Transcript: The Importance of Being More Data-Driven With Your Strategy with Ari Hoffman

On this episode, I was joined by Ari Hoffman, Global Director of Customer Advocacy at Crowdvocate. He’s had a fascinating journey to customer advocacy, including a career in architecture and small business entrepreneurship, where he first realized the power of harnessing customer voice and building raving fans. We talk about how to avoid the trap of being seen merely as a customer reference machine, why data is crucial for making your case and his favorite metrics for proving value at the business level. Without further ado, here’s my conversation with Ari. 

Margot Leong: Hey, Ari. Thank you so much for coming on the show.

Ari Hoffman: It’s absolutely my pleasure. And, just for your listeners, so they know, I am not sick. I don’t smoke three packs of cigarettes a night and I wasn’t out late night partying last night. This is just the way I sound. 

Margot Leong: I don’t know if you do radio, have you worked in radio or whatnot, but maybe a future career, because it’s a very arresting voice. 

Ari Hoffman: So normally what I say is I add on at the very end and PS, I don’t work in radio if that’s your next question. That’s basically when I get on stage, that’s how I start almost every time because what’ll happen is if I’m getting interviewed by someone, they’ll actually step back and be like, Ooh, are you a little, you’re a little sick. You feel okay? I’ve got to nip it in the bud early and often. 

Margot Leong: That’s so funny. Well, Ari, I’m super excited to have you on the podcast with your arresting voice. So I think first off, right. If you could just quickly sort of introduce yourself and just tell us a little bit about your background and journey to get to where you are now. 

Ari Hoffman: Yeah. I can speak to that professionally as well as personally. You know, one of the things I’ll start this off with is I don’t subscribe to the work-life balance premise. I really believe that work and life are so intertwined. I’m not working five days a week, so I can live two days a week on the weekend, right? So everything that I do is a personal choice, how I work, how I prioritize, and that’s what life is, is a system of choices, of prioritization. And sometimes you have to prioritize the family and the kids, and sometimes I have to prioritize work, but it’s all blended together into what I call life. It’s just life. 

My title is Global Director of Customer Advocacy, which entails, encompasses under the umbrella: customer marketing, lifecycle marketing, expansion marketing, as well as core advocacy, so really all of the above. 

But for me and my journey and how I got to where I am today, I didn’t take a straight path to get to where I’m at. And I think that’s really important on a call like this because for those who are listening, not everyone needs to follow, and if people are looking to get inspired on what kind of career path they want to take, as long as you’re active and you’re following the open doors that make sense to you and are the right timing for you and the right priorities that you have in your life. Keep following those doors. 

And for me, I have $230,000 of student loan debt for a master’s degree in something that I never use. I worked in architecture for 10 years and I don’t do anything with it anymore. At that time when I was younger, it was a really hard decision to move away from it because of the sunken cost of how much I had invested. But I can tell you, tenfold, in spades, how much my life and quality of life have improved since making that choice.

I fell into the startup world and not startup like technology. I was working in architecture, there was a recession, and so looking for outside work, I ended up getting recommended to a friend of a friend who had a filtered water bottle company and I fell into that. And after collaborating with them for a while, he actually asked me to come run the company. He said, I’m a designer, and I don’t know how to run the business. And I feel like you’re going to do a better job. And it was literally, we’re bankrupt. We don’t have any money, so I can’t pay you anything, but whatever you learn here, you can then use to run your own business.

And we made a handshake and that seemed like a great idea at the time and the rest is history, I realized the difference between loving something and being passionate about it. I went from architecture where nine to five, the time flew by because I loved what I was doing. But at the end of the day, I closed my computer and I was done.

And with the water bottle company, I couldn’t close my computer. It was because I was driven and I had this hunger that I had never had before actually. And that entrepreneurial spirit is really the thing that when I’m hiring people, I look for whether you’re an intrepreneur or an entrepreneur, it doesn’t matter. But having that ownership quality is really something that you can’t teach. I can teach a lot of the skills, but you can’t teach the hunger. Hunger has to be driven from inside your core self, you can’t trick yourself into it. And so when you’re looking for that right profession, you’ll know, as you keep exploring and don’t settle, you’ll know, as you grow into these things that make you hungry.

 For some of us, we have kids and we have jobs and we have responsibilities and we’re like, I can’t just go chase my dream. I am a firm believer in being a happier person first, and that’s chasing dreams first because you’ll be a better husband or wife, sister, or brother, coworker, if you’re happy. And we all know that. People who are happier are magnetic and you’re driven to them.

So anyways, at Gobie, it was a bankrupt company. He had no money left. He had run through his seed funding but he did know that the people who owned the bottle loved it. So you have these like mini raving group of advocates, right? In the B2C world, it’s a little different, they’re just users, they’re consumers of the product and they’re just fans. And what I quickly learned was that our customers who did love us were full of insights, why they loved us, what we should talk about, how to get them to support us and help us grow organically and really a kind of a guerrilla method of growth.

And so we started applying to all these competitions that were just starting up, like, Intuit had win a Superbowl ad for small businesses and FedEx. And we learned that to win those, you had to have your customers voting for you, supporting you, and as you got voted up, it was more and more free publicity. So we were getting free marketing by joining these competitions and we started to win them. And that really kind of clued me into the power of customer voice and of the speaking points, because I didn’t know how to talk about the product, except from my own perspective. But talking about the product through the customer lens led to much more engagement.

And so we started winning, we won the FedEx national grant competition. They started flying me around to speaking on behalf of all small businesses. And then that led to winning Shark Tank and getting a deal with Damon. And from there we effectively licensed our company out, ended up working for investors that licensed shark tank products. I was on the flip side of it and working with all the sharks you know, from cosmetic lines to apps, all kinds of stuff. They were flying me around doing two things, one filming infomercials for the cosmetic lines. And two is training call centers and how to talk to people like human beings. 

And then from there I was out to dinner with my friend and we both knew kind of what the other person did, I knew he worked in technology. I was just so green to the entire field. I had no clue what it was. And from there, he realized, oh, you’re training call center. We’re in the call center space. You got to come by. We’re a startup. We’re about 40 people. CEO’s brilliant, CTO’s from Microsoft, like incredible company. And I went in and it opened my eyes. I met with the CEO and he pushed the right buttons. 

And I started in onboarding and shortened our onboarding time simply by bringing the customer voice into the equation and learning how to tailor it at scale. And my CEO said, look, I never hired you to be onboarding, but I need you to learn the language of technology, you were starting from ground zero and that was the fastest way to learn what sales sells and what support actually can support on and product and everything in between. 

But I’d like you to be an evangelist for the company. I can’t be everywhere at all times. And I’d like you to be able to go out on the road, people really resonate with your messaging and be able to talk about the product and influence people and inspire people about this whole new world of content management and the content experience that we have, because it really is driving the digital revolution.

I realized pretty quickly that being a true evangelist wasn’t really my thing. But being a customer evangelist was, so I just started bringing customers along to all these different conferences. I was speaking on webinars I was doing, putting the spotlight on them. 

And after a while, I started to get really burnt out because these different events I kept having to re-pitch the business case of why getting involved with these events was so important. And I created in the process this top 100 list for customer success and for Salesforce influencers and the frustration of being so busy and yet still having to try and take the time to build business cases of the things we’ve already done and proven the value for was driving me bonkers.

And so I built out this advocacy maturity model and it was like, how are we bringing customers from going through sales into just starting with us in onboarding all the way through to delivering value and how do we get them to share parts of their story or engage with us more along the way, and combine that with the CSMs were reaching out to me saying, Hey customer X isn’t responding to me. They’ve gone dark, can you reach out? And this was happening a lot and I’m going, I’m not a special person. So what am I doing that’s different than others, that’s allowing me to have this value based relationship. And it turned out it was all value delivery. And everything that I did, it always started with giving customers things first, rather than asking of things from them.

And so building that relationship on trust then led into me taking over customer marketing and building out a customer marketing team, and then I went to Coveo and did the same thing. And then for a very short stint at Culture Amp, and now I’m here at Crowdvocate doing the same thing. And so that’s my long-winded story of how I got to where I am today. 

Margot Leong: I wanted to double click on something that you mentioned towards the end there, which is some of this stuff comes very intrinsically to us as customer marketers in terms of relationship building and this idea of giving customers things first rather than asking things of them. Can you share a bit more about the philosophy there and is there things that you do almost at a more sort of tactical or step-by-step level, which is, I established touchpoint A with a customer and then like I get on a call with them, we do X, Y, Z, and then, I’ll lean on them down the line if I do need anything. 

Ari Hoffman: Yeah, absolutely. I think you got a couple questions in there and we can break those out. So one is, you know, how do you internally speak to your company in a way that they start to get? Because sometimes we get it intrinsically, but it’s much harder to wrap your head around for others that have their own line of sight on what they need to do accomplish, right. And our job is we have to get very close to customers very quickly to get them to trust us with their stories and with their personal brands, and then with their company brands, so we’ve learned this skill by necessity where others might not need it and they can get through. 

But what happens when they’re operating on a different tactic or strategy, then you make this journey for your customer much more convoluted. So you have your internal way to talk about it and then you have your way to talk about it with customers and to the outside world, right? So those are two different things there, because the way that internally you want to align and keep the customers the arbiter of all conversations, the center of every conversation that you have and the outside world of how do we show them off. And how do we build this personal brand for our customers?

And I don’t look at my job as someone who goes and creates case studies or goes and fills a quota and get speakers or gets references lined up. Those are byproducts of a good program. And how you portray different things that you’re trying to accomplish, nothing works better than using story and analogy. And so I have an analogy here for you when you talk about your job, which is the B2B sports agency analogy. You get the premise of a team and so on that team, you have the coach and the coach to me is really like the CSM. What is the coach’s job? It’s to make sure your team wins games. That’s it. That is your primary focus. Happy players that play well together that win games. You do not care how much the concession stand food costs. You don’t care how many people are filling the seats at a game. You don’t care about how many commercials you get for the game. You care about winning games, right? 

You have a general manager. They care about how many seats are filled. They care about the commercials, they care about the concession costs, but on that same team, you have like the sports doctor. Someone breaks an ankle out on the court or gets smashed on the field, they run out and there’s break fix. That’s your support teams. They do a lot of break fix. 

The individual players themselves, what do they have? They have agents and managers, right. And so we’re really taking on that agent role. Our job is to make them more visible and more valuable. They get more sponsorships, more commercial time, more value or they get more money attached to their contracts because they’re more visible. They bring more fans to the game. So that’s our job is we don’t make champions, but we shine a light on them. And that’s why one of the things I’ve built out are champion spotlights and it’s really about their personal brand. When you can do that first, when you can help build into them first, they’re friends for life. We get to make friends for life in our job.

I couldn’t picture a more rewarding job to have. CSMs are like punching bags, I feel so bad for them. They have to handle the good and the bad. We get to make friends and we get to make them more valuable. 

And so how you go about that, it’s very strategic in the way that you approach it is make it not transactional, right. If you build the value in the relationship and the trust first, then it’s much easier to continuously build together and get them. Even through the hard times, they become much stickier customers, and they get through a lot. Like it is impossible to think in the SaaS world that we’re not going to have issues, right? It’s the only world where we can sell a car that doesn’t have doors and windows yet. It just has an engine and a steering wheel. And we’re like, we promised the windows and the seatbelts and everything are coming.

And so you’re going to have issues, but those that you’ve built an incredible amount of trust with and value, they’ll get through all of that with you. And in fact, when they leave, one of my biggest measurements is: do they bring us with them? Are we part of the next conversation they’re having at their new company?

And so other than not just being transactional, how do you build value? So everyone will talk about the recipe and they’ll talk about some of the ingredients, but they always forget to tell you, in what order do you use those ingredients. 

So how do you do that? The first thing is how do you demonstrate value for them? Well, you make them an internal champion first, before you’re asking them to go out and be a public champion. How do we make them win at their own company? How do we make them known for the successes that they’re having? What are the different programs you can build that can show them off internally at their company and get that type of distribution and reach throughout their own companies and grow that buy in, right? So they’re were bringing in more advocates along the way. You’re making them really magnetic within their own companies, instead of us trying to go into the companies and be the champion everywhere and demo everyone as we’re expanding across the company, make them the champion.

 If you do that, the return is incredible. Plus everybody wins in that scenario, there’s no using them to get something. You’re doing it together. Something that I fundamentally live by, which is the rising tide lifts all boats. I know it’s cheesy, but I love living like that because we all win together. My fellow customer marketers, my competitors, I collaborate with everyone because there’s enough fish for us all to fish for a lifetime. 

Margot Leong: So it’s not a zero sum game, you know? I totally agree with that. 

Ari Hoffman: How to make it more strategic, and I think that’s a really important question that you asked, right? 

Here’s another analogy. This is not my own. I was a part of an alliance in my entrepreneurial days where you have mentors from big companies that speak to you and talk to you about how do you drive strategic business growth. And I remember that one of the mentors was this billionaire and the first thing he talked about was fires. Fires will burn, he said. 

And why I’m saying this just so there’s context is I feel that if you want to be strategic, you’ve got to act like your programs are your business. You own this business. It’s your own thing that you’re putting out into the world and you’ve got to help it scale, right? So you’ve got to be the sales for your business. You’ve got to be the marketing for the business. You’ve even got to be your product and roadmap, and you’ve got to evolve with your customer demands with your programs, right. 

But it’s a business, and if you have that ownership, like you’re an entrepreneur inside of your company that owns it like that, that will push you through to make sure that you’re constantly stretching yourself. And why bring up the fires will always burn is he said he wouldn’t invest in an owner that was busy putting out fires. And how do you stay strategic is you have to think about what is going to help your business grow rather than what’s going to help your business sustain where it’s at. You want to grow, right. Just flying under the radar and being like, look, nobody needs any reporting. We’re doing good. That’s great for the time being. But your days are limited.

With automation coming, that type of mentality, you are going to be out of a job quickly and replaced by someone who’s looking bigger and more hungry to grow out these programs. And so fire burning, right? Some fires are giant and you’ve got to address them. Some are medium and you can get back to them and some are going to burn out on their own. How you figure out how you prioritize the different fires is, think about it like this: emails. You’ve got a ton of emails a day that you got to get to. And some people can spend their entire day answering emails, from sales coming in asking for customer references to customers, getting back to the events team and following up, you can spend all day answering emails and being reactive like that. 

And at the end of the day, you feel accomplished. The time flew by. You’re like, I need more hours in the day. I can’t get through all of these emails. But if you were to hire someone to just answer your emails, how much would you pay them an hour to do that? I guarantee it’s not the salary you are hoping for yourself. Maybe 20 bucks an hour to go through most of your emails, except for maybe some of the high priorities.

And so that’s how you start to associate and prioritize what fires can dwindle and burn out on their own, what you can get back to later and what you need to handle now. How much would you pay yourself or someone else to handle those responsibilities? Those things that are coming in and buying up all your time. And if you can focus on the big ones and then building so that new, big fires don’t happen like that in the future, you will constantly evolve your programs. So that’s how you personally choose and prioritize. 

And then how you do it strategically in the company is, you’ve got to get out of the reactive game of talking about quotas and how many case studies you’ve done, or events that you filled, how many references you put in. References are a good transition, because you can attach them to revenue influence, but you’ve got to do a lot more than just revenue influence there, right? 

You’ve got to be talking about: are you helping the velocity of your lead to close? Does having customer content and references help close deals faster? Do you have a higher close rate when they’re using customer content? That’s on the prospect side. And this also goes for the customer side: are they expanding more with you? How fast are they expanding more with you? What’s their likelihood of renewing with you? You’ve got to get into the business game, that strategic rather than the tactical game of what your outputs are . Good advocacy, a byproduct is you’ll get tons of case studies. A byproduct is you’ll get a lot of events and a lot of references, but the goal, what you’re aiming to do is build a business entity within your organization. So that’s really how I would focus on staying more strategic and leveling up your yourself and your conversation internally. 

Margot Leong: I love this. But a lot of times customer marketers can be people pleasers. And so, it’s easy to kind of say, okay, like gotta prioritize, fires will always burn. But let’s say you’re coming into an organization, but that they are very much focused on some of the stuff that you said that you said are maybe not the best things to only focus on, which is I need references immediately. We need like a ton of case studies. I need you to deliver this ASAP, ASAP. You’re dealing with this idea of like all that comes as a byproduct of a long-term mentality, but people are coming to you saying, I need this immediately.

Ari Hoffman: Yeah. And, and let’s be real, right? Right now, there’s never been a larger focus in the history of customer marketing on customer marketing than right now. It is the third largest growing job position on LinkedIn, but it’s not just that. It’s because of COVID, this digital transformation that was already in play, but being drawn out over a decade, right, is now, oh, my God, we can’t just sell to new people, we can’t just go to events. We’ve got to have like more customer content out there in the ethos. We need more reviews. We need more of a digital presence. We need more video testimonials. We need more case studies. I get it. And they’re not wrong, right? 

The point is is how you level your language and your conversation up is you put the customer at the center of everything. So you make them the arbiter of your conversation. Their experience and their revenue and their dollars behind them. So there isn’t just that. I’ve come into programs where it’s not only a fire, like this was handled by six other people before.

I’ll give you a specific example. One of my companies, I came in and customer references were handled by the customer success team. Reviews were handled by marketing operations and all events, all webinars, everything, even digital was all handled by the customer events and experience team. And when I came in, there was fires in each of them. Why? Because these were side projects for these people. These were side things that were tacked onto what they had to do because nobody else was taking care of them. So they’re kind of doing them off the side of the table and because of that fires grew, right? Because it wasn’t priority. It was taking weeks to get a response for customer references. So what happened there? Sales were just reaching out on their own to customers.

 It was taking weeks, months, even to get people to sign up for certain events. So what happened there? Events are not going through the CSMs who are super busy and managing those accounts. They’re reaching out to customers directly. And so you start to get all of this customer experience where the customer doesn’t understand what’s going on. They’re getting reached out to left and right, and what happens then? They turn off. And you start to get these customers who go dark and become nonresponsive, and that kills customer success in the job they’re trying to do. 

And so there’s that factor at play, which a lot of us have to deal with, which is we come into that mess, and two in growing and scaling companies, you have these fiefdoms that arise, which is, I’ll give you a specific use case there.

 At my last company, they had Intercom, which is wonderful in app messaging. And I was trying to bring in an advocacy tool to scale. And one of the problems, they do in-app messaging as well. Yeah, but we don’t have to use that part. Yeah, but they do it, and there was this concern because this person and their team had gone through herculean efforts to get Intercom into the company, as a sub processor was handling PII, all of this stuff and they negotiated forever on pricing. And now they were actually in the renewal phase and they were spending all this time and here comes this threat, wait, here’s this other tool that can do all of that and what I’m doing and all of this works. So you have the sunken cost and we obviously never want to make business decisions like that. We want to do what’s best for the company, but that’s hard, right?

When you built in all these programs and processes to make something work, and then a threat comes in. And so you have people who get very jaded and guarded around their programs. And so you have these walls that really build up and you’ve got to battle that too. Right? So none of this is easy.

The way you get through all of that, right, is you constantly have to go back to the data and to the influence. And in a lot of times we don’t have that, right? So what I did with the customer reviews, I had the Salesforce team telling me how on fire reviews were because nobody had gotten a review in a year and the whole team that was doing this had just dropped the ball and can you please save us? And we need them because they’re directly correlated to the amount of deals we get at Salesforce in the Salesforce App Exchange. And so I went in and I collected the data and I was able to pull out enough data to see that, you know what? There was zero direct correlation between the number of reviews that we had and how many deals came through or in the search results and where we were placing the search results. It was pay to play. But what was important was how recent the reviews were. 

So instead of going, oh my God, I’m going to blow over all of this, and I’ve got to go out and get hundreds of reviews to try and compete with other companies out there that have a much larger customer base than us, I’m going to go out and create a program that’s just going to get us a consistent drip of reviews, one to two a month. That’s all that’s important, is that there’s fresh reviews coming in, not the total number of reviews. And think about the difference of the type of fire you’re trying to fight right there by having that type of data, by understanding what’s actually at play. 

The other thing I do is I go out and I survey net new customers on their buying journey. Because sales will always tell you, oh, we need this specific case study for this use case with this tech stack and this role. And you’re like, oh, okay. So how many use cases do we have for that case study? Well, just this one that I can think of. Wait, so I’ve got to go through all of this energy and you’ve already made them a customer, but it would have been helpful? Okay. Got it. 

So what I do is I actually go and I talk to customers and I asked them a series of questions and a lot of them are similar questions asked in different ways so that I can burn through the data. And I put it in a Google form so that I have consistency amongst everyone. And I ask questions like on a scale of one to five, when you were considering buying us, how important were customer reviews to you in your buying decision? You uncover a lot of things that way. Like I learned it at my recent company, reviews were important, but not the actual reviews. Nobody was reading the individual reviews. They were going there to the review sites to look at what tools existed in the space because they didn’t know what existed out there and so they were going to see what came up. And a couple of them talked about the comparison charts, but the actual individual reviews were much more irrelevant to them.

And that’s not the same at every company. Reviews are incredibly important at a lot of companies and at scale at some companies. But you have to understand what your exact buyer journey is to know where you prioritize first. And trust me, if you interview all of your recent customers and get back this subjective data from them and you compile it all together and you can say, look, I’ve scored out of a one through five. This is where it is on the priority level. So I understand we’ve got a fire here, but look, we have a much bigger need for case studies. This helps you prioritize the fires and understand how to attack those fires so that you also build in time for yourself to grow the programs, which is what you’re there to do. So you’ve gotta be able to carve out that time and you cannot do it if you don’t know how to prioritize your fires. Does that make sense? 

Margot Leong: Absolutely. Yeah, I think a massive takeaway here is to not get swayed by all the different opinions on how you should be doing something, you take it under consideration, but you do gather the data for yourself. Let me gather and talk to all the different stakeholders to really understand like what the issue is at play. Let me do my own research on how customers are coming in through the funnel and what is also valuable to them. Always questioning, questioning, questioning whether or not this is actually truly valuable. And if this is what customers actually need.

Ari Hoffman: Right. And so you have the customer and remember as customer marketers and advocates, CMA, under all of that bucketing, we have to remember our customers aren’t just our paying customers, they’re our internal customers too. Sales are our customers, marketing teammates are our customers. We are selling them and fulfilling a commodity, a need that they have, right. And so I also survey internally and I’ll do that a lot to find out what the blockers are, where are you running into the biggest roadblocks? And I’ll ask the AE and I’ll break it down by segment and region. 

Just to give another point specific example for you, customer references. When I joined one of the companies, they had gotten to the point where they had already burnt through so many customer references because they were using them at a really early stage in deals. And there was no rhyme or reason behind it. It was just the less mature sales people would use them really early. And so we were burning through all the low hanging fruit customers who were ready for references. 

And I came into like reference fatigue and they were already pushing them out. So they already said that references couldn’t be done until the negotiation or procurement stage of a deal. And so really what that had done is it changed the mindset from using references to like, Hey, if we can get away with not using a reference, let’s do the deal like that, which is great. And when I came in, I was like, oh, it’s less work for me. They can do it without. That’s great.

 But as I started to collect the data on references and revenue impact and not just revenue influence, but time to close and were we closing at a higher rate? It was about a year for a close on our enterprise deals, which, you know, large over 10,000 employee companies and over a million dollars in ACV. And I noticed when a reference was used, it cut down our lead to close time by almost three months. 72 days is a long time. That’s a lot more revenue you can bring in at scale for each of these AEs, plus it was closing at seven times the rate, so the likelihood of closing these deals. Now it’s a little bit biased because when references came in, it was later in the stage, so of course they’re more likelihood to close, but when you looked at them overall with similar companies at that same stage, they closed at a higher rate.

And so we actually changed the process. It was required to bring in a customer reference at these large enterprise deals because we knew it shortened the sales cycle and it improved the chance to close. That’s how valuable references became. That was not what I was thinking when I started out. It was something that the data forced me into doing and exposing, and guess what? It turned the program into a much more valuable program in the long haul anyways. And so really get creative with the way that you’re looking at your data. I guarantee it doesn’t exist. Make it exist. Make that a priority for yourself.

Margot Leong: You mentioned that the salesperson asked, Hey, I’d love to get a case study for this specific use case. And so how do you address questions like that in which you look at the data and are like, this never comes up. And I don’t know if it’d be worth my time to prioritize that when sales is also your internal champion or, you know, you’re serving them as customers. What do you actually say to that salesperson? 

Ari Hoffman: Yeah. So, I’ll tell you why I survey our sales teams as well, because it helps answer these questions before they even start. So I’ll give you another specific use case. So we had cloud conversions on the roadmap for ourselves, which meant we had a lot of on-prem solution, on-prem customers, and the solution was being deprecated. And this had been in the works for years. I’m talking like four or five years, we’d be communicating the end of 202 1 and we are no longer going to support the on-prem solution. And these are some large customers. And after years of trying to move them over to the cloud, we still had about 150, 180 customers left that hadn’t moved.

Some of these were very large accounts and our account managers and AEs who are responsible for upselling them into the cloud had all of these different reasons of how to improve this. And we are down to like the last year. And so these people have been hit with the same messaging over and over. It was basically like some were feeling it was a lost cause. 

So what I did was I surveyed all of the AEs and account managers who were responsible for the cloud conversions. And I said, what are your top three biggest blockers? I asked a series of different questions, but not too many, right, that they’re not going to take it. Because sales is busy and and their jobs are really hard. They deal with so many unknowns, so you have to make it easy. 

And then you can take those blockers and you take them by the number and you can prioritize. And then you share the feedback with everyone. You make it that data visual to everyone. And they can see, this is why their ask for that specific case study is low on the priority because it’s not a priority for the entire company. They’ve got a one-off use case and they get it. It becomes much more apparent when you can take the data and use it that way. 

Plus what it helped me do is now I knew what my priority, what my biggest blockers were, and we created this whole customer canvas where we asked customers, like one of the biggest things was: I just don’t have the time right now. I do not have the bandwidth or the resources to start this project. Another one was: I own the on-prem solution. I don’t even use support for it that often. Why would I switch? I don’t see the bigger benefit to go into the cloud. So then I can ask very point specific questions of my customers who had made the cloud conversion journey and I recorded them saying, why now? What made it so that with all of this busy schedule and all of the different priorities that you have, that you made the move from being on-prem to the cloud. And then for those who said, for the blocker of, I don’t see the value add, I’m doing great. What is the value? What has the return been for you? And do you think that making the move from the on-prem solution to the cloud was worth it? 

And then you can take those answers and you’re now stacking and giving the ammunition in a way to your account managers or salespeople that they love you because it’s making their job so much easier because everybody listens to customer voice. Nobody listens to us selling more anymore. The biggest thing here is customer marketers, why our job is the number three job in growth. I think that we’re the future of marketing because we are filled with valuable noise. We’re hit with ads everywhere, so we turn them off. We don’t see them. We don’t listen to them anymore. And it’s good. We all know the right numbers, right? Our case studies, we all know the right metrics to share and the value add metrics to share that everyone’s talking about, the right KPIs and it’s everywhere. Our competitors are talking about the same business ad value that we are, right.

The only thing that pops through all of that noise again and again, and again, consistently is customer voice. Customers talking about and advocating on behalf of your company. And that’s whether you’re on the call, whether you’ve created and manufactured that voice, or it’s happening off the scene. The number two thing from Sirius Decisions of what helps them making a buying decision, other than prior use of the product, is customer references. And those references generally don’t go through a reference program. They happen off camera, right? They happen behind the scenes. They reach out to someone that they know that’s using their product. They’re going to go do their dirty work too, because they know that you’re going to give them the best.

So how do you create those advocates that are out there in existence that are visible enough, that people are reaching out to them and not going through your program, but they see they’ve done stuff with you, so they’re going to reach out to them. How do you make them so aligned with your messaging and everything that it’s like a seamless experience and they talk about you when you’re not in the room in a way that helps close deals and grow your customer base. 

Because it’s not just external prospects that are coming in. It’s your current customers. How do you use the successful journeys of your best advocates to influence other customers to be better customers?

Margot Leong: Absolutely. And I think that there’s the piece that you can control, but then what’s really important is making sure that all the other pieces, in addition to that are also aligned that are truly customer centric. I always feel like it’s ridiculous to do customer marketing and customer advocacy at a company that really doesn’t care about the customers because you’re basically having a crumbling foundation, as you’re trying to scoop up customers that may like the product, because if they don’t have support that’s taking care of them, if you don’t have good success, if you don’t have product that cares about what customer needs are, it’s all irrelevant. With the programs you’re trying to build, you have to have the foundation around you, so that it’s much easier for those conversations that happen out of your control to be positive ones.

Ari Hoffman: Absolutely. And honestly, those companies, you can tell. Their customer success programs are a mess. They don’t even invest in them. They invest mostly in just net new logos. And what do you see in the role that handles customer marketing and advocacy? Churn. Right? Every year, year and a half. They’ll have someone new in the position because all you’re doing is being a machine. You’re just reactive mode all day. When you come into a company like that, where you realize you can’t, and you can’t win every battle, I’ve had to leave certain companies because I realized I’m not going to win, and it’s really hard because you feel like you failed. If I’m really good at my job, I should be able to explain the value in a way that is so relevant to them, that they get it in and they adopt it. Sometimes you just can’t do it and it’s not your fault. And it’s hard because you wear that burden on your shoulders, right. I do believe though if you position yourself and you take the right deck, you do have the ability to change a company’s direction on how they handle this. Not all companies, but I do believe you put yourself in a much better position when you use the data and you have to make that data sometimes. 

I cannot repeat that enough, do not throw your hands up. Like, well, we just don’t have the ability to get it. Make it happen and fight for it more than anything else. Make the data consumption happen because then you can make really strong cases for yourself. 

Margot Leong: Everything comes back to the data and I think that’s super, super important. So I love this idea of when you join a company and you’ve got fires, you have programs, right? The idea of internally surveying your stakeholders, the departments you’d be working with to try and understand what the problems are, and then also serving your customers. Those are great takeaways for just things that you can do immediately when you start a new role, or even if you are in your current role for several months, that’s still very, very important. And it’s a great way to almost start from a bit of ground zero and and move forward in a way that allows you to actually remove some of those blockers and hesitations.

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 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.

Margot Leong: That is massive. Ari, thank you so much. This was such an enjoyable conversation and it sounds like you could probably talk about this all day, all night. Your passion is very evident.

But last question of course, is where can listeners connect with you if they’d like to chat a bit more and pick your brain on some things? 

Ari Hoffman: Yeah, so I love LinkedIn, but I also love to hop on a call if you want to talk, I’m here to talk. Anything, always. Advocacy all day, all night. I love it. I love what we do. I think we are the future of marketing. I think that what we’re doing is building real value based relationships with people and creating a more healthy place to work because we’re focusing on value delivery than what do I get out of it.

And it’s something that to me is really inspiring to see how we’re all coming together. It’s why did this top 100 list, right? That I put out. This is the last thing I’ll leave the session on, which is, I believe that for a while, and this is changing customer marketing and advocacy group together have had a mock seat at the table or no seat at the table at all. And what I mean by a mock seat at the table is, your CMOs say, oh, it’s super important. You know, we’ve got to focus on expansion. It’s so much more important and I’ll give you a specific use case. I won’t say the company, I love the company, but I won’t say where the company is at. I was on a team of 75 marketers, 40% of all net new revenue, almost half of all net new revenue, had to come from our install base. To me, when I took the job, I’m like amazing. You’ve literally set like how important this is to the organization, right? 

But after working there for a little bit, I realized did I have 40% of the headcount? Did I have 40% of the budget? And I had 40% of the slides that went in front of leadership. Do I have 40% of anything here except for the demand, the quota. They’re saying, Hey, we should be able to do it, but you’ve got customer success helping and management. 

And I’m like, what does marketing have? You don’t have sales and AEs and SDRs and all of the tools and technology stacks to help you make more sales, yet we’re on the backside at 40% are supposed to piece meal together reports from this and let me pull some stuff from Gainsight and leverage some of this that I can do in Asana. And we’re supposed to like do all of this internally. And then after all of that, we’re supposed to have time to actually build programs and deliver? And so why did the top 100 and why I think leveraging our voice on LinkedIn is this.

We will talk in our community channels. Like I love the customer marketing community, right. I love it. People ask questions and we can answer it. I just was on a call yesterday talking about how do we get more involved at the leadership level, so our scaled programs are working, but how do we get more leaders like the C suite involved? Because they’re not going to just jump in. They need a more handheld program rather than a skill program. So I love those kinds of communities, but we’re talking to ourselves, right? We’re in an echo chamber of customer marketers talking to customer marketers, and we got to break free of that. 

And so the reason the top 100 has the people’s choice is because those who are nominated on there, they’re going to reach out to all the people outside of just their department that they’ve supported. So here’s these salespeople that love my reference program. They’re going to vote. And you’re creating a larger conversation that is breaking out of the customer market, the CMA echo chamber to really breach the voice and make it more well-known, right. And that’s something we have to continue to push for as an industry. And that’s why my competitors for Crowdvocate are on this list because this isn’t a Crowdvocate list. It’s an industry list. This is for all of us to raise the collective bar together and to show how valuable and important this market actually is and the jobs that we’re doing and that we’re creating, how valuable they absolutely are.

Thank you so much for having me. As you can tell, I love this stuff and I love how you handle these podcasts. I’ve listened to them now and I just love how you dive in and really explore all the different facets and avenues.

Margot Leong: Thank you, Ari. I appreciate that.

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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