Introducing our customer marketing pros

Emma Datny

Hi, everyone! Today, the four of us are going to be discussing how to build a successful ambassador program of customer evangelists, setting up customer advisory boards, case studies, and a whole lot of great things. I'll let our panelists introduce themselves.

Bridget Heaton

Hi, my name is Bridget Heaton. I've spent the last two and a half years working at a company called Collibra, where I've built the foundations of customer marketing, as well as their community of data citizens.

Prior to that, I worked at a company called Schoology, which has since been acquired by PowerSchool. I also built the advocacy programs and community there, full of teachers and school administrators, so I have a long history of working in programs, building programs, and helping to develop advocates.

Carrie Timms

Hi, everyone. I'm delighted to be here. My name is Carrie Timms and I am the Director of Global Customer Marketing in EMEA at Facebook. My team is responsible for end-to-end business marketing across the EMEA region, and that encompasses everything from advocacy programs to training to good old-fashioned advertising – the whole spectrum of activities orientated towards our large, small, and medium businesses in EMEA.

Prior to my current role at Facebook, I had a long history of working at a bunch of CPGs. I was at Unilever and Nestlé. I’ve always been a CPG person up until now and have always been involved in various aspects of marketing.

Anita Raj

Hi, everyone. My name is Anita. I lead product and customer marketing at ThroughPut. Our AI-powered supply chain software helps companies to run their supply chain sustainability on autopilot by leveraging existing data.

Prior to my current role, I worked in product and customer marketing programs at companies like EMC, LeanIX, and Signavio. I’m very excited for our exciting all-woman customer panel discussion today.

Emma Datny

Fantastic. I'll just introduce myself before we take it away. My name is Emma. I'm currently the Director of Product Marketing at Velocity, an early-stage startup where we empower developers to streamline and accelerate their product delivery by building the full autonomy to spin up fully isolated production-like environments.

I'm very focused on the developer marketing world, and I have been for the past three-plus years. I’m always trying to connect with our customers as much as possible, whether it's through advisory boards, promoting them to speak at different events, or working with them to help grow the way that we create our own products as well.

I'm very happy to be joining everyone here as we discuss everything that you guys have been achieving at your amazing companies. I love that we have a variety of people from around the world and various stages of companies with a lot of experience.

How to nurture powerful customer evangelists

Emma Datny

I'd love to start with a pretty high-level question. How can you develop genuine and valuable customer evangelists?

Carrie Timms

I'd love to share an example from Facebook. I can't claim credit for it entirely – I've only been at Facebook for seven months, so this is a testament to my wonderful team.

By way of context, at Facebook, we're very lucky to have almost 10 million advertisers on our platform, the large majority of which are small and medium businesses. A couple of years ago, we recognized that there was an opportunity to share the powerful stories that we were hearing from these SMBs at events and through our activities.

We saw that as an opportunity to set that relationship on more of a formal footing and to amplify the fantastic stories we were hearing, so we set up something called the Boost Leaders Network. It’s now a really thriving community with 12,000 members globally. In EMEA, we have 2000 members across nine countries.

What we've learned along the way basically boils down to two things. The first is that you can’t have a successful and thriving customer advocacy program unless you have a happy customer. That means that the first focus always needs to be on making sure that the experience the customer has – whether it's with the brand or the product – is super positive. If you have a happy customer, you're 80% of the way there in terms of potentially having an evangelist.

We also approach the Boost Leaders Network with a servant mindset. Our idea is that the advocate should get more out of the program than we do. It’s always our goal that they come out of the experience feeling valued and appreciated. That’s another fundamental part of making sure you have a happy customer.

The other piece we've learned along the way is that it's all about relationships. We don't view this network in a transactional way. It's not ad hoc. We don’t just parachute in as and when we need something. We invest in the program and spend time with our advocates. Whether it’s through one-to-ones, master classes, or training, we try to create surprise and delight moments so that there's consistency and a real relationship. I think that's crucial to setting up a program.

Bridget Heaton

Most of my experience in customer marketing has been building something from nothing. So at companies where there's nothing happening, how do you spin something up from zero and scale it for thousands of customers?

My philosophy is that there's always a story to tell or something to share at any point in the customer lifecycle. That means if I can figure out the journey that the customer is supposed to take to be successful, map moments of advocacy across that journey, and have a hybrid community advocacy map of different opportunities, I at least have something to refer to if I’m starting from zero.

And then there’s always a little opportunism. Working at Schoology was an amazing experience because I was able to see who was the most active on social media and who was blogging without us asking them to do so. Those were the people – I think there were 19 of them – that I reached out to for partnership in building the advocacy programs.

I invested in those 19 people over five years at that company and was able to build this advocate journey with them. I knew that if I was continuing to engage those folks, then I could cyclically engage net-new users alongside them.

At Collibra, it was a little bit different. Truly, it was opportunistic. I was looking for the users that customer success could bring to me and anyone that I could map along the customer journey. Sometimes I reached out to people who had just signed up as a customer and had the gift of the gab or the kinds of qualities that I was looking for in an advocate.

Investing in those relationships and bootstrapping along the way helped to build that flywheel of advocacy while we planned long-term and built a community that could scale that from 20 to 30 people to, now, 5000. All that came from building relationships with early adopters and nurturing those relationships over time.

Anita Raj

To continue what Bridget said about starting programs from scratch, a lot of it is really about figuring out your core objectives are for building a customer advisory board (CAB). Typically, when you're starting the process, you have certain ideas in mind, but as you formalize it, it's very important to find out what type of customers fit into what kind of objectives, then you need to build segments and map them to the objectives you want to achieve.

It’s also essential to consider what kind of customers can even commit to the amount of engagement and commitment that's required to drive a successful CAB. They require more participation from the customers point of view because they’re not just about educating people about what we do, but about understanding how their experience has been so that we can scale and amplify that and use it as a framework that helps other customers relate to their peers.

Carrie Timms

If I can build on that great point you made there, Anita, when we were building our advocacy program with the SMBs, the key for us was really understanding the expectations of the customer. We were starting from a blank slate, so it was critical for us to understand what the customers’ and the advocates’ expectations were and then, crucially, make sure that we were meeting that expectation with the resources, time, and relationship building that I mentioned.

For us, it started with the simple act of sending a survey to these individuals, then we listened to their stories and mapped them back to the launch of the network. I’m really happy to say that two years in we have a net promoter score of about 7.4. There’s always work to be done, but listening and that servant mindset I described earlier have been really key.

Overcoming the common challenges of building a customer advisory board

Emma Datny

What difficulties have you faced and how have you overcome them to succeed with the programs that you’ve been working on?

Anita Raj

One of the most common challenges, irrespective of whether I'm beginning a program from scratch or it's a mature setup, is managing expectations. At the end of the day, the customer is using our products, platforms, or solutions for specific objectives, and there could be times when things don't go as planned, so how you consistently manage expectations becomes extremely critical.

Many customers participate in your CAB program to be that bleeding-edge participant in building the roadmap of the product. That means when the roadmap goes off track or you’re not able to meet the timelines that were promised, it’s essential to drive transparent and consistent communication about what's coming up, what's delayed, and what’s going to take slightly longer to fix in order to manage those expectations.

Of course, a lot of that comes with experience. When you understand your engineering teams’ internal rhythms and how the customer success team communicates, it’s easier to integrate all these different layers into the communications program that you want to put together and manage expectations that way.

Emma Datny

One of the problems we’ve faced in the past is that we don't want to use a customer too much, so it’s a great idea to have a database that lets you see who's there and what they’ve done recently. That way, you don't reach out to them too much and overwhelm them with conversations from all of your customer-facing teams.

They might be getting engaged in feedback sessions from the product team, the customer success team probably has calls with them too, and sales teams are coming in and trying to upsell them at the same time. There can be lots of clashing components, so it's very important that we work together to make sure we're not bothering the customer too much because at the end of the day we want to savor that relationship.

Creating little pods of customer success managers, engineers, and account managers for each account helped us to find a balance and make sure that we didn't overwhelm those customers too much.

Bridget Heaton

My response is a mixture between Anita’s and yours, Emma. I’d just add that setting expectations internally is vital too. How many times have you heard, “We need to do 50 customer case studies in the next three months”? Just no. That's very difficult to do, especially if you're just getting started. You could be three years in and that's still hard to do.

Also, if you were to do 50 customer case studies at a time, you'd be doing a disservice to the customers participating in those case studies. They all need to have their time to shine in that promotional cycle. What are they getting out of it if it's just going to be something that goes on the website?

I've always felt like a customer marketer works with advocates, but they are the advocates’ advocate in the organization. Inevitably, if you have a star advocate that you've used five times, your CMO is going to come to you and say, “Let's use Bob again.” It’s your job to say that you can't use Bob again. You have to protect those advocates on behalf of the overall organization.

Emma Datny

Fantastic. Anita, Bridget, Carrie, thank you so much. I loved having this conversation with you all. It was fantastic. I really appreciate all of your time.

The next step

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