This article comes from Valeria Gomez’s insightful talk, ‘Unlocking the power of collaborative success: Building internal advocates for your customer programs’, at our 2023 San Francisco Customer Marketing Summit, check out her full discussion here.

What’s the secret recipe behind customer marketing’s greatest successes?

Ask most leaders and they’ll likely point to creativity, technical prowess, or access to the largest budgets.

But nearly a decade leading advocacy efforts has taught me our superpower isn’t any of those things. 

It’s the ability to cultivate passionate internal alliances up, down, and across the company; trust me  - I’ve discovered firsthand the true power of building strong cross-functional partnerships. 

In this post, I’ll be digging into why securing internal buy-in is critical and sharing the strategies I’ve used to foster collaborative relationships with key stakeholders across the business. 

My goal is to provide insight and encourage you to make internal alliance building a cornerstone of your customer marketing efforts. 

So, let’s dive in! 

Why internal advocates are critical to program impact

Let’s start by defining what I mean by “internal advocates”.  

These are employees across your organization – whether in Sales, Support, Product, or beyond – who actively champion customer-centric programs as if they were their own. 

They eagerly promote your initiatives, seeing inherent value in customer marketing activities. When empowered, these internal champions can massively influence endorsement for your programs company-wide. 

I like to think of them as crucial bridges helping to break down silos and nurture a culture centered on customer success.  

But why specifically are strong internal alliances so vital for customer marketers like you and me? 

For one, the cross-functional nature of our role means collaboration is a prerequisite for making an impact. 

While customer obsession may start with Marketing, facilitating meaningful interactions takes alignment across the business - from designing the right customer journeys to enabling sales reps to having the product meet needs.   

What’s more - in an age where buyers increasingly scrutinize brand authenticity - there's greater impetus to deliver genuine customer experiences. 

This is where being tightly integrated with internal teams provides an edge. We’re best positioned to gather buyer insights, identify pain points, and create initiatives that truly resonate.

Ultimately, customer advocacy must start from within the organization. Developing a network of engaged employees breathes life into your programs and amplifies their credibility.

 My recipe? Treat internal teams like you would your top customer advocates! 

Now that we’ve covered why securing buy-in matters, let me give you some context on my journey...

Building a customer advocacy program with cross-functional input   

When I joined Airtable in 2020, there was no dedicated customer marketing function in place. I was essentially tasked with both defining and championing this discipline from scratch.  

Of course that presented its fair share of challenges! But I also saw it as a unique opportunity to take time upfront and understand priorities across functions before jumping into execution. 

Rather than risk working in a silo, I knew securing early internal alignment would be key to long-term success. 

With that mindset, I embarked on an extensive listening tour meeting with teams in Sales, Support, Product, Marketing, and more. 

My goal was threefold: Firstly. to gain valuable market and customer insights from their unique lenses. Secondly, to identify shared goals and potential friction points across groups. 

Finally, to start pinpointing those passionate individuals who might turn into program allies moving forward.  

From these conversations three core strategies emerged that ultimately helped me systematically build up internal advocacy and adoption:

  1. Promoting early-stage engagement and cross-collaboration
  2. Clearly emphasizing program benefits for partners 
  3. Consistently celebrating shared wins

Let me expand on what each entailed...

Fostering joint ownership from the start   

My first realization was that cross-functional participation couldn’t be an afterthought. For initiatives to feel owned beyond just Marketing, other groups needed a seat at the table early on.

While this may sound intuitive, lack of proactive engagement is still a common pitfall I’ve observed over my career. Customer marketers get buried executing campaigns and lose sight of continually collaborating. 

To promote joint buy-in, I first focused on identifying potential advocate teams and individuals during my initial research. I asked questions to spot shared goals and customer mindsets even in unofficial conversations.  

Next, I met separately with each key group to co-create frameworks they could align to – whether customer journey maps or shared visions documents. Collaborating to define advocacy through their lens built foundational buy-in.

Finally, I brought cross-functional partners directly into ideation sessions when designing my customer program. Joint brainstorming involvement drove excitement and accountability from the start.  

Let me share some tactical examples of what this looked like in action...

Crafting “shared visions” for each group  

Early on I created personalized vision documents for key teams like Sales, Support, and Product articulating how customer advocacy would fuel their goals.

I highlighted our common objectives, and opportunities to jointly achieve results, and listed 3+ specific benefits tailored to what success meant to them. 

Here’s a snippet of the shared vision I crafted for our Customer Success organization:

Common objective: 

To drive customer retention and growth through expanding value usage

Opportunity to collaborate:

Leverage customer marketing programs to increase account engagement, facilitate expansions, and recognize your highest-value customers  

Anticipated benefits of partnership:

  • Spotlight proven adoption techniques through customer testimonials
  • Accelerate relationship building with reserved buyers 
  • Uncover expansion triggers based on how peers maximize Airtable  

Documents like these made teams feel “seen” while enabling me to tie advocacy to their existing priorities. This built immense credibility that drove later program participation.  

Mapping high-value advocacy junctures   

In addition to zooming out, I also wanted to enable teams to pinpoint exactly how customer marketing could complement existing customer journeys. 

With each key partner, we collaborated to create templates identifying advocacy opportunities at different lifecycle stages based on the accounts they owned.

Visually mapping high-potential intersections to plug aligned customer content not only brought focus, it also generated excitement around how much untapped potential existed. 

Communicating benefits to secure advocates 

After initial conversations revealed program potential, the next phase focused on consistently emphasizing the exact team and customer benefits that advocacy drives.

I learned quickly that potential partners want to quantify how any new initiative will tangibly impact their goals before fully embracing it. We have to move from hypotheticals to specific values.

For Airtable, multiple groups shared a common pain point around limited customer engagement and intimacy - especially amid rapid scaling. Many lamented “not knowing” their accounts well enough to proactively cross-sell or support.

So a core selling point became how structured advocacy provides bi-directional value:

Customers share meaningful insights and content reflecting their journeys while account teams gain an invaluable “window” for bonding through this content. Everyone wins!  

To codify this, customer marketing created in-depth Changemaker profiles for each participating customer covering their Airtable setup, key milestones, and even personal details like hobbies and work anniversary dates account managers could leverage.  

Check out what one of our Customer Success allies highlighted when I asked her why she supports our advocacy efforts based on the profiles:

“Valeria's team helps provide that critical ‘why’ behind the ‘what’ when it comes to customer challenges. Her profiles enable me to really tailor my interactions using details I'd never access otherwise. It's allowed myself and others in leadership to more proactively engage.” - Tracy, CSM

Comments like Tracy’s emphasize how advocacy simultaneously helps humanize impersonal accounts for teams while providing customers platforms to share their powerful stories. 

This peer content acts like a Trojan Horse - indirectly fostering relationships based on trust.

Celebrating shared milestones 

My last strategy focused on reinforcing internal advocacy by consistently spotlighting joint accomplishments with key teams and individuals. 

Publicly celebrating “bright spot” employees who champion advocacy sets the tone that this matters within the company and incentivizes participation through positive reinforcement.

On my Airtable customer marketing squad, we actively showcase partner achievements in customer content collaboration during company All-Hands meetings. I also frequently call out stellar contributors like Account Executives in external presentations. 

Think about opportunities where you can visibly recognize internal promotional efforts and they’ll likely reciprocate in kind!

Now that I’ve run through techniques I’ve applied to systematically gain traction, let me leave you with a few key takeaways...

Final thoughts 

I hope my firsthand tips sharing how I fostered collaborative teams empowered to champion customer marketing programs leave you excited to apply similar strategies in your context.

Here are my 3 biggest pieces of advice:

  1. Start early pursuing cross-functional buy-in, even informally – don’t silo customer marketing!
  2. Identify specific benefits to spotlight for each potential internal ally 
  3. Celebrate shared wins frequently – recognize stellar contributors whenever feasible

While the templates and frameworks will differ, focusing on joint goal setting, bidirectional value communication, and consistent appreciation can turn even the most skeptical groups into advocates.

The reality is programs fully embraced across your company, not just within Marketing, have the farthest reach. 

Ultimately unless key stakeholders bring customer obsession to life daily through their words and actions - no amount of brilliant campaigns will drive transformation alone. 

So take the first step to unleash collaborative success by nurturing unlikely allies who breathe credibility and authenticity into all you do!