So I’m really excited to say that this is the 50th episode of the podcast. And I might be a little biased, but after talking to all these brilliant marketers, I think customer marketing is truly one of the most valuable departments a business can have. And you’re definitely seeing a groundswell of interest. It was recently number three on LinkedIn’s 2022 jobs on the rise, meaning it’s one of the fastest growing job titles over the past five years and is a trend defining the future world of work.
And yet when it comes to company perception, we’re not there. We still don’t really have a seat at the table in most organizations. Even the ones who claim to be customer centric. One of the best ways to be taken seriously at the C level is to move out of the trap of being seen merely as a customer reference machine and a massive part of this is how we talk about ourselves. And more specifically being more strategic about the metrics that we align ourselves to.
So on this episode, I wanted to share some previous conversations about advocacy related metrics that really inspired me and that hopefully you’ll think about incorporating into your future goals as well.
First off we have Claire Grove, Customer Advocacy Strategy Director at ServiceNow. She recalled one of her earlier roles in advocacy and the realization that she needed to turn the perception from a nice to have to a must have.
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 customer 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: Next we have Helen Feber, Managing Partner at Referential, an advocacy consultancy. We kicked off the conversation by talking about how she defines the mission of advocacy and the value it can bring.
Helen Feber: I think the mission is actually pretty straightforward. It’s to deepen customer engagement with a company and enable them to start to naturally advocate. That, in turn, enables them to bring in more business leads, essentially, they will be naturally referring the company, and accelerates the leads coming in and they’re strong leads too. That’s, for me, the ultimate mission of customer advocacy is to fuel the growth of the company through referrals.
Margot Leong: Absolutely. I’m curious though, have you had companies that you’ve talked to, have you ever had people that are a bit more, are skeptical in terms of what value customer marketing and advocacy can bring? How do you approach talking about it with those sorts of people?
Helen Feber: It’ll often come down to metrics, proving the numbers to be perfectly honest. Once you’ve got some data behind what you’re saying, it’s a lot more substantive. So if you’ve got the right measures in place, particularly if you’ve got them at that company and can share this is what we’re doing, or if it’s a similar company, so that there’s something much more tangible for them to start to interpret and understand and embrace, hopefully.
Margot Leong: This is something that everybody is asking all the time is, how do you best measure the value and the success of customer advocacy? What are the metrics that you think sort of win over the skeptical people, right? What are the ones that make them see that, okay, like this is true value.
Helen Feber: There are four critical metrics when it comes to persuading the C-suite. And you can’t and probably don’t want to necessarily measure all four, but I think some combination, more than one, at these a couple of them, definitely have huge value when it comes to being appreciated from the C-suite perspective.
The first one is the number of sales dollars brought in from referrals that were acquired through advocates. If you can track it, you can provide a mechanism for your advocates to let the company know about which casual conversations, be it at a soccer match, talking to another kid’s parents , if in fact, the conversation turns to being about the company, enable that advocate to report that conversation and then track that as it moves through the sales cycle. Most of those are very strong leads that ultimately ends up in wins. And being able to tie that back to the actual advocate has massive value, but then it’s also a solid stream of dollars that you can tie to the program.
Second one is the time that gets freed up when sales are actually leveraging a program versus doing everything behind closed doors and bartering with one another. If they’ve actually leveraged a program and maybe leverage it multiple times for a particular deal, maybe starting out with just a name drop list, moving to leveraging case studies and collateral slides, to then finally, having perhaps a live conversation, broken between an advocate and a prospect. It will require some surveying, but if you’re able to show that you’ve been over free up their time, that speaks volumes, particularly within the sales organization.
Margot Leong: I can imagine, actually, it’s quite an interesting process in terms of how you end up measuring that. If you can walk us through how you’ve done this with other companies in the past, that would be great.
Helen Feber: Well, what we’ve done is, you’ve usually taken a sampling of sales folks , you pick a group where there’s a nice mix of those that are using the program and those that aren’t. You actually are comparing their sales accomplishments. I mean, they don’t always like it, but you start to see the reps that are leveraging the program and being as efficient as they can. And sometimes it’s a case that it’s not just by leveraging program, but also using some other tools, but studying them and understanding what they’re doing and how it’s freeing up their time, and then they’re turning that to making more sales. That’s hugely valuable to the sales organization in terms of education of the rest of the reps that haven’t been using the program. So sales management often gets on board for that kind of study group, rather than trying to do all sales, because that’s a large number of people. That’s typically how we’re able to do it.
Margot Leong: If I understand correctly, you’re trying to sort of compare and contrast how much time one group is saving potentially compared to another. So it sounds like there’s things that you can do, right. To sort of gauge and test and show some of those results without having to be like, all right. Let me get $50K from my budget to invest in this very specific program.
Helen Feber: Exactly. The next kind of metric also ties into sales in that you can measure the shortening of a sales cycle, when there’s been optimal delivery of the voice of the customer. That’s another one where you can go into the CRM system like Salesforce and Microsoft Dynamics, and you can compare sales cycle length. If they’re good about entering the data, that is, at the different stages, you can compare deals that didn’t use the advocacy program compared to those that did. We’ve seen some quite dramatic savings. 11% is the most common. I’ve seen 13, 14% of the time saved in some of the analysis that we’ve done. And that’s bottom line dollars to the company. The reps are back out selling again if the sales closed.
And the final fourth metric in all of this is actually looking at the active advocates themselves, because what we’ve found over the years. And this is born out by far more than just my company, is that active, engaged advocates get much more exposure to the products and services and support that the company offers, and they end up buying more. And they typically ended up buying an average of 2x across 12 to 24 months of becoming an active advocate.
So you can measure that by, every six months, doing a snapshot of their client lifetime revenue and comparing it to the rest of the customer pool that’s not an active advocate. You take your active advocates and average their longevity and spend, and then you do the same for the non-active advocates. That comparison then starts to give you the idea of how much growth there is. Now for some companies it’s a 2x and it kind of just stays there, and that doesn’t really sort of change over time. And for other companies we’ve seen it actually continue to grow, because the more you can fire up a community of active advocates that connect work with one another and feel like they’re in a circle and they’re receiving early alert information from a company. That just inspires and fuels their enthusiasm to advocate even further and actually within the group are sharing a lot more information about products, so they end up buying that much more and it just continues to creep up.
Margot Leong: Next up, we have Zoe Meyer, Customer Engagement & Operations at Commvault, who talks about how being disciplined about your metrics can lead to greater visibility.
When we talk about this relevancy piece, you know, a lot of people ask around visibility, because everybody’s vying for attention. Everybody of course wants to be visible. How did you make sure that your efforts with your team were visible at, say, the CMO level?
Zoe Meyer: When managing a global team, you’re not just thinking about your manager, right? You think about teams and other geographies, or your people on your team in other geographies, right? So they impact regional management. And so you look at your team as a unit, and you’re part of that unit. You just might be leading them, but you’re part of the unit.
When I first took on leading the global team, we started off by saying, well, nobody’s really asking us. We were extremely metric and reporting-driven culture , but nobody really said, this team needs to produce X. And so I said, well, team, how are we going to show up? How are we going to be relevant? So each member of the team and their geographies, I said, what are we going to produce? What are we going to have for our benchmark, so that we can do reporting at the end of the six months or a year or a quarter, whatever it was.
And then shortly thereafter, I had a new manager who was also very metrics-driven . And so I started rolling up bi-weekly reports but our team had already established our goals for the year without anybody asking us. And we rolled those up to my manager and said, this is what we’re aiming for. We led our team calls like a sales call. Everyone had their little leaderboard, their goals and how they were trending toward it and how we could help each other out with that.
At the end of the year, we created what we called a “Year in Review,” and we pushed that out to sales and marketing. And all of a sudden it was like, Oh, this team has their own goals and they’ve met or exceeded those goals or what have you?
Well, by the second year, we were being given goals from management down and all of a sudden we were a metric, a line item on the CMOs dashboard for our program. After that, and we did the same year in review, but we had also during that time, developed a quarterly newsletter, we were participating in quarterly sales business reviews. We had already identified that our customer success team was crucial in growing our program participation. So around the globe, we’re participating in regular customer success team calls. We had worked with field and product marketing to develop an advocate hosted marketing campaign that also carried over into sales. So we helped the demand generation team develop a lead to turn it into an opportunity through these advocate-hosted marketing campaigns.
Again, our culture was very metric and reporting-driven . From a content perspective, we were annually audited by the Office of the CEO. Anything reproduced with the customer had to be vetted, and we had to demonstrate we had approval from the organization. So we already had that level of visibility, but then doing that year in review report was crucial. I was also providing monthly reports to the global GM of sales, and so that was crucial in bridging the gap and creating even more relevance cross-functionally.
And then by year three, we did a hybrid. So we had some metrics coming from management and the team rolled up their metrics, what they wanted to achieve, based on certain variables that we were looking at to grow and expand our program to a world-class level. And so that’s how we did it, but my last year that I was leading that team, one thing we developed with an agency is a year in review infographic. And because we wanted to make sure anybody could access this, right? Not just, if you were at your desktop, we made it desktop and mobile friendly. So you received our infographic of what took place and we invited you to look back at what our customers in our team achieved for the year. That went over very, very well. So we made even what we reported on accessible to everybody.
I think what was unique about our team was everyone had had a different role before they came into their customer advocacy role. So we brought something with us from a different role. Like in my case, it was field marketing or more on that business development mindset. With a couple other folks, it was very, very marketing oriented. And so we organized our team according to our skillset. So we were unique in how we operated as a team, I feel, but not necessarily how the company operated, because that was very metrics driven and we fell in line, but it was being able to pivot.
Margot Leong: You mentioned, for example, in managing the program budget, you were providing an ROI to securing the next year’s budget, which had metrics and goals. What was your approach there in terms of proving out the ROI for what your team was doing with customer advocacy?
Zoe Meyer: So, each group would get a budget. So I received a budget for our program and our team. And within that, I qualified, okay, so this is our budget for the year. No more, no less, hopefully. And hopefully no less, maybe more, but usually it was a static number you received. It was based on the business. It was based on a budget, and it’s based on priorities that went up all the way to the CMO, right? The CMOs sets the priorities down.
And I kept saying to myself, well, okay, when you’re relevant, when you can prove alignment to the business, when you can demonstrate an impact, whether qualitatively or quantitatively on revenue, then that would help us at least secure our same budget for the following year, unless the business had changed significantly one way or another, and/or maybe increase it. So I looked at it longer term, not just what we could do today and Oh, I need more money for this because I want to do this one thing. I definitely went from tactical to strategic.
So I even took part of our budget and pivoted and created a global reference help desk, so we could focus our reference managers more on creating more content with our customers, focusing more on our advocate marketing campaigns with field and product marketing. And then we had a few contractors who came in and did recruiting customers for the program and working with customer success. They handled sales requests, and we also created a program as part of new hire training.
And so our new hire training for our global customer reference program was not to be in with all of the other systems, you have to learn as a new employee in sales or marketing, or what have you. We waited because our main focus was sales. We waited 30 days and said, and we had qualified this with several salespeople and said, when you come on as a sales person, how long is it before you should have your first appointment? And they said on average, 30 days, you’re starting to schedule your appointments after you do all your other training.
And so we worked it out with HR, that we would get the list of new hires in sales and marketing, especially sales, because that was our biggest focus. And 30 days after, they were a part of the company, we would reach out to them with this help desk contracted team. And we would set up one-on-ones or have no more than three on a call, and we would train them on our program: who we were, what we did, what were the processes, what were the tools?
And we understood from them, what’s your philosophy around reference selling or anything like that, and so we could help set the stage and behavior that way. So I was able to take a budget and not just look at it as, we’re only going to do the basics that people expect, how are we going to be most efficient with those dollars to ensure that we’re assisting with sales requests for references, for live opportunities and creating customer marketing content, helping customers amplify their voice that could be leveraged back in to field marketing campaigns and events, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
And you know, even with the buyer’s journey, the more social media took off, by 2016, 2017 customers were already finding and down selecting their vendors long before they accepted an appointment with a sales person. And how do you do that is by having that content out and available. And so we also developed a social media strategy around our content, and I had a part time social media person on our team who liaisoned with the social media group at the company, so we could help facilitate that in a much more effective and efficient manner. So all of these things came back together.
You know, what was the big goal? How could we be relevant, and how can we do it in the most efficient and effective way, given our budget? I would include our budget person and operations team in my reporting. So they knew how conscientious I was of the dollars allocated to our team and our program. So it was even building relationships with the people who gave you the money to begin with.
Margot Leong: What were some examples of the metrics that you were measuring when it came to the ROI piece that you think had the biggest impact to the company?
Zoe Meyer: One that stands out is when we began working with field and product marketing on our advocate hosted marketing campaigns. So we would work with customers who wanted to have a speaking opportunity, right? Whether it was a user of the solution, manager or higher level, we wanted to start creating these types of campaigns, where we could put an advocate of our solutions, services, and company on a call. We had it moderated by an agency, so they did a real professional journalistic Q&A, and then we had it open for live Q&A from our prospects.
So what we did was, we looked at all prospects around this use case or this solution or this product or service. We lined up a customer advocate in that vein. We worked with field marketing to create this invite, and develop everything we needed to do. We worked with product marketing to have them work with the agency and the customer around that questionnaire that they would use during the conversation. So that everyone was in alignment among the groups, and then once we had the advocate call, we knew who was attending, where they a prospect, where they a customer, where they renewing. And we followed their sales cycle from a reporting standpoint, all the way to close won or close loss from one call.
So you could follow it through to the end. Did they participate in that call? And there were all these types of things right within the Salesforce opportunity record to track that, and that created a lot of relevance. And so we were able to help demand generation convert maybe a lead to an opportunity as a result. Or an opportunity that was at 20%, maybe now moved to 30%. And so then we just started tracking the effectiveness of certain types of initiatives we did with our best advocates.
Margot Leong: Our next guest, Cynthia Hester at Google Cloud is a customer marketing legend and has spent a lot of time trying to go beyond vanity metrics. She shares how she liked to push the conversation more towards resonance and effectiveness of content.
I think this is starting to shift, but for a long time, the measurement was very much around output, but not necessarily around measuring effectiveness. And, you know, it could be like, okay, you did a great job if you were able to increase your references by 20% every single year or quarter or something. You get siloed because you’re not actually able to measure it. Like you don’t have a really a sense of, is this working or not? How is this working? Could we be more effective? Can we layer better into other parts of the team as a result? And so I would be curious about how you think about the measurement there, the effectiveness, from a customer advocacy angle.
Cynthia Hester: You have a really good point. And this has always been probably one of my Achilles heels in doing this work, is almost every organization, to your point, looks at, Oh, we did 50 case studies. We did 200 case studies. And it’s usually case studies, but it could be videos. And I absolutely believe that that is the wrong way to measure. If you are only looking at quantity, you’re just looking at something based on the budget and the resource you have to produce said content. It’s not about the quality of the story. It could be, but it usually isn’t because you’re focused only on the volume. It’s less about the resonance of the story. So you could create a story, write it, put it out there. What’s the feedback? Did the people that read it, did they find it compelling? Was it a value to them?
And the third piece is around relationships. We’re talking and building these stories around people. And if you’re looking at a volume number around how many case studies you produced , that metric doesn’t tie back to the relationship and engagement piece. It doesn’t tie back to resonance, in terms of how connected that story is to what people want to hear and what they think they need. And it doesn’t tie back to actual impact. So if you only look at volume, I think you’re really missing the point.
And so what I like to do is understand the priorities for the business, whether that’s from an industry context, a product or solution context. Once I understand what that strategy is, we go a level deeper and say, how can customer stories and customer advocacy have a positive impact to the priorities that they’ve set?
So let’s say, for example, there is a new set of products that are going to be launched next year. And what I want to know is which audience are we talking to? What’s our end game? How’s this going to impact the business. And then instead of coming up with, we need 20 case studies, what I want to come up with is, here’s the strategy and approach so that you can do the work you need to do along marketing and fulfill your marketing goals. Here’s what you need to do to support sales and support the work that they’re going to need to do to actually sell this product.
And then how do we demonstrate that we’ve actually made a difference for the customer? Well, that’s actually, to me, the funnest part, which is talking to them. And then you come up with, Oh, we’re going to be in three regions. We’re going to be in five industries. So we want really a plan that looks at two or three anchor stories that we can get lots of awareness and visibility from. We then want to set of stories and people that can talk to real results, real experience, and the features and the function of the product and what we were trying to deliver. And that set of people all can either talk to another prospect. They might be a great group or person to actually talk to a larger group of people at an industry event.
And if we do it that way, the number you come up with is based on information. It’s a data – everybody likes to say data-driven – I like to say data-informed . What I want is metrics that are data informed, which is not just saying, Oh, we need 10 case studies. If someone says that to me, my usual response is , how did you come up with that number? And then what usually happens is crickets. Nobody says anything. Because they really actually don’t have a basis for it because they haven’t gone through that thought process.
And sometimes it’s a little painful for some of our product marketing colleagues, I understand that. And that is seriously the work you need to do in order for us to be most effective. And for us to be able to support you in the best way that we can to achieve whatever goals that they’ve set for themselves and for the company.
Margot Leong: And to make a case for your existence, to be honest, right?
Cynthia Hester: Right. Like this is why we’re here. It doesn’t always make me the most popular person in the meeting. It’s important to remind everyone that the reason we’re here is in service of delivering a set of products and services to our customers that make a difference in a positive manner for them, their employees, their communities, and their customers. The only way we can do that is if we are grounded on the priorities about how we want to get that done, and really understand who we’re talking to and how we want to reach them.
Margot Leong: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. And I think that it’s very clear why, right, the numbers are there. It’s because it’s easier. It’s an arbitrary number. And then I’m just going to work really hard at getting there. And then it always comes back to the question for me of , well then, how many is enough? If I’m looking at some of the companies out there, and I see that they have hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of case studies on their website, myself as a “millennial buyer,” like I don’t even, it sounds terrible to say this. I don’t read case studies that vendors send me. Because I know that, I know that they’re written –
Cynthia Hester: Margot, you and me –
Margot Leong: Do you not do this either?
Cynthia Hester: I don’t. Which I think some people are like, well, that’s kind of hypocritical, but it’s not because my whole position and what I try to bring to the table at any company I work with, is the case study should not be our end game. Tell a compelling story that means something is the end game.
Margot Leong: I mean like the interview is the most important part. The capturing of a story. The case study is just a potential channel or potential piece of collateral that is used to persuade someone. But I feel like that method of persuasion has been going out of fashion for a very long time.
Cynthia Hester: I would absolutely agree. Having worked at some of these larger companies, it’s hard to get everyone to get off of that. Executives still think about that, product marketers still think about that. We need to change. And my hope is, that through everything that we’ve gone through this year, especially with COVID and everybody having to work at home, that this will be the tipping point to really get everybody else to have them think about how we do that differently. Because I think case studies are a legacy asset. I do not believe people are really reading them. Technical people, maybe. Technical case studies, I could still see a sweet spot for them, especially as it relates to learners and practitioners and developers actually learning about new technology and best practice, et cetera.
So I definitely think there’s still a space for it. I do not believe broadly that that should be where everybody still lands and everybody is still landing there. Like some people literally think customer advocacy and case studies are the same thing. It makes me crazy. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Margot Leong: Yes, and I think this also relates to your earlier point, which is, I want to understand the persona, like, why am I creating this piece of collateral? Who is going to be reading it? Are they as skeptical as you and I are when it comes to this? Does our persona read these things? What do they read? What do they care about? Do they prefer video or whatnot?
Like, at a few companies now, I’ve done backtracking where I will talk to customers that I’ve developed close relationships with. And I’ll say, what won the deal for you? What were you reading? What were you utilizing in the sales process? Did you ever read a case study? And pretty much none of them ever bring up the case study as, you know, something that they ever really read. I think, you know, what was interesting to them often was, was the sales person able to internalize an interesting story that related to their industry, right? Like, was there resonance for them.
And I think that is a whole separate topic around effectiveness versus efficiency. It’s efficient to churn out tons of case studies. What’s effective is much harder, right?
Cynthia Hester: Absolutely. And that is why I’m focused on resonance and the effectiveness, versus churning out a lot of stuff. Because we’re only gonna make a difference if we focus on resonance and the purpose and the why of the person we’re talking to, versus, Oh, I just need 20 of these things. And then have no insight into what’s the quality where it needs to be, the tone, the message – did that land where we wanted it to land? So if you’re producing case studies, and again, you’re not going back to look at what people say about the content. Not how many web page views you got, or how many downloads, because that is still a volume number and gives you no indication. I download lots of stuff that I never open. All the time.
Maybe I’m different than a lot of other people, but I’ll be reading something, like, Oh, there’s a download? I’ll download it, especially, you know, Miss Geeky , and then I’ll move on to the next thing and never go back. And yet there’s a marketer on the other side somewhere, counting that as something good. And little do they know, there’s nothing. I had 10 seconds to click the download button and then I actually moved on to something else – another piece of content I actually found more compelling.
And I still see lots of measurement around quantity. And I want to change that conversation to be much more around resonance and effectiveness. And I think both of those things together can be your guide as to, are you actually creating the content that you need to create to make a difference in the business, and for the people that you’re creating it for.
You know, I think a lot of times we forget who we’re actually creating the content for. We create it as if we’re creating it for us. Based on our views, our perspective, our opinions, versus what you just described. If you talk to the customer and ask them like, what actually was the pivotal point when you decided this was the right decision and it hardly ever is the case study. It’s almost always a person or people. I know SiriusDecisions, probably about five years ago plus, has done a bunch of different surveys about how key buyers make their decisions, not just on the buyer journey, but like, what do they do, kind of step by step. And what’s the thing that they go to first and they find the most valuable?
At the top of the list, full stop, is the opinion and feedback from their peers. That means talking to a potential advocate or another person. It doesn’t have anything to do with the case study.
Margot Leong: And also, I mean, you know, even recent research shows that buyers are actually getting more and more suspicious. Like they’re not turning to salespeople for the answers. There’s so much more ability to find out what you need to know about a vendor before you ever even decide to engage with someone on the sales side.
Cynthia Hester: Absolutely right. There was a report I read – basically, I think by the time a potential customer talks to your salesperson , they have done six or seven hours or more of research already. And it doesn’t just include your website, like that’s like down further in the list than you would think. And it’s talking to their staff and their teams. It’s talking to their peers. It’s what they see out in the wild, in terms of news, however, which way they’re consuming their newsfeed these days. So by the time they get to your sales person, they are well-informed already. They have their list of concerns and questions that they want to ask.
And what that says to me for companies like ours, is you have to do a lot more work connecting to the customer insights of the customers you have, so that you can use that information to talk to the customers you don’t have. Because they are not coming to you. They’re not coming to your website. They’re not reading case studies to actually help them make that decision. They might use it to verify what they’ve heard for sure, but that’s not going to be the one piece of data they need to make their decision.
Margot Leong: Everything is sort of old school a little bit in terms of still how we, I think about attracting customers. And to your point around earlier is, wanting to think about podcasts as a medium is, thinking about the attention economy. We are so overwhelmed with so much noise, not necessarily as much of high quality. And so basically what consumers are starting to turn to is more curation. Right? I have a few trusted sources that I’m turning to, and I’m shutting everything else out.
And I see, for example, with podcasts, it’s actually one of the few places, kind of like a newsletter, where you get to build a very direct relationship with your audience. And they get to know you in a very intimate way, and it’s something that if you have consumers that are deciding to sort of stick with you every single week or every few days, right, to download a podcast, that, in my opinion, matters so much more than, like MQL, SQLs, what are all these downloads? Because you can see conversions are starting to get lower and lower and lower.
Cynthia Hester: Yeah. It’s like, there’s no secret. Like we all know why we’re creating it and why we’re, which again, I know I probably sound like a broken record, which is why I go back to that people connection and the authenticity of the story is so important, and knowing the purpose of why they’re doing what they do as an organization is so important. Because if you can get to that and pull that out, then you’ll trigger the part of our brain that has empathy and emotion. And once you do that, then you can connect and actually persuade people.
But if you don’t hit those parts of the brain, you will never be able to do that.
Margot Leong: And so I think you, and I understand this intrinsically, I think customer advocacy, we understand this, but when it comes to that resonance piece, which very hard to measure, how do you think about the effectiveness of whether one story is more effective than another, how do you think about that?
Cynthia Hester: It is very new, which is unfortunate, that this is just starting to emerge as I would say – should be emerging in customer advocacy programs as something that they look at. So I have been, this year, had the opportunity to really look at how you measure resonance and working with one of our agency partners, on a methodology that they’ve developed so that we can look at how what’s resonating in market, which is what are our customers saying about that content.
So I’ll give you an example. Let’s say we push out a case study or a video, and we put out on social. Someone consumes that content. More than, than just re-tweeting it or sharing it, do they make a comment about it? This is really a great best practices on the latest thing in security, and then mentions like five of their peers or whoever, then drops it into their networks. It’s great that they shared it, but that’s not the most important piece of data coming out of that interaction with the content. The most important piece are those four or five words that they said: “this is great information on the best practice.” Because it tells me they read it, and it had what they were looking for.
If they just share, you assume that they found the content valuable because they’re sharing it, but you actually don’t know why. Because there’s no words. There’s no context attached to a share. But if they start commenting on it, as they’re sharing it, that’s the piece you want to get to because that tells you the resonance right there.
Margot Leong: Sarah Moody is a customer advisory board virtuoso. In this conversation, we dialed into the main metrics she focuses on to prove CAB ROI.
We talked about metrics at the beginning and success. And so let’s talk about some of those specific metrics that you talk about when it’s results for the CAB. In our prep call, you said: revenue impacted, number of innovations, and brand ambassadors. So can you break that down for us a little bit?
Sarah Moody: Yeah. Yeah. For example, like number of innovations, how I quantify that is through two different ways. Like big picture. One is: is what we end up building with our customers, for example, we built a whole, like one of my clients, we built a whole container line, like set of containers with our customers, as well as what product management goes back and builds after the advisory board meeting. So it’s actual products that we build. For example, we built out a whole like identity governance product line with another client of mine. The advisory board said, you know, you need to make your whole product stack simpler. So we innovated and build out user nameless and password list functionality. So innovations is not features and functions. It’s like, we’re innovating, we’re building products, we’re partnering with a company around a new product. So that’s how I measure innovation.
And then ambassadors is, I think a brand ambassador, so I think really broadly, like it’s customers willing to engage in a traditional customer advocacy program and do blogs and podcasts and case studies. But it’s also like just writing thought leadership pieces that have nothing to do and don’t even mention the company that get published in social media. And so ways that our customers can build their own personal brand that have nothing to do with the enterprise company is another kind of big metric. So I measure that in terms of like, pure customers, like we got 300 customers who are willing to do any sort of work in any of those areas.
And then the third kind of category that I look at is revenue impact. So how I measure that, let’s just go back to that client of mine that was a firewall company and evolved to being the leading cloud security platform provider. That revenue impact was through acquisitions. So we bought five companies, and so that was, you know, X revenue. I mean, they were all startups. So that was, we bought X dollars. But also, too, how we measured it was, we looked at the existing business and so the existing business was growing at 22%. But the new products, like containers, and the new companies that we were buying, that business was growing at 179%. So we compared, the cloud security and all the stuff we were buying and building there, compared to the firewall business, and that was the difference. 179% versus 22%.
Margot Leong: You know, I like that because other metrics I’ve seen for CABs, they tend to be a bit more sort of quarterly. It’s like from CAB to CAB, what is the revenue we impacted in terms of upsells and cross-sells for that specific audience, or how engaged are they, but the stuff that you’re talking about is more just at a company level, it’s more at a business objective impacting level. It has a much larger impact, right? It gets to things that the executive team really cares about.
Lastly, I wanted to end with a sneak peek of an upcoming episode with Ari Hoffman, Global Director of Customer Advocacy at Crowdvocate. Ari has a really refreshing and honest take on customer marketing and he shared some of his go-to metrics to prove true value.
The last thing that would be interesting is the metrics that you feel are the most valuable, so the outcome versus output. Things that actually people care about and that allow you to be seen as more strategic. We talked about some of the metrics, like velocity of lead to close, the likelihood of renewing, but are there other metrics that you’re like, okay, these are some of the golden standard stuff that I pull out and start working on as a way to really position ourselves as a strategic and adding value.
Ari Hoffman: Yeah. And some of the data you can create on your own, right. Surveying taking whatever your CRM, your Salesforce, taking the data from there and correlating it and using your, if you’ve got BI teams or system integrators in who work on or marketing ops or sales ops, who can help you correlate that number? When you don’t have an advocacy tool, right, it’s going to be a snapshot in time. So a lot of it is just-in-time data, you put it all together. And then tomorrow it’s going to be out of date because things have changed, right? And it’s a lot of work to keep going through that. And trust me, I’ve done that so many times and it’s backbreaking. And so you have this out of date data constantly, right? And that not everybody has visibility into. And the point of having data is for it to be globally visible to all your teams, because it helps cut the conversation and make the conversation much more succinct. So you will get to a point where you can’t do that anymore. You got to scale up, but I will say that some of the things, so the leading ones I would talk with are always around revenue influence. Your big KPIs, right. What is the overall revenue influence, but you can break that down. If you have the time, you can go to your sales teams and say, Hey, let’s have a real honest conversation here. Go to sales leadership and say, what is a customer reference worth?
We already do this on the marketing side, right? We assign points and values of someone downloads an asset. It’s worth so many points and then makes them open for reach out for a lead to turn into a marketing qualified lead. So we’re already used to doing that, but we don’t do that at the advocate level. We don’t say if a customer gets on a call, what’s that worth? How much does that help close the deal? Is it 5%, 10%, do you think? And now you can have an actual number. So you’re not just talking overall influence, we’re a part of $60 million in deals, but of that 60 million, we influence this amount of revenue. Because it was worth 10% of all of these deals that we touched. You can do that for case studies and reviews, right? And you might get down into a fraction of a percent, but you have a number that’s tangible. That’s down the road. Start with big numbers, just, are we influencing or not? Are we helping close deals at a higher rate than without advocacy? And that’s both on the prospect and the customer side. It’s one journey.
And are we expediting the time? So if they’re in our advocate programs, do they renew at a fast rate? Do they upsell at a faster rate than those customers who are not? And it seems pretty intuitive, but you want to have the numbers. You want to say they renew at a seven times higher rate. They expand three times faster than customers that aren’t a part of the advocacy program. What you do there is you build the foundation for them to go, okay, we know you need more budget. We know you need more head count in what you’re doing. You’re going to get to a point where you’re either going to have to add head count, or you’re going to have to bring in a tool.
I want to say there’s a caveat here. I just recently moved to a customer marketing automation company, so I am biased here. But in my defense, I brought this company into three of my previous companies or was trying to in the process of it. And I’ve known them for a long time and know the value add, which is why I’m here now.
Something that one of my mentors, and one of my favorite people in the world told me, and she used to say to our customers all the time, she said, technology is not fairy dust. You can’t just sprinkle technology on it and it solves all your problems. What technology does is it supplements and amplifies the successful programs you’re running. So you build out these programs, and if you can get them to a point where you can’t scale them anymore, that’s when technology is needed. Not to come and just build your program from scratch and go, oh, if I buy this technology, it’s going to solve our problems. It doesn’t work like that. You’ve got to have the brain child behind it for those programs to be successful. And then you integrate the tools to automate that process.
Margot Leong: Yes, absolutely. I think there has to be an understanding of some of the pain that is involved when you don’t have said technology to help you. And then you can actually have a much better case for it because you can almost tabulate the amount of hours that you’re spending. If you can’t speak directly to the real pain points that you’re having, there’s almost no point to bringing in the technology because you’re still not going to understand what the value is once you bring it on anyway. I think there’s something to be said for like trying to do it manually yourself for a while, and then really understanding, okay, I do need this and I can much better fight for it and provide some sort of reasonable explanation as to why I need this.
Ari Hoffman: Right. And document. Hey, look, I have eight case studies. We know that the case study process takes this long on average to get done. I’ve got this many reviews, I’ve got this many XYZ event requests coming in, here are all the asks that I have coming in. And here’s what’s manageable for any one person, so I can either scale up with people to solve or we need to get something to scale this where I can, instead of asking customers, I’m getting hand raises from customers, right. And that’s what we’re in the game of. Like, you want to create such a healthy advocate system that people are reaching up and asking proactively to be a part of different programs, like I’d love to be a customer reference when the time comes.
A big one is like analysts or PR. They need a response within 24 hours sometimes, right? They’re like, Hey, we’ve got this PR opportunity. You’ve got 24 hours to get a customer. Then what do you do? You reach out to your CSM, you go back to those that you know you’ve already built a relationship. So you’ve already used them on like eight other PR things, right? Because they’re like a tried and true customer and you really limit the breadth of voice that you’re sharing. And you’re not able to actually really be inclusive of the entire demographic of your customer base because you’re going back to the same people, so you’re not really having an inclusive advocacy environment there either. And that’s a whole other topic for another day and a very dear one to me.
So what you do is you ask customers ahead of time. Hey, who’d like to be part of it and you set out the rules, like we’re going to contact you within 24 hours. We need to get a response. And just so you know, we’ll be reaching out to you and probably two or three other customers, because that’s the other problem we run into. We ask the customer and they don’t get back to us. And we’re like, oh my God, what do we do? What do we do? And you reach out to another customer while you’re waiting for that one.
And then the first one comes back and says, yes. And then the second one says, yes. And you’re like, oh no. But they only need one customer and they’re only going to take one customer. And so then you’ve got to backtrack and say, sorry, and apologize. There was confusion. But if you set the table ahead of time and they’re proactively raising their hand, they’re ready for it. And they understand when they can or they can’t. And guess what, they’re going to get back to you much quicker when they see that come in, because they know there’s a timeline on it.
And the perceived effort to go through that, if you keep asking customers to do something, you get that advocacy fatigue. If they’re signing up proactively for things, the amount of effort, even if it’s the same exact asks they’re proactively signing up for rather than reactively answering to you asking them to do it, what they perceive as the effort is much lower, right? And so advocacy tools that are out there really help scale that and help you get a lot more consistent engagement.
So back to your question about what do you measure? So you can measure net new advocates. That’s great to start with, but real measurement and advocacy is when you can get a customer to do three things or more. It’s easy to get them to do one thing and maybe two. But can you get them to do three things, four things, five things? So that rate of recidivism, right? That’s what you want to measure. How many advocates do we have in our pool that have done three or more things with us?
And then if you really want to get into the details, if you look for an advocacy platform, look for one that can tell you this, how valuable is that user generated content? How valuable were the case studies in closing it and can you track that? And on top of that, how valuable are your individual advocates?
So one of the other problems, here’s a use case for you was we had these large accounts spending millions of millions a year with us. It was like big name brands, like Dell and Salesforce and global enterprise companies. And so every time there was a major event, who do you think we wanted to go back to? Who do you think the C level and our sales team were asking to get onstage for us? And it was simply because of brand exposure, not because he was actually the best person to have on stage.
And so what I was able to do was to start to measure, look, even though this seven figure account, every time they get on stage, we love it. And we’re internally slapping each other’s backs like yeah, we got Salesforce to present again. Yeah, it was incredible. Every time, Jamie, over here from a much smaller account, only a hundred thousand dollars a year, a smaller name brand gets on, we get 16 times the amount of leads that come out of it. So I have the data to show how valuable my individual, not just the accounts, my individual advocates are. These individual advocates are influencing this much revenue and that is something that I wasn’t able to build internally. I tried and I tried, so I needed a tool to do that. But that is a huge one. When you can talk about the value of your individual advocates and what they’re doing for the business, it is so much easier to make decisions and know where to make your choices.
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, beatingthedrum.com. 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 beatingthedrum.com. Take care, everybody.