This article was transcribed from a panel discussion at the Customer Success Festival in March 2022. At the time of the event, all job titles were correct and up to date. Catch up on this presentation, and others, using our OnDemand service. For more exclusive content, visit your membership dashboard.

In this insightful dialogue, our panelists delve into the all-important topic of how to convert customers into powerful brand advocates.

Throughout this discussion, advocacy is defined and debated, with an emphasis on the significance of internal advocates, who can drive product adoption and proficiency within an organization.

This article will focus on:

But first, let’s meet our panelists…

Linsey Parker, Director of Customer Success & Renewals at Onna

Linsey is instrumental in constructing teams that empower customers to attain their objectives. Boasting extensive expertise in nurturing CSMs and catalyzing change within SaaS organizations, she excels in dynamic, people-centric environments that are seeking to grow and evolve. With a passion for continuous learning, exploring new viewpoints, solving complex problems, and forging authentic connections, Linsey’s a driving force in customer success.

Rav Dhaliwal, Investor and Venture Partner at Crane Venture Partners

As a seasoned investor, board member, and former software executive, Rav boasts a wealth of experience in driving net revenue retention for start-ups and business units through his work in customer success, consulting, professional services, customer support, and education.

His strategic leadership has propelled the growth of several early-stage companies, leading to a $1.2 billion acquisition by Microsoft and two successful public exits. With a natural talent for public speaking, media representation, and publishing industry articles, Rav has established himself as a thought leader in his field.

Daniel Goldfeld, VP of Customer Success at Mine

At the time this panel discussion aired in March 2022, Daniel was Global VP of Customer Success at Perimeter 81.

As a highly skilled customer success leader, Daniel brings a wealth of expertise and a track record of success to the table. With over 13 years of experience working in B2B environments, Daniel has established himself as a proactive change agent, utilizing his deep understanding of product design, development, onboarding, training, and employee management to drive outstanding results.

Whether working with local or remote employees and team leads, Daniel brings a comprehensive understanding of the support structures necessary to drive customer engagement and retention.

Fausto Briosa, Team Lead & Principle Customer Success Manager at HubSpot

Fausto drives success for strategic accounts with a wealth of experience in startups and the EMEA region. With a background in helping launch and grow brands like BestTables and Zomato, he has a passion for solving complex operational, procedural, and sales problems.

Fausto's expertise in consulting companies looking to rapidly internationalize and grow makes him a valuable asset for organizations seeking to drive success in the modern business landscape. He brings a strategic and results-driven approach to CS, delivering value with every engagement.

Defining a customer advocate

Fausto Briosa:

"Today, we're going to discuss one of the most important topics in customer success: converting your customers into advocates. Let’s start by looking at how we define advocates. Linsey, what do you think?"

Linsey Parker:

"I think there are multiple layers to it. You have your internal advocates, and you've got external advocates, as well as traditional advocates.

"Your internal advocates could be talking with your internal teams and providing feedback and insights – especially if they're a champion within the organization. They might even speak at a larger event and tell their story at a sales kickoff, and then make some of that advocacy external in a case study or a one-on-one reference.

"Those are some of the main types of advocacy to think about as a starting point."

Rav Dhaliwal:

"I think you can even delve a layer lower with internal advocates and think of them as mini extensions of your CS team. If I'm a CSM with a very large global enterprise customer, I'm not going to be able to drive as much impact as I’d like unless I can turn the people I engage with into advocates and enable them to do the kind of work that I'm doing with the client. That ties into the idea of using advocates to drive adoption and proficiency with your product."

Daniel Goldfeld:

"I completely agree with Rav and Linsey. I would define an advocate as someone who has passed two very important milestones in their relationship with the company: the first one is gaining value and seeing the results they were expecting; the second one is having their expectations exceeded.

Basically, advocates are usually those who want to tell others about your product because it goes beyond their expectations.

"That usually comes from extensive work by the company and by CSMs to align on the account’s needs and identify and solve their pain points. It leaves those users and champions feeling that, wow, this is much more than they expected and they want to tell the world about it because it's such a good product and such a great relationship."

What is customer retention? | Customer Success Collective
It’s all well and good to actively seek new customers, but what happens if you ignore your current customer base? Plot twist: they churn. In fact, 68% of customers will go elsewhere if they feel the company they’re buying from doesn’t care about their business.

Using advocacy to drive retention

Fausto Briosa:

"Turning customers into advocates is one of the key milestones for customer success, and organizations are obsessed with it. That’s in part because a lot of SaaS companies have realized that it's a lot cheaper to retain and upsell clients than to acquire new ones.

"Linsey, I know your organization, Onna, works in the legal industry, where it's very important to have advocates to build trust. What are your thoughts on this?"

Linsey Parker:

"100%. It's also a small, tight-knit community, so from that standpoint creating value serves as the foundation of an advocate relationship. Users tend to start as informal advocates and then turn into formal ones along the way. Their advocacy serves the flywheel as they share the stories of the value they’ve gotten, which other potential customers can relate to."

Rav Dhaliwal:

"I’d like to pick up on Linsey's point about the flywheel. If you think about how we sell software, it's almost impossible to sell software without an advocate. That means even before a prospect becomes a customer, I need a champion who's going to sponsor this product and get the deal over the line.

"We have a tendency to think about pre-sales and post-sales, but especially in subscription businesses, we're really in a continuous sales motion. Maybe you’ve just landed your first deal with your first advocate, but if you want to do more business with this customer, you're gonna have to keep adding more advocates.

"You’ll need internal advocates for the product that you sold them initially. That earns you the right to come back and talk to them about buying more, based on the advocacy you generated after the deal was closed. I think a flywheel is a beautiful way of putting it, Linsey. I've also heard it described as the flywheel of wealth, health, and prosperity. That's ultimately what we're trying to drive as CS professionals."

Daniel Goldfeld:

"I completely agree. At Perimeter 81, with customer success being a technical role, we're doing exactly that. Customer success engineers are involved in the pre-sales cycle and then they move into the post-sales cycle, so they keep the accounts.

"Advocacy means that we’re no longer selling something to them. Instead, they're engaged. They feel connected to the product and that our success is their success. We're helping them to gain a personal win within the organization by assisting them in leading a successful project.

"Because we’ve achieved that and turned them into an advocate, they now feel committed to the product and they’re not going to churn. That’s especially important in a subscription model where you can onboard and off-board at any time.

"Having a customer who feels committed because they brought your product, they’re happy with it, they’re talking about it, and it’s part of their personal success within the organization creates a much stronger relationship and better stickiness with the organization. That means if another vendor tries to step in, it's going to be much harder for them to gain ground, thanks to that advocate who’s saying, “I'm using this, I love it, and I don't want to try anything else.”

Rav Dhaliwal:

"It extends beyond just retention as well, right? It helps you to drive a continuous sales motion and growth. Coming back to the flywheel, if your champion or advocate leaves and goes to another company, they're hopefully going to bring you with them."

Fausto Briosa:

"That’s spot on, Rav. The flywheel is a very HubSpot term that I've been acquainted with over my past four years in the company, and we see the impact it has. One of the things that we do at HubSpot is to make sure our product adapts to our client's needs and not the opposite. Otherwise, you're just going to create friction and they’re going to churn – that's what we want to avoid above everything else."

Linsey Parker:

"And it’s not just about the product meeting users where they are; it’s also about meeting advocates where they are. You can have different levels of advocates who are comfortable with different activities, and they’ll hopefully move up that chain of advocacy. We also need to take into account the level of engagement that they're comfortable with."

Sealing the deal with customer references

Fausto Briosa:

"One of the trends that I've been reading about recently is that people don’t want to purchase without asking other users how they feel about your product. That means more and more companies have their own networks of trusted advocates that they can bring on to calls to basically close the sale for them. Is that something that you practice?"

Daniel Goldfeld:

"Yes, we need those references in the cybersecurity domain, which is a very lucrative but scary field. A lot of potential and existing customers don't want to share what they're using or the cybersecurity threats that they're facing, especially if they know they have gaps in compliance, privacy, or security (God forbid!). They want to evaluate the platform in order to understand if it will solve their issue without actually talking to us about their exact needs.

"Talking to somebody from the same domain who shares their pain point, without having to bring it up with us, is definitely what closes the deal. That’s super important. We’ve got to a point where without bringing in a referral from this advocacy pool it's very hard to close business."

Rav Dhaliwal:

"I've seen countless examples of what Daniel described there, and I think it comes down to this idea of social proof. People want to de-risk a potential investment, and there's no better way to de-risk it than to talk to someone who's not only using the solution but having a really good experience and getting a lot of business value from it.

"It doesn't even have to be a call. I've seen people referencing blog posts and Medium articles that somebody wrote about their product. That’s a really powerful form of advocacy that doesn't involve having to get someone on the phone and talk to somebody else."

Linsey Parker:

"Similarly to that, you can even see this kind of advocacy in various external industry communities. People might just reference your product in conversation, so they're being an inadvertent advocate or champion.

"We’ve also had instances where we were looking for a vendor and somebody in our organization knew somebody else in another organization who offered to talk to us about a product they were using. People are taking these informal routes to share that knowledge, which means your own company might not even know when folks are out there advocating on your behalf."

The endless advantages of a strong network of advocates

Rav Dhaliwal:

"Another interesting thing we haven't touched upon is that advocates sometimes make really great hires for CS too. Sometimes you have people out there who are advocating of their own volition, internally at their company or even publicly. These people can often make really strong additions to the team.

"In my career, I've hired several people who were our champions in their organizations, and they've added such amazing material impact to the business once they joined the team. That's often overlooked, but I thought it was worth mentioning."

Fausto Briosa:

"That's a great point that you touched on there, Rav, and it leads me to another point: as a Customer Success Manager, you can control your career by leveraging your advocates to make yourself more visible within your company and the organizations you work with.

"Do you have any examples of how Customer Success Managers can leverage advocates not only to serve the interests of the company but also to serve their own professional interests?"

Daniel Goldfeld:

"Absolutely. I think building a network of advocates is super important in helping to answer any question you have, whether it’s related to your career, the product, or something else entirely.

"For instance, our company has a big development center in Ukraine so given the current situation there, we've reached out to some of our best advocates from DevOps teams to see how they're addressing the same issues we’re facing. They’re giving us a lot of valuable information on how to assist our personnel and how to address and mitigate some of the challenges that we're facing right now in the development section.

"This advocacy is strengthening our relationship with those stakeholders. It’s also giving us a lot of insights into things that we didn't think about or didn't know, so it's definitely a great network to have."

Linsey Parker:

"I totally agree. To your point, Rav, about networking potential, we've hired our external champions before as well, and they’ve been excellent."

Rav Dhaliwal:

"It’s fantastic because you've got someone who is not only passionate about what you sell, but they're passionate about working with you as well. That’s a huge bonus.

"The other great thing about advocates is that sometimes they have the clearest view of what's not that great about the product or what the product needs to do in the future. In that way, they’re some of the best-placed people to help us maintain product-market fit.

"Just because you build a product and sell it doesn't mean you should stop evolving on it. That's another often overlooked advantage of advocacy, but you have to have trust and credibility for it to work."

Key takeaways from this session

  • Companies can benefit from having three types of advocates: internal advocates, external advocates, and traditional advocates.
  • Advocates are living proof of the importance of product value. They’re customers who have gained value from the company and exceeded expectations.
  • Having advocates can serve as a foundation for future growth, renewal, and continued sales motion, AKA: the ‘flywheel effect’.
  • A network of trusted advocates can help close sales and bring in new business, as well as provide social proof to potential customers. Advocates can also help CSMs with their professional development.

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