A huge part of customer marketing is building lasting relationships with your customers and showing your appreciation for all that they do, but how can we do this in a meaningful way?

At the Customer Marketing Summit, Klarissa Djajalie, Customer Marketing Specialist at Prezly, moderated this enlightening chat with two stars of customer marketing at Nutanix: Sara Steffen, Senior Director of Customer Marketing, and Christie Vaughan, Customer Marketing Manager.

They shared their insights on all things customer marketing, from why a customer advocacy program is a vital tool for your business, to how to adapt your customer marketing program to an increasingly virtual world.

The importance of customer advocacy

Q: Why is customer advocacy so important for the success of businesses in the longer term?

A: Sara: People want to hear from other real-life humans. When a prospect is talking to an existing customer, it feels like they're having a peer-to-peer conversation and not being overly marketed to.

It’s just an authentic dialogue between two peers, about what they like about the company or the product and how it benefits them. That's incredibly powerful.

Our salespeople build amazing relationships with customers, and then our team gets to come in and continue that momentum. We find that one of the most powerful things you can do from a marketing perspective is to facilitate that authentic dialogue between two people.

Measuring the success of customer advocacy

Q: How do you measure the success of customer advocacy, and how do you engage with your advocates and the content they share?

A: Sara: First and foremost, we have to see through the customer's eyes in terms of which activities make sense for them and how often we reach out.

Thinking about success, we have a great customer example of a wonderful advocate at Delaware Valley Health. His name is Isaiah, he's very engaged, and we have an amazing relationship with him.

Isaiah has done numerous activities for us over the past year. He's presented at speaking engagements and events, he’s done webinars and podcasts, and we’ve made a video and a case study of his story. He's super excited about his journey with Nutanix, and he shares it on his social networks so that we're able to like and comment.

Having a great relationship with an advocate starts with a sales team, so we have a great relationship with that sales team too. We're very aware of the volume of activities that our customers are involved in, and we make sure that we're not reaching out too often with too many different asks.

Lastly, we make sure we thank our advocates in a meaningful way. We send thank you cards and little presents in the mail – all kinds of unexpected delights. Our advocates are excited about sharing their stories, we're excited about it too, and that’s what success looks like for us.

Making your advocates feel special

Q: Customer marketing is also about engaging with your customers and being really mindful about how you do that. What extra steps would you recommend customer marketers take to make their advocates feel extra special?

A: Christie: It's all about showing appreciation for your customer, and there are so many ways to do this. It doesn't have to be super expensive.

At our Nutanix conferences, we give little gifts with handwritten thank-you notes to every customer speaker and VIP customer. We go to their sessions to meet them in person and thank them for their participation. We also make sure all of our customers at our events have water, coffee, and front-row seats.

We give customers access to our executives too, through our VIP experience. We make sure that they get to meet with our execs one on one because that's super important to them.

We also love to delight our customers with Nutanix swag whenever they participate in any activity with us, making sure they feel the love back. And, of course, we like all their posts on social media and engage with them on their platforms.

Another thing we do is nominate our customers for industry awards to make sure they get recognized for all the great work that they're doing.

Delivering value at virtual events

Q: Could you tell us a little more about how you deliver a great customer experience at your in-person events and how you’ve pivoted to deliver the same high-value, high-quality experience through your virtual engagements in the face of COVID?

A: Sara: I think COVID changed the game for everyone. We really had to think about how to maintain relationships and engagement since we weren’t having in-person events anymore.

We had to put our hats on and think about what we could do for customers dealing with Zoom fatigue and work-life balance issues, and how to thank them in a meaningful way and give them something back.

We came up with the idea of Nutanix Select. It's a virtual event series, and there's no ask of our customers. We're not selling to them, there's no presentation about Nutanix technology, it's just us doing something fun or something to help customers in their careers.

We’ve led webinars on virtual presentation skills because presenting in a virtual world is different from presenting in person. We've done social media best practices. We did a fun holiday whiskey tasting.

We also open this up to anyone on their team: we might have one advocate in an account, but we let them invite anyone they want. There's no limit, so they can have everyone on their team come to a virtual skills presentation. That's been a nice way for us to give something back, and we've gotten some really good feedback.

The cost for this is super low because we're looking around Nutanix for the people who have the skills already and can teach for free. Obviously, the whiskey cost money, but we thought it was worth it. So that's one of the things we've done in the virtual world to keep engagement up.

Tools for managing a customer advocacy program

Q: How do you structure and manage your advocacy programs? Are there any specific tools you use?

A: Christie: One tool that we use is Influitive. We used it to build Customer XTRIBE, our customer advocacy gamification platform. There are a whole bunch of different activities on there for customers to participate in, and it's a way for us to stay connected with them through this exclusive community.

We push out weekly challenges on XTRIBE, like reading a blog post or sharing something on social media, and of course, we use it to promote reference activities like speaking at upcoming webinars. It has a rewards feature too. Once users get enough points, they can pick rewards that are meaningful to them – anything from charitable donations to Nutanix swag. We also offer exam vouchers for Nutanix University.

We also used the platform to ask customers to share how Nutanix was helping their businesses through the pandemic; almost 100 customers shared on their social media how thankful they were to be using Nutanix. What was great is we were able to use some of their quotes on our website. Getting that quick turnaround for our customer marketing team is just one great way we've seen success through this program.

The last thing to add is customers love the program too because they feel like they're getting to interact with Nutanix in a super meaningful way. We give them the chance to offer product feedback and participate in different surveys, so they feel like they're making a difference at Nutanix. It's just been a super great program for us.

Maintaining a long-lasting relationship with advocates

Q: Once you've worked to develop your advocates, what steps are you taking to effectively manage them, give the relationship longevity, and avoid fatigue?

A: Sara: Having that customer-first mindset is vital. We work hand in hand with the account teams so we can be sure we know our customers and what they've done recently.

If a customer lets us know they need a break to avoid fatigue, it hurts my heart. When someone puts us on the Do Not Call list, I’m like “What have we done wrong?” We want to avoid this at all costs, so we keep track of advocacy activities in a couple of ways. One is kind of just in our heads, where we know we've reached out to this customer several times recently so it’s time to give them a break.

We also have some tools to track activity. Within Salesforce, there’s a customer reference activity section listing any activity our advocates do, whether that's a peer-to-peer conversation, talking to an analyst, speaking at an event, or a case study. There are links to the asset if it's actual content, and it tells us who on the team owns each asset.

There’s also a record of notes and anecdotal feedback. You can see that, for example, in 2018 they spoke on this topic with this Nutanix executive, and you can see the feedback and speaker score.

It's all saved in one spot, which we think is really helpful. It gives our team visibility on who's done what and where we need to pause and give the customer a minute before we reach out to them again.

One of the other things that we work hard on is not having big ebbs and flows, where customers only hear from us when we want something from them. There’s a constant stream of communication through thank you gifts and the Nutanix Select virtual activity, but hopefully not in an annoying way.

Our goal is to talk to customers enough, not to be annoying about it, and to thank them for their activities. If you implement just a couple of these things, I think you'll see a big shift in the longevity of your advocates.