So lots of people love the checklist because it speeds up the cycle sometimes, but often for the wrong reasons, because you know yourself, if you’re presented with a list of options, you think crikey, that looks like it’s going to be a pain. I’m not going to do that. 

So exactly. It just starts off, I’m in the conversation. So often we are selling into the IT suite and often those people have perhaps different drivers to their comms teams. So if you can get a meeting with somebody from the comms team and your contact, it becomes a different conversation because it becomes about, actually, what’s happening in their business from that technology standpoint and what’s the driver behind that, and how is it impacting the business and their customers. 

But then you can find out from the comms people, how are they really looking to market their organization. And then what I found is that the comms people and the tech contacts often have a conversation around, well, hey, hang on a second. I didn’t realize you were doing this. If we talked about this, then we can use that material as well. And so it just changes the nature of the conversation, and it makes it much more relevant, but the comms person feels like they have ownership and input from day one. What I’ve found in the past is when you build a case study or a video, or what have you, and they haven’t been involved, your contact goes to the comms team says, oh, can you sign this off? And they look at it and it’s like, well, hang on a second. None of this is our messaging. None of this is relevant to us. We don’t do third endorsements. And then, you know, through trying to speed up the cycle initially, you end up lengthening the process at the end because you haven’t done the due diligence.

Margot Leong: Absolutely. All that work that you put into creating that case study, it’s gone. You can only use it internally.  

Claire Grove: A mark of success for me really is when the customers are using the materials that we’ve created as well. Again, they have to see the value in it. So nine times out of 10, that’s not a problem. Sometimes it’s a bit difficult because they don’t know who that comms person is and you have to do a little bit more digging, but the more successful you can be  in bringing somebody in those stages, the more beneficial it is. 

Margot Leong: There’s some themes or patterns that I noticed for how to get customers more excited. So some of the drivers that you’re talking about is the recruiting angle. How can the company get more recruits who are a bit younger and excited about working at a company like this? Oh, okay. Showing that we are innovative in these ways. 

Another piece is, I was just talking to a sales rep who does sales specifically to government. And so, the way that he persuades is that government often is seen as moving very slow. And so actually it is huge for you to put out a press release or to work with this very innovative company to show, hey, we actually are innovative. That’s another sort of driver or lever that we can pull on, right. Is there anything else that comes to mind that is a motivating factor? A way that we could persuade someone? 

Claire Grove: I think when you’re looking at it from a sales perspective, there’s normally three levers that you can pull. So customers are often worried about the financial, so cost factor, not of actually buying a solution, but what’s the consequences if they don’t address the problem. 

You have time sensitivity. So particularly with government, you’ve just mentioned, they’re funded by taxpayer money, so they don’t want to be seen to be wasting a penny. So they actually have to move and make decisions faster, and how do they do that? 

And reputational as well. So what’s the cost to somebody if they don’t take action. And so those are common levers. And again, you can reflect that in the value propositions that you bring to an organization for telling their stories.

So, you know, a CXO level, they want to show that they are driving results to their shareholders. There’s the whole brand awareness piece. There’s networking opportunities from a peer to peer perspective. If you look at IT, how are you connecting them to other people who can talk about their own experiences and help de-risk any decision making? And how do you get them to speak to people who are experts in their fields, or they’ve done it before, or they’re looking to take action of some sort and demonstrate those results again. So I think often it’s around the results that they’ve driven and achieved. 

And again, in terms of marketing, you’ve got that reputational piece, you’ve got the brand awareness, but you also want to show that your organization is a thought leader. You want to be able to provide them with the materials that will help them with that in marketing as well. 

And so there’s a blend of different things at work, but if you boil it down, often it’s down to those three points. As I said, it’s financial cost, it’s time sensitivity, and it’s reputational.

Margot Leong: Another topic I wanted to pivot to is, you know, we talked about the human element, right? And so much of what we do is relationship building. You have built relationships with customers that have lasted years, where you’ve left one company and gone to another, and you’re still good friends with that customer that you built from before. How do you sort of engender those feelings of trust where you have such deep relationships with customers, where they see you truly as friends.

Claire Grove: I don’t really know that there’s any one answer to that, but it starts with the experience. So what’s their experience? So when you are presented with two technology companies or two companies of any sort that are offering exactly the same thing more or less, it’s always going to be the user experience that trumps everything else. 

So again, it’s being able to sell the art of the possible and really bring those experiences to life through your storytelling, but to get them to the stage of where they want to share that story, it’s about being genuinely interested. It’s always about authenticity. And I love people. I love finding out about people. I love finding out about their experiences. I have a bit of a silly sense of humor, and sometimes I try and keep that in check. Not always does that work, but it’s about being yourself and again, relevant. 

So if you are starting that relationship by showing how you can better their experience, how you’re relevant to their organization and themselves, how you can add value, that builds trust. And as you get to know people, that’s where relationships pick up. And I wouldn’t say that’s the case with every single customer, but for that moment in time, however long you are working with them and whether that relationship is spanning sort of a matter of weeks or match your gears is all based around authenticity and trust.

Margot Leong: Absolutely. We are definitely representing the brand, but at the same time, people don’t build relationships with brands, right. They build relationships with humans. And so I think that is the best part of it is that you can almost surprise someone by being a little bit silly and showing off your true personality.  Humor is one of the ways that I’ve built relationships with customers over the years and it’s been just so effective.   We both love people. And so we just are naturally very energized by that sort of back and forth, and we really just see it as like building friendships. 

Claire Grove: And it’s like building a massive jigsaw puzzle, because you have all of these different pieces and your role is to fit those together and work out, how do those pieces fit. And again, if you’re connecting with a customer to different parts of the business, you can surprise and delight them. You can make sure that they’re having a good experience. You don’t have the pressure of a sales quota and customers don’t feel  sold to. 

And actually, it’s been amazing in the course again, with my career, how many customers have told me about, well, yeah, I’ve got a competitor coming to see me next week, because the relationship is completely de-risked in their eyes. And again, I can represent the voice of the customer back to the organization, so if customer is not happy for whatever reason – sometimes in the past, there’s been heartsick moments where I’ve turned up to a customer site and 10 minutes to go before we go into the meeting, and I’ve had a phone call that’d say, something’s gone wrong. The solution’s not working. The customer hates us at this point in time. And I’m in their reception waiting to go in to talk to them. And that is not a comfortable place to be in. But again, if you are looking to try and tell customer stories, you have to be authentic and sometimes things go wrong and it’s how you fix it and how you play your part in making sure that that’s being done that really pays dividends and again, builds that trust. 

So yeah, I just love it. I think we’re in such a unique position. And when I first got into customer advocacy, at various stages, I thought I’d shot myself in the foot because I thought, well, there’s no way that this could be a career. There’s no way that this is going to develop, but thankfully,  organizations are catching on and actually they’re understanding the value, it’s not just seen as a soft skill. Going back to the point about being a commercial imperative, people are actually understanding the relevance for their business and their customers and that as a differentiator. And so it’s been really encouraging watching the industry grow and there’s a lot of the same faces, but there’s so many new people coming into this area. And it’s just wonderful to see. 

Margot Leong: It’s really exciting. I think that these principles around relationship building can be applied at all parts of your life, honestly. I’m curious, is how you approach building relationships different based off of title as well, or is it pretty standard? 

Claire Grove: It’s pretty standard, really. Because again, I think it’s just about being your authentic self. You’re representing your company, so you have to be professional, you know, I’m not going to go in wearing a funny red clown’s nose and honking your horn. You know, you have to be – 

Margot Leong: Unless it’s Red Nose Day, right? 

Claire Grove: Unless it’s Red Nose Day. Absolutely. But you just have to be respectful and start by asking questions, start by finding out about people, because if you go and try to push your own agenda first off, you don’t connect with people. And that principle is the same whether you are talking to people in your personal life, it’s the same as if you’re talking to  the president of an organization or you’re talking to the cleaner, ultimately it doesn’t matter who you’re talking to. It’s about finding out more about them. What makes them tick? What are their priorities, what are their pain points and how can you help them?

Margot Leong: The same thing can also be applied, not just at the title level, but at the persona level, right? You built relationships a lot with people in IT, but I’m sure also other areas. From my experience in customer marketing, it’s been product managers, IT, facilities, receptionists, small businesses. The same principles pretty much stand – it’s just, how do you build relationships with people in an authentic and kind way?

Claire Grove: It’s just about being human at the end of the day, isn’t it? There’s nothing more complicated than that. That does pay dividends because you get to meet some amazing people and you get to have some amazing conversations. And actually when you are turning up as a customer site with a video crew and you realize you don’t have all of the permits in place, then it’s amazing how many people are actually willing to help as well. So it’s very symbiotic and it’s got to be. Ultimately, I think you made the point earlier, you don’t build necessarily the relationship with the brand, you build into what they stand for, or, you know, the people and the interactions that you’re having. And as that representative, I think again, it’s just really, really important to be human.

Margot Leong: Exactly. One of my last questions for you is, you talked about your experience when you were first starting out in customer marketing to what it has evolved into now. And I just wanted to understand: where would you like to see it go, ultimately? 

Claire Grove: I would love to see more Chief Storytelling Officers. 

Margot Leong: I love that.

Claire Grove: You know, I pinch myself every day that I get to tell our customer stories. What an absolute privilege. And I have worked with some amazing people. I have helped get sun to land on top of the 787 in flight. I have worked with absolutely inspiring people who have been making artificial limbs for children. I have been working with people whose main job is to make sure that the network is up and running at whatever cost. It is all absolutely fascinating. And I think it’s such a privileged position and I think having more presence on the board, is only going to help drive that further forward. And again, it’s not all about the soft fluffy – telling stories is amazing, but why are you telling stories?

Margot Leong: Exactly. 

Claire Grove: I think having that voice on the board really helps people understand the power that storytelling has. If you think about it, we have been telling stories for generations, people pass down stories and everyone’s got an urban legend in their family, haven’t they? And it’s how people learn, it’s how people connect. You know, the brain is a powerful thing, but it remembers stories far greater than it remembers facts. And the power of blending all that together is absolutel magic. And I can’t pretend to  understand it all, but I am genuinely in love with what I do. And it’s fantastic. So for me, more presence on the board, would be the cherry on top with the cake. 

Margot Leong: I love that. As we were talking about earlier, we sort of sit within kind of a no man’s land, where it can be within marketing or success or sometimes even sales. You are blending something that’s very customer-centric, which typically lives within success and support, and also something that’s very external as well, which is helping to generate like new pipeline, things like that. You’re kind of in between both places. 

Claire Grove: Sometimes we do sit in a little bit of no man’s land. You know, in my roles, I’ve sat in PR. I’ve sat in marketing. I’ve sat in customer success. I’ve sat in customer engagement. I don’t think I’ve sat in sales yet, but you can sit anywhere within the business, but, ultimately your responsibility is taking what the customer is saying and taking that back. So in the past, I’ve looked at resonance. So how are the messages that we’re pushing out, the customer stories that we’re telling, how are they resonating and how are they resonating against what our competitors are talking about? Have we got a bigger share voice because we’re more relevant or are we just shouting out into the ether?

All of that is valuable to take back to the business because if you are working with, even if you’re not working for marketing, and they have coined a phrase. So I worked for a company that talked about being a digital native. No one knew what the heck that meant, you know, so you can go back and say, I’ve spoken to 10 customers. They all say what the heck is that? So, you get to really be that conduit between the customer and the rest of the business to remain relevant. 

Margot Leong: Absolutely.  How do you bridge that, right? I love that.   

I think this is actually a perfect place to wrap up. I’ve had such a great time chatting with you, Claire. Thank you so much for joining us. And last question is: where can our listeners find you? 

Claire Grove: Ah, right, so I’m @ReferenceQueen on Twitter. 

Margot Leong: Perfect name. 

Claire Grove: Feel free to connect to me via LinkedIn. It’s Claire Grove.

Margot Leong: Okay, great. I’ll put all of that in the show notes, but thank you again and have a wonderful rest of your night.

Claire Grove: Thank you. And really, really lovely to catch up with you. And thanks for the opportunity – it’s been brilliant. I could talk about this for hours.

Margot Leong: Same here. Thank you, Claire. 

Thanks for tuning into this episode of Beating The Drum. For more interviews with advocacy leaders and tips on creating customers that will sing your praises, head on over to our website, If you enjoyed today’s show, please subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts and don’t forget to rate and review us. If you know someone that would be a great fit for the show, I would love to hear about it. You can reach out at Take care, everybody.




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