Speakers: Sara Bochino, Vice President of Customer Success at talech, Ari Hoffman, Global Director of Customer Advocacy at Crowdvocate and Megan Macaluso, Sr. Director of Customer Success Strategy at Convercent
|Peter Armaly joined Marley Wagner to co-host this month’s Customer Success Unlocked webinar. We welcomed a panel of Customer Success experts to discuss the Path to Advocacy at Scale. Sara Bochnio, Ari Hoffman, and Megan Macaluso broke down what customer advocacy is and answered some of the more complex questions around this increasingly important topic.|
Q: How might you suggest initiating internal support/buy-in from Customer Success, Product, Management Teams, etc.? Megan, you work for a large vendor, what are your thoughts on this?
Megan Macaluso (MM): I think this is one of the biggest complications that happens because every different org needs that information for a different reason and are like “I gotta go get it.” There are some natural friction points that happen with that, and then it’s like CSMs are trying to just protect the customer from all this information that everybody else needs.
Something that we’ve worked on is really understanding the what and the why of what’s needed. Sometimes we’ll get a request from Product and then we’ll get a request from Product Marketing and we’re like ”you guys actually need the same thing.” So, we probably actually don’t need to do this twice, we’re duplicating efforts. Because we’ve got a pretty robust CS and CX operational organization, we’ve decided to just really own everything that’s hitting our customers, we are in charge of any and all things going to and from the customer and that helps us do that.
But then you really do need to partner with those other organizations. So, for example, Jen who leads our CS team, and ultimately, the client relationships, she has to work with and really understand what Product Marketing needs. I mean we’ve got seven new products hitting the market this year, so everyone’s clamoring for what’s going to happen with early adopters, how do we understand what’s working and what’s not, so that we can fold that into when we’re talking with customers and the selling process. Or how are we getting that feedback loop into Product to know what’s working and what’s not as these things are launching and getting in front of our customers. So, it really is about a lot of collaboration, a lot of time together, we have OKRs where some of this stuff is folded in.
So what I would say is – make goals across your organization and across your different functions and make sure that the need for advocacy isn’t just sitting in these silos and that they’re all just coming to you, asking for things, and then you’re on the hook for deciding what goes where at any given point. So everybody’s kind of on the same page as to what’s needed and why and why that’s important.
Q: Is the ‘dream state’ to have customers proactively reach out and volunteer as advocates? And what needs to happen for that to be realistic at scale?
Ari Hoffman (AH): Think about the customer journey, when you come in, you’re not just going ”here’s the product, see you later,” you’re saying ”here’s onboarding, we’re going to help you with your launch, we’re going to help you get internal buy-in, here are the different groups you need.” Then, once you launch, it’s “here’s how you’re going MVP it out,” right? Because we’re not going to boil the ocean, we want to get the value quickly, that first time to value. Just like that, you’re going to do that with your advocates, so when they come in, part of their onboarding experience is to say, ”check out our community, hey, watch this video of someone who’s like you, that uses the product your way.” They’re getting exposed to other advocates.
So, we have an Academy phase in advocacy, where the green thumb is coming in. I guess not green thumb but they’re the rookie coming in and they’re learning, and this is where you want to give a lot. And then, as they start to grow, the way I’ve divided out a maturity model is the Academy, then you have Private where they’re getting some value out and they’re willing to do some things but not everything. You’ve given some value, Private means they’re willing to share anonymously. Third-party review that’s anonymous, maybe a customer reference call, but they’re not willing to put their name or company logo with it. Then you have Public, this is where they’re willing to put their name on it, but they’re not ready to go to their comms and legal departments to get approval to use a logo. So, they might lead a user group internally, they might do some things where they become a little more public with it. And then your Profile, this is where you’re profiling the account. Now they’ve got enough value through these preliminary stages where you’ve developed them enough.
Does that mean all of your customers have to go through that path? Absolutely not and one of the, I guess, the false set expectations that companies have internally is when you look in, I call it the Advocacy Well, when you look in the top and down the well, you see there’s water in there. And so, your Executive is saying ”we have so many customers that love us, what’s the problem?” and Sales is going, “what does it say about our company if it takes two weeks to get a customer on a call with the prospect, what does it say about us?”. Well, they have jobs and they’re busy and they’re delivering their own things, and they have a launch. There are a lot of things it says, and it’s a lot more complex than that. But we often think ”oh, we have all of these amazing raving fans, how come we can’t capture more of them?” But it’s a false pretense because no matter how many customers you have, it’s a limited pool. Even Salesforce, [for example,] because when you’re talking about apples-to-apples references, you need the right case study and it’s not just any customer. I need the one that’s in healthcare, that’s using Salesforce, that has Chorus as their community, that right now has eight different other tech stacks, and it’s got to be a VP of Product from them. So, when you get down these fine corridors of what you’re matching, they become very refined and you have a very limited pool of who your happy, healthy, and advocating customers are.
Q: How do you combine customer health with customer advocacy? Some companies have rules around this and if a client isn’t an advocate doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad thing, what about accounts that are red, but they like the product. Would you still flag them as an advocate?
Sara Bochino (SB): I love this question because, as we’re thinking about this, we’re talking about the happy customer. I hate the word ‘happy’ in Customer Success personally, because I think you get the most information out of customers, at times, that are Red, right? Like ”yeah, I do have a challenge but I’m willing to talk to you about it”, which speaks to the relationship they have with your business. So, personally, it’s not that I separate health and advocacy, I think I look at them a little differently. Health, to me, is what is the health of our business, it helps us with forecasts, it helps us understand where there are challenges so that we can continue to pull those customers in, learn more about it, and communicate back. So, it’s that balance of advocating for your customer internally and externally.
When I think about advocacy, I think it’s a component, it shouldn’t affect their health score in my opinion. I think you could have a great experience onboarding and have been an advocate, you could be a beta tester or something and be an advocate, you could leave us a bad review and, in my mind like ”okay, how do we respond to that? How do we get back to the relationship portion of it?” So, I don’t necessarily separate the two, but I love this question because I think it highlights this thing that Customer Success should have 100% green accounts. Well, no, I think some of the best CSMs have more red and yellow accounts than green because they’re having real, difficult conversations with their customers. They’re building relationships and through that, those customers potentially could be great advocates.
But it’s this misnomer that Sales and Marketing only want to talk to the healthy customers, the very healthy customers. I would challenge individuals and say lean more on the customers that are being really honest with you about where they are and what they need from you. It doesn’t mean they’re not seeing value, it just means they need more support, they need some more help, they need that coach, that catalyst to get there.
Q: Is there any general advice you can give for an organization that is trying to formalize and implement an advocacy program and process? Like a ‘start here’ if you have nothing in place. What do you do first?
AH: I try and always go back to the listeners because I deal with such a broad set of people who come in that are trying to dip their toes into advocacy, who already have fully functioning programs that just can’t scale. The stuff we were just talking about was kind of like level 10 advocacy stuff. Where do you want to start if you’re just getting into it – maybe you’re a CSM and you don’t have a customer marketing or advocacy function at your company. If you’re just coming in and you want to do something, this is one thing I can tell you is true if you’re a small business, mid-market, enterprise, I have never met a company yet where the CSMs are like ”I have so much free time on my hands, give me something else to learn how to do.” I haven’t had it yet, it doesn’t exist. Even with our customers who are Customer Success software, their CSMs are inundated, it is something that is endemic to our industry.
So, if you’re there, the way that you start, your first level one step, is to set up some rules, some definitions of what advocacy is and what the process is. Set some governance, then it can be as easy as setting up a couple Google form fills to have it come through a single source, then you have that visibility. The next stage, and what I kind of spent way too long in my career doing, was building it inside the CRM and trying to make it work inside the CRM. Which was in Salesforce, but at least it’s a band-aid.It’s reactive, but if you put it into Salesforce where they can request right within Salesforce and you can track things like did the customer say yes, did they say no, is it in processes, is it on hold, was it denied. Because if you do it in your CRM, then you can at least attach it to the opportunity, so you can see revenue influence there, or you can attach it to the marketing engine so you can see how many leads were generated there. But the thing there is it’s still manual, so you’re having to go back in and update everything.
The next step after that, after you set these programs up, is finding something that, if you have someone who’s dedicated to this, and if you’re doing it yourself, the tool that helps you scale it. I know that sounds like I’m selling because I’m from a vendor. But it’s just the journey that I went through myself, and I’ve done this for the last eight years. You don’t have to start at level ten where you’re trying to help your unhealthy customers [by connecting them] with healthy customers, that’s down the track. First, start with getting ahold of visibility and limit the noise you’re putting on your CSMs and your customers. That is priority number one because when you don’t have control in that, you’re tiring everybody out, it’s called advocacy fatigue. And when you are tiring everybody out, everything requires more effort and more time, and that’s where everyone just starts to shut down. So, step one: create visibility.
Missed the webinar? Catch up on the full conversation here!