You'll easily pay $300-$500 for a new vacuum cleaner. That's why, when I needed to buy a new one recently, I didn't take the decision lightly. I spent over 50 hours researching vacuums online. I went to multiple stores, testing several vacuums as well as questioning the people selling them. I was looking for a clear idea of the winners and losing in the category. After all that, I was still stuck deciding between three different brands and models. I was still deliberating when the guy in the office next to mine noticed the vacuum cleaners plastered across my screen. He told me that he and his wife were in the same boat last year. They did even more research than I did, eventually finding a vacuum they love.
He raved about it for the next 15 minutes.
Despite the vacuum being a brand that I hadn't come across in my research, I was sold. Hearing his story and why it was the right choice for his family trumped the hours I spent pouring over ratings, expert opinions, features, and specs comparisons.
That's the power of customer advocacy. Harnessing the people who use and love your products and services and deliberately inserting them into the marketing and sales process is the holy grail of business growth.
Here are five ways you can motivate your customers to advocate for your brand and sell products for you.
The number one way to get customers to sell for you is to create products and services that stand out and get results. Your goal is to provide exceptional value from the very start, then surprise and delight your customers as they use your services.
Diamond Candles is one company that did this very well. They entered the crowded candle market and made over a million dollars in their first year by providing a product that was high quality and surprised customers with extra value. The extra value came in the form of rings hidden in the candle wax. For $25, customers receive an aromatic candle that, when burned, reveals a $10, $100, or $5000 ring sealed in the wax. If you found a $100 ring in your $25 candle, you'd tell all your friends, wouldn't you?
Your business can use this same technique. Thoroughly research your customers, especially your top users, and find out what they value in your products. Is it quality? Low prices? Choices? Focus on one or two things your customers value and provide more of them. If you can go one step further and provide that value in a surprising way to delight your customers like Diamond Candles, so much the better.
After you've found out what your customers value, ask them to help you with product development as well. What else do your top users need from your products and services? Your customers' answer to this question could help you come up with some of your most profitable innovations.
Consistently engage your customers with emails, product updates, and best practices that add value. The more value you add, the more beneficial your business will be to customers over time. That will strengthen your relationship and encourage customers to engage more and stay in touch. Frequent communication also helps keep your business top of mind and ensures that customers know about new offers that they can discussion with friends and colleagues.
Other forms of customer engagement might include customers' product development suggestions from the previous section and customer support. Customer support in particular should engage your customers and move them toward advocacy through quality responses. Go above and beyond to fix problems and resolve complaints to provide a great experience. Standout customer service can turn even frustrated customers into top advocates.
Expert Tip: You can and should engage your customers through multiple mediums, such as social media, but remember that sites like Facebook are open to the public. Your customers already know you and have different needs from your prospects.
Give your customers a "home" online where they can get offers and information after making a purchase. Use this home to provide content and engagement opportunities that are specifically designed to add value to current customers. Your customers can then talk about their experience and exclusive offers to others in their industry.
According to Bill Lee, one of the world's foremost experts on customer success and advocacy, reference programs are likely on the way out. That's not because references are less effective than they used to be, it's because advocacy programs that encourage continual involvement are so much more effective than one-off references.
Instead of asking your customers to write one testimonial, invite them to get involved in an ongoing advocacy program. Start small, by sending out an email or putting a poll in your online community asking "How likely are you to recommend our products and services?" Customers that are likely to recommend your service are prime candidates for your program.
Bring these enthusiastic customers into an advocacy program that opens with small tasks, such as a reference or testimonial, and leads to greater and greater involvement. The program should keep customers involved by giving them opportunities to share their story by writing reviews, testing new products, attending industry events, or educating others in their industry on your solutions.
Create a repeatable process to identifying top customers and pull them into your advocacy program so you don't have to reinvent the wheel every time you win new customers. By creating such a continuous program you'll encourage more customer advocacy activities that reach more prospects. The results will far outpace that of a single reference.
Ask your customers to write blogs, take photos, and answer questions from your prospects and other customers online. When this material is created and published by your customers instead of your business, it becomes more effective. There are two reasons for this:
Reason #1) Search engines love customer-created content, which helps you get found. According to Kissmetrics, 25% of search results from the world's top 20 largest brands are links to user-generated content.
Reason #2) Customer-created content is trusted more than brand content. Leading marketing agency, The Shelf, found that 92% of consumers trust recommendations from other people, even people they don't know, over corporate content.
Prospects are more likely to find and react favorably to material created and published by your customers than the content you create yourself. To bring your customers into the sales process, encourage them to participate in and create content such as:
Traditionally, incentives have taken the form of referral programs that reward customers when they bring in a new prospect or contribute to a sale. Rewards might include discounts, free merchandise, or a complimentary upgrade. More modern referral programs have also started including gamification in online customer communities, with badges awarded to customers bringing in new business.
Incentives give your customers one more reason to talk about your business, but with the increasing emphasis on customer advocacy, incentive programs are evolving. Today, the most effective incentive programs go beyond providing run-of-the-mill rewards for advocates, they also align with advocates' business needs.
Incentive programs that align with advocates' needs help customers further their careers. That's why content is so important. If you co-create content with your customers, highlighting your customers' business success as well as how your product was integral to the process, you both gain valuable marketing material. Your customers can promote the content just as much as you can, and both your businesses will expand their reach through each other's network.
The most successful businesses today are starting new incentive programs that align with customers' personal and professional needs and revamping the programs they already have in place. Try doing the same at your company, viewing incentives a way to provide even greater value for your customers and build partnerships.
The power of customers to market and sell for companies is a trend that's been gaining momentum over the past several years. It's been highlighted by major organizations such as HubSpot and Gallup, as well as top business professionals like Bill Lee. Over the next five to ten years, the rise of customer advocacy power could even cause a permanent change in the marketing and sales landscape.
Don't let this shift take your business unaware. Use these five methods to make the most of that change and improve your company's sales without ramping up your own efforts. The results of success customer advocacy efforts provide sustainable sales growth and stronger customer relationships.