In an increasingly crowded marketplace, a good customer advocacy program can put you head and shoulders above your competitors by ensuring that your customers’ needs always come first. But how can we build a customer advocacy program, and how can we show its value? We brought in two experts to help us out.

Kalina Bryant, Head of Customer Advocacy at Asana, is interviewed by David Oragui, Founder at Grow Hack Scale, sharing their insights on the key principles of customer advocacy, building and scaling executive programs, and the impact and influence this can have on your business.

They cover topics such as:

  • The key principles of customer advocacy,
  • Getting other stakeholders’ buy-in to build a successful customer advocacy program,
  • Setting up a successful executive customer program, and
  • How to demonstrate the value of your customer advocacy programs.

Key principles of customer advocacy

Q: What does customer advocacy mean to you, and what would you say are the key principles of your customer advocacy programs?

A: Customer advocacy means businesses continuously get feedback from customers and reiterate based on that information. Our advocacy programs allow us to connect with our valuable customers, gain insights, and act on the insights given.

It's important to remember there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to customer advocacy. At Asana, we really try to think about what's best for our customers and what's going to enable them to thrive and be innovative – that’s the foundation we build our customer advocacy programs on, with these three guiding principles in mind:

  1. Engage key stakeholders.
  2. Gather insights.
  3. Build a compelling story, not just for ourselves but for our customers.

All three of these principles tie together. For customer advocacy to succeed, customer insights must be top of mind for the business, and they must be tracked at every level. All the primary stakeholders have to be informed and involved to ensure that we get the right results at the right time to provide the best customer experience.

Our stakeholders are our customers, business partners, and employees. With the support of our champions, who are our top-of-the-line customers, we get great insights, which we embed into Asan’s culture all the way from the product to the customer experience. And so insights are always top of mind for us because they allow us to navigate in the right direction.

That takes us to the final principle, which is building a compelling story. Customer advocacy utilizes customer insights, but how do we turn that into a compelling story that benefits our customers?

This might be the most important segment because a story allows us to amplify our customers’ voices. When they give us feedback, we don't put it in a secret box. We take that information and do something with it that benefits our customers in the long term.

Q: What best practices do you use to put these principles into practice at Asana?

A: We always aim to share with customers what we've learned from their insights and the commitments that we’re making. We also provide channels for our customers to give feedback, and we’re creating new ways to showcase that information across the company.

We’re also creating new ways to translate critical insights. That's big for us because, thanks to our customers’ feedback, we know how to continue designing products that will benefit them and make sure that they are set up for success.

Our customers are our number one inspiration in everything that we do. Being a customer-centric company, we understand that customer advocacy is a journey, not a destination. Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither is customer advocacy.

Every new event or program is a bit of a gamble, but each time you create one, you gain insights directly from your customers, so you can continue growing in the right direction.

To give you an example of the kind of customer advocacy event I’m talking about, we launched our first peer-to-peer leadership roundtable, bringing leaders across key organizations together to discuss their thoughts and their concerns. It included a lovely wine tasting experience, by the way.

While we were planning the roundtable we had to think about what would separate it from just another Zoom meeting and make sure that our customers were engaged. We picked a time of day to suit everybody involved and we made sure to build our agenda around key findings that were going to help them. We didn't talk about the product, we talked about the customers. We put them first, which I think separates our roundtables from anyone else's.

It was a great turnout: we had 100% attendance, and we received great feedback from our customers who asked for more – they thought it was a great opportunity for them to connect with their peers.

And from our side, we received the valuable insights we were looking for. So our customers definitely want to be in a room with like-minded individuals and have an opportunity to network and give us feedback.

Getting other stakeholders’ buy-in to build a successful customer advocacy program

Q: How can someone build a successful advocacy program, and how does that impact your customer marketing strategy and generate revenue for you as an organization?

A: There are a few components that I like to stick to; the biggest one is understanding the business, the product, and the customers’ needs first.

When we outline our strategy here at Asana, we keep our customers top of mind, but we also look at the product, where we are as a business, and, most importantly, we look at the needs of our customers. From there we can start scoping out what types of customer advocacy programs will work well.

Next, we need to understand what other teams have already done with the customers, so we don’t wind up recreating the same thing. We get together with the customer marketing team, the community team, and customer success and try to understand what has already worked well, and what we would like to design but haven't had the bandwidth to do yet.

Lastly, we need to outline the program guardrails. For every program that we design at Asana, we are really cautious of the guardrails that we put in place to make sure that we are providing the best experience for our customers.

Once we’ve done that, we have a better landscape to work cross-functionally and make sure that the programs are seamless and scalable and that customers are benefiting at every level.

In a nutshell, you need to understand the business, what programs you want to roll out, what is needed at that time, and who your partners are. You can't do advocacy alone. It's a team effort so you have to work cross-functionally.

Q: In order to be successful, would you agree that customer programs need to be understood and supported by a good number of functions across the entire company? And if so, what are some of the techniques and processes that you can use to achieve that cross-functional stakeholder buy-in?

A: On our end, we think about the business as a whole. We look at business goals and OKRs from a team perspective. And so when we’re planning customer advocacy programs, I think about what is going to be best for our business. From there, we work together to outline what good looks like.

Let’s say one of our high-level OKRs is to build deeper relationships with our best customers. We need to work cross-functionally to identify those customers and accounts.

Then, we need to work hand in hand with the people that are in the field with these customers on the daily – our field marketing team, sales reps, and customer success. Together, we outline our goals and create a plan to nurture those accounts and find success.

When we take all of that together, we can feel confident that we're going to launch customer engagement programs that will benefit the business as a whole. What’s more, we don’t only meet our goals from a customer advocacy perspective, but our cross-functional teams can feel confident that they're going to hit their goals too.

Setting up a successful executive customer program

Q: Coming off of that, could you walk us through how you would start to plan and set up an executive customer program?

A: Yeah, of course. First up, I would look at some of the data and what we want to accomplish. I look closely at NPS and CSAT, and then I meet a good amount with our sales, CS, and marketing teams to scope out what's going to work well for our customers. Then we outline a detailed budget.

One of the biggest programs that we've launched so far is our executive peer-to-peer roundtables. When we’re planning these, we take a step back and look at the demands of our customers as well as the content we publish that will be beneficial for them.

That’s really important because you never want to be sold to, right? I want our customers to feel valued, take notes, and feel as though they gained something that they couldn't get anywhere else.

Before each roundtable, we tailor a list of customers that we know will be great in the room together. When they let us know that they’re excited to attend, we craft a survey highlighting what we plan to talk about and give customers the opportunity to add what they would like to cover as well.

Along with our survey, we send out the Anatomy of Work Index Report, which is our annual in-depth analysis of how people spend time at work and the factors shaping those habits. Participants then have the opportunity to review it and ask the compelling questions that they would love to have covered in that roundtable.

So when we come together all across the country, everyone knows what's going to be talked about and the pains that they want to address. It's a very intimate conversation and it's filled with that networking component.

And so really, we're looking at how to get our customers engaged, how to give them what they need, and how to utilize all of the positive and impactful work that we're doing as a team. When you bring those three things together, you're really able to create successful engaging programs that don't just take place once but become a series that's going to last.

That's the beauty of customer advocacy: catering to your customers. Regardless of whether we're in person or virtual, we're able to still provide them the content that they need to be successful, and the opportunity to create peer-to-peer relationships that they wouldn't be able to create without such an impactful program.

Demonstrating the value of your customer advocacy programs

Q: Let's say I just built out a customer advocacy program – what metrics can I use to prove its value and the ROI so that we can keep running the program for months and years to come?

A: The number of relationships developed should definitely be top of mind. We measure how many new champions we have confirmed throughout the journey of our program, which gives us a good picture of how successful the program is in building these relationships.

CSAT and NPS scores within the accounts involved are handy too – they’re extremely tangible and easy to measure. You should feel confident that these scores are either stable or constantly going up as customers engage with your program.

And then the most important part is the level of engagement and participation within each program and making sure that’s consistent. If you’ve just rolled out a new program and you get high engagement that’s wonderful, right? The thing is, you have to make sure it's scalable.

If you get high engagement once, that's fine, but can you confidently say that this program is providing value on a monthly, quarterly, or half-year cadence? More importantly, can you repeatedly say that your customers are all in and they're constantly engaging and demanding more?

I think that that is honestly one of the best ways to track your customer advocacy programs because with engagement comes happy customers, with happy customers come raving fans, and with raving fans comes a thriving business.

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