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Leveraging Events for Customer Advocacy

May 26, 2017

The German poet and philosopher Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once said, “The hardest thing to see is what is in front of your eyes.” This observation highlights the human tendency to miss opportunities that should be inherently obvious but somehow slip past us as we focus on other activities.

For b-to-b organizations, the relationship between customer advocacy and events is often an exercise in missed opportunities. Multiple event types have long played an important role in supporting sales and marketing initiatives that target existing customers as well as new prospects. However, marketers are increasingly realizing how events also can drive customer advocacy, including sourcing, activating and engaging advocates. In this issue, we outline how organizations can tap into seven types of events to develop and activate customer advocacy programs.

One: Trade Shows

Trade shows are large-scale, typically theme-based events that are regularly included in b-to-b marketing plans. Although they can reach a wide audience and build the company brand, they often feature packed agendas and a crowd of competitors, with numerous exhibitors and sponsors competing for target attendees’ attention.

  • Advocacy opportunities. Trade shows offer opportunities to present existing-customer attendees with favorable views of the company and introduce prospects to customers, either one-to-many via speaking engagements or through arranged or impromptu one-on-one meetings. Trade shows also are frequently attended by media and industry analysts interested in hearing how customers derive value from products and services. Customers’ discussions with influential third parties about their positive experiences are excellent opportunities for advocacy. Add-on events hosted by the company in conjunction with the trade show also can provide opportunities for advocates to interact with peers, knowledgeable company representatives (who may have been previously unavailable) and members of the media and analyst community.
  • Advocacy requirements. Trade show advocacy efforts often depend on available budget and resources. Marketers need to secure customer participation, coordinate planned activities and facilitate spontaneous advocacy opportunities.
  • Pre-event planning. Identify which customer advocates plan to attend the trade show, validate the activities that each advocate is willing to participate in, and coordinate scheduling and logistics.
  • Post-event activities. Thank participating customers for their advocacy contributions at the event. A formal recognition and rewards program for advocates should be considered for trade shows (and other event types). Post-show activities might also include scheduling followup customer interviews with media and industry analysts.

Two: Live Events

Live events include both pre-sale and post-sale events where the agenda is controlled by the sponsoring organization. Most pre-sale live events are designed to take advantage of face-to-face interactions in support of the sales cycle. These events are popular for sales and marketing teams looking to quickly identify attendees as potential prospects. Post-sale live events (e.g. customer networking sessions, user groups) provide customers with insights into products they already own. Post-sale events play a critical role in the customer lifecycle, from supporting onboarding efforts and driving engagement to securing retention and ultimately encouraging advocacy.

  • Advocacy opportunities. Pre-sale events are particularly effective vehicles for customer advocacy assets and interactions. Stacking the agenda with testimonials from satisfied customers is a powerful way to demonstrate the value realized from company products and solutions. Post-sale events often focus on supporting demand creation, product development and customer experience initiatives. Post-sale live events also are rich sources of new customer advocates. User group participants or customer advisory board members are typically good targets for advocacy, as they are already demonstrating their engagement with the company’s products and services.
  • Advocacy requirements. Live events, both pre- and post-sale, require significant coordination with the sales organization. Internal alignment with customer marketing and customer experience (if set apart as its own function) is also necessary to ensure effective communication with customer advocates and clarity around advocacy requirements.
  • Pre-event planning. Identification and recruitment of possible customer advocates are critical activities. Conduct pre-event promotions to ensure optimal participation by advocates. Consider which customers and prospects could benefit most from exposure to advocacy assets and interactions.
  • Post-event activities. In addition to expressing gratitude to advocates who participated, focus on facilitating the connections made between customer advocates and prospects by finding additional ways for them to interact (e.g. content sharing, member networking).

Three: Customer Conferences

An annual customer conference – typically a multi-day event with an agenda and attendee list controlled by the host company – is often used as a platform for the company to introduce new offerings. Although existing customers are the primary audience, prospects in late stages of the sales cycle also are commonly invited.

  • Advocacy opportunities. The annual customer conference presents natural opportunities for marketers to source new advocates and deploy current ones. Look for ways to amplify advocacy via customer speaking spots, analyst and media interviews with advocates (staged and impromptu), or customer stories featured on the main stage.
  • Advocacy requirements. Strong coordination between marketing, sales, product and support is essential, as all of these roles are typically represented at the event and each has a unique customer perspective. Be sure to evaluate the organization’s advocacy incentives, as success depends on advocates’ availability and willingness to participate.
  • Pre-event planning. Planning requirements are similar to those for other live events, with the added complexity of coordinating multiple days and packed agendas, and the possibility of add-on vendor/partner events and activities being held at the event.
  • Post-event activities. Focus on sharing advocacy content to maintain the goodwill generated by the event. Customer newsletters that summarize the event are often good vehicles for advocacy content.

Four: Channel Events

Partner-driven events are typically either hosted by the organization and offered to its channel partners, or hosted by channel partners (and the supplier organization is invited to participated). Many b-to-b organizations rely on their partners to be the face of the company to the customer base, making these events essential for gathering customer perceptions.

  • Advocacy opportunities. Advocacy at channel events is often similar to pre- and post-sale live events in a direct sales model, with the same blend of prospecting and user group interactions.
  • Advocacy requirements. The most important requirement for channel events is a trusted relationship between the company and the channel community. Reach agreement on who owns the customer advocate relationship to ensure proper coordination and minimize channel conflict.
  • Pre-event planning. Planning should focus on ensuring a coordinated effort with partners to identify advocacy opportunities.
  • Post-event activities. Schedule structured debriefs between the company and relevant partners to discuss advocacy outcomes and future advocate contributions.

Five: Sponsorship/Reward Events

Sponsorships typically take the form of third-party community or sporting events, while reward events are based on a location or activity designed to recognize customers and encourage engagement between participants. Evaluate sponsorship and reward events as natural opportunities to introduce advocacy possibilities to the customer base.

  • Advocacy opportunities. Sponsorships help to establish a spirit of goodwill between the company and its customers, which is often an important pre-condition for advocacy participation. Sponsorships also present opportunities for advocates to engage with prospects and other customers.
  • Advocacy requirements. The ability to fund sponsorships is the most essential requirement. Sufficient budget and resources to support event sponsorships ensures a well-orchestrated event worthy of advocate participation.
  • Pre-event planning. Focus on the appropriateness and appeal of the event to both advocates and attendees. This will impact the ability to recruit customer advocates to the event.
  • Post-event activities. In addition to thanking participants, schedule followup discussions focusing on how to expand advocacy contributions from selected participants in sponsorship and reward events.

Six: Web-Based Events

Increasingly popular due to their convenience, Web-based events (e.g. interactive webinars, webcasts, on-camera discussions) play a significant role in the marketing mix. Webinars and webcasts also are commonly used to support pre-sale activities.

  • Advocacy opportunities. Including a satisfied customer in Web-based events to allow listeners to hear firsthand insights from customers about the value of using the company’s offerings.
  • Advocacy requirements. The most essential requirement for Web-based events is identifying customers who are willing to participate. Topic selection, scheduling and the audience to be invited must fit the agenda and interests of potential advocate participants.
  • Pre-event planning. Ensure that each customer advocate is well briefed on the topic and logistics for the event. Include instructions on how to field questions that typically arise during the event.
  • Post-event activities. Distribute and archive event content as appropriate. Unlike many other event types, Web-based events have a longer shelf life and, with permission of the participating customer advocates, can be repurposed for later distribution and use.

Seven: Virtual Trade Shows

Virtual trade shows are becoming more common in b-to-b marketing plans. They have a broader scale than other Web-based events and seek to present participants (both exhibitors and attendees) with the advantages of a traditional trade show, but at a reduced cost and with minimal logistical complexity.

  • Advocacy opportunities. Because these events are typically shorter than traditional trade shows, the opportunities for customer advocacy are more limited. Look to embed advocacy assets and virtual interactions (e.g. making customer case studies available in the virtual product room to add value and context for visitors).
  • Advocacy requirements. The availability of advocacy assets to support the virtual trade show is the key requirement. Many virtual trade shows also enable attendees to interact with company experts hosting the event – identify customer advocates who also might participate.
  • Pre-event planning. Compile applicable customer advocacy assets and ensure they’re in a suitable format for the virtual trade show.
  • Post-event activities. As virtual trade shows are usually limited to a single day, followup activities should take place as soon as the event concludes. If advocates participated in the virtual event, thank them and look for opportunities to facilitate their further engagement with event visitors.

The Sirius Decision

Events not only play a large role in the marketing tactic mix, but they also consume a significant portion of the marketing budget. For this reason, deriving all possible value from events should be a key focus for b-to-b marketers. Events should focus not only on demand creation and customer retention, but also on advocacy development. Understanding the opportunities and requirements for advocacy at each type of event helps marketers map effective strategies, resulting in a more structured approach to realizing value.