We catch up with Dave Hansen, Sinead O'Grada, Tim Newborn, and Josh Zerkel to talk about the best ways to develop an advocacy program that'll actually make an impact.

How advocacy creates impact

Dave Hansen

Let’s start with the end result, so we can see where we’re headed. What does advocacy mean for you and your organization, and what is its potential impact?

Sinead O'Grada

Customer advocacy really means having the customer at the heart of everything that we do. It’s about listening to and responding to what they need and want, based on the opportunities or headwinds that they may be facing in their market.

When we can show tangible outcomes for our partners and the SMB businesses that we work with – whether that’s helping them to stay open during challenging times, or enabling them to find and retain new employees – it helps us to tell the story of the impact of our program, which in turn creates more buy-in from stakeholders and more opportunities for growth and expansion.

Tim Newborn

Customer advocacy meets people where they are to exceed their expectations, and it does so in helpful and unexpected ways. I think it solves business challenges, both familiar and unique, through the simplicity of an open dialogue between a brand and the people who matter most to you and your business – your customers. That means you can execute better services and experiences, and even work smarter and offer more to your customers.

Not only do we get to listen to what our customers are doing with their solutions and the way that we're helping them, but we also get to hear how we’re helping our customers’ customers. I think it's very beneficial to be able to quantify that because that's ultimately what our customers are hoping to do. If we can help them achieve their goals of delivering better experiences and services, we can truly shine as customer marketers and advocacy professionals.

Joshua Zerkel

For us at Asana, our mission is to help humanity thrive by helping the world's teams work together, and the way that we do that is by listening to them. Customer advocacy programs give us a direct line to our customers to hear what they want, what's working for them, and the challenges they're having so that we can better respond to them, meet their needs, and help them and their teams achieve their missions.

Advocacy puts the customer's voice at the center of how we think and what we do in ways that feel very meaningful and impactful. Beyond what it does for customers, it helps us at the company be more empathetic to who our customers are and what they need.

It's also just nice to hear what customers have to say in an unstructured way. For data-driven companies, which frankly most are at this point, it can be easy to lean on just quantitative data about customers, but advocacy programs let you hear in customers' own words what's going on for them and, ideally, the difference that your company or organization is making.

To me, that's really fun, and I think we're lucky in customer-facing roles to be able to hear the voice of the customer directly, not just as a concept. It just makes coming to work enjoyable because we know that what we're doing helps them.

Dave Hansen

That's awesome. I would just add that advocacy allows us to bridge the gap between organizations. At LRN, our customers are in the ethics and compliance space – there's usually just a handful of them within their organization. They're almost an island. Our advocacy community lets our customers network and meet each other and come together to build something bigger than the sum of its parts.

How to get your advocacy program off the ground

Dave Hansen

We've talked about some of the great outcomes that can come from advocacy, but there's a lot that can go into this. Where should you start? How did you get your programs off the ground?

Tim Newborn

Great question. I think there's often a disconnect between what your company wants to happen and what actually needs to happen – those can be two different things and only your customers can tell you what the difference might be.

Regardless of what your goals are, advocacy starts with learning as much as you can about your customer, about their customers, about your product, and about the foundational business objectives of your organization. That way, you’re not only making sound data-based decisions on how to move forward but also you're asking the right questions to the right people at the right time.

Not to divert us here, but when I was about 15, I had the opportunity to visit the Huntsville Space Centre in Huntsville, Alabama, where I got to view a couple of different types of rockets. I think that there are some strong similarities between those types of rockets and what we do in advocacy.

There are fuel rockets, which are those short-term initiatives that go fast but don't necessarily go far. They rely on the subsystems – like a rush to get quotes or customer stories for our sales team – to kick in so that we can travel the rest of the way.

Then we have ion thrusters, which take longer to build. Like our longer-term strategies, they're more sophisticated and usually require more minds around the planning table. They harness perpetual energy and use the environment around them to grow. An example of this in our world might be building a formalized program to combat customer exhaustion.

Both types of rockets have a vital role and they’re each necessary to complete the journey. It’s often best to build both of them simultaneously. You can start scrappy, but you should also be planning for the future.

Sinead O'Grada

I would absolutely echo what Tim said. Our approach at Meta in general involves piloting and then scaling for long-term impact. That's exactly how we started our SMB advocacy efforts; we piloted the program framework through lightweight channels and forums, before making longer-term investments in infrastructure and tooling.

That pilot and proof-of-concept approach enabled us to prove the program’s value and gain insights on what works and what doesn’t. Then we were able to make a more substantial investment and lay the foundation for ongoing growth.