Customer champion and advocacy programs, though not new, have gained renewed interest for good reason. Because of recent technology, you can better identify, cultivate, manage, scale, and measure your brand champions—improving the impact of your program and making it more of a win-win for you and your advocates.

So if you don't have a champion program, now's the time to start one. If you do, you have a great impetus to make improvements where needed.

Who Are the Champions?

Champions are people who have invested in you, and they want to see and help you succeed.

Customers and partners, for example, have made both a monetary and a professional investment in choosing to do business with you, and they're looking for a two-way relationship that's mutually beneficial.

Employees are champions as well. They have made a decision with their careers and their success is tightly linked to the success of the organization.

Champion or advocacy programs are a way to engage with people who have an interest in helping you in ways that work to your mutual success.

Examples of ways to engage may include...

  • Acting as a sales reference
  • Sharing your social content
  • Participating in beta programs
  • Participating in events and speaking engagements
  • Providing product reviews and ratings

Champion programs are particularly compelling for B2B companies. The programs fill a void that many companies feel neither social media nor influencer marketing has fulfilled. For companies still trying to figure out how or whether their social strategies are working for them and how to measure success, champion programs can deliver more tangible results tied to desired business goals.

Champions are different from your social fans and followers. How? Followers likely form a large audience for you to tap. The challenge is to know whether your followers actually invested in you or simply are interested. Chances are they may not be there when—and in the capacity—you need them.

What about industry influencers, such as analysts and widely read bloggers? They follow your space and are vocal. But these relationships take a long time to develop.

You may have myriad solid relationships, but scaling those relationships to larger numbers may not be feasible. And, strapped with other priorities, those influencers also may not be available or interested when needed. Conversely, champions have a much higher motivation to help you when you ask them.

The Benefits for You

There are many benefits to building a champion program. Here are just a few.

  1. Informed and motivated advocates. They know the benefits of your products inside and out, and they speak with credibility. There's no better salesperson than a happy customer.
  2. Ready references. Often, finding the right customers who can serve as references is a time-consuming process. Securing sales references is a lot easier with a bank of willing customers at the ready when you are trying to close an important deal. Plus, your champion customers are also more likely than other customers to lead to new business referrals—the advocacy marketing Holy Grail.
  3. First-hand testimonials. Customer advocates are a great base to tap and reward for case studies and speaking opportunities.
  4. Amplified content sharing. Expand the reach of your content when shared through their social channels.
  5. Improved product development. Gain feedback and insights from your best customers via product beta programs, focus groups, or quick surveys to drive product improvements.

Benefits for Champions

The most effective champion program is a two-way street.

Customers also get benefits including...

  1. Rewards. You can structure your program to provide customers (and employees) with a range of tangible and appealing rewards that motivate them to participate and complete different tasks.
  2. Fast-tracked vendor access. This might come in the form of early access to products or the ability to influence product direction, get face time with your executives, or gain extra training and other services.
  3. Expert reputation. Whether sharing your relevant content, participating in case studies, or being quoted in media articles, your customer champions are being positioned to their peers as industry experts and problem-solvers. They enhance their own professional reputation.

Get the Ball Rolling

Here are some tips to help you get started with your advocacy program.

1. Identify potential advocates

Think about which customers would be a good fit for potential participation in your program. Candidates may include people who have participated in activities with you in the past, are active social contributors, or are frequent and happy product users. Consider customers who give high ratings on NPS or other surveys.

2. Segment them

Not every champion is the same. Accordingly, champions will want to interact with you in different ways.

For example, a customer champion in a highly regulated industry likely won't be able to speak publicly but could provide a personal sales reference or tweet in a non-promotional way. Segment your advocates according to their preferences and capabilities.

3. Vary rewards

People respond to different incentives, and their employers may have rules around what they can or cannot accept. Monetary rewards, such as Amazon gift cards, are often popular, as is technology such as iPads or other tablets. But consider business-related rewards that help a team or organization—such as lunch with your CEO or product team, extra training hours, or tickets to an industry event.

4. Cross-incentivize

If you have champion programs for both customers and employees, pose a challenge, when possible, to both groups. Your employees (especially customer-facing ones) can then help drive customer participation.

5. Employ technology

As mentioned, technology can power and improve your champion program—with the ability to provide insight into overall account health and likely references, and help you easily and efficiently manage, challenge, reward, and grow your champions.

Look for a technology partner that understands your goals and objectives. At Brainshark, for example, we use Influitive's AdvocateHub to power our customer advocate community.

6. Measure engagement

Measure the number of advocates you have, along with who is active. You can also measure advocates' engagement and preferences. Again, technology can help expedite and automate this process and analyze the success of your program.

* * *

In many cases, your customers are often already enthusiastic but need some motivation and direction to vocalize their love.

With a well-structured customer champion program—and, where possible, a program for employees—you can build deeper, better relationships with your advocates, gain new ones, and benefit from positive word-of-mouth.

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image of Joan Babinski

Joan Babinski is vice-president of corporate marketing at Brainshark, a provider of sales enablement solutions.

LinkedIn: Joan Babinki