Old haircare product commercials had it right when it comes to customer advocacy. Remember the words of Vidal Sassoon from 1976: “If you don’t look good, we don’t look good.” Now remember the famous commercial from Faberge Organics Shampoo: “And they told two friends, and they told two friends, and so on…”

These messages worked because they focused on a simple truth for any market: The better you make customers look, the more likely they are to tell people about it. Customer advocacy is defined as the willingness of customers to speak positively on your company’s behalf, formally and informally. Advocacy can include everything from community discussion (online and offline), social sharing and contributions to a wide variety of assets, to analyst and public relations, events, traditional references and much more. It’s not just a reference program; it’s a strategic advantage.

But if the premise of how to win advocacy is so simple, then why is it so hard for many marketing teams to make it work well in practice? The answer is, advocacy is not difficult for everyone, and there’s a lot to be learned from companies that transform their customer advocacy efforts into competitive advantage.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve been talking with leaders of highly successful customer advocacy programs. We’ve identified four secrets to success for engaging customers and delivering successful advocacy results:

  • Deliver something valuable. Advocacy is impossible when the customer is disappointed. Great advocacy programs build on a solid foundation of value. The best advocacy teams don’t struggle to get customers to be part of their program; some even have waiting lists. They look for customers who are delighted with their experience and get value from the investment – and there are plenty of these customers. Happy customers don’t expect financial incentives or discounts or even t-shirts (though they appreciate a fun prize now and then). More often, they simply want to share their experience and see advocacy as an opportunity to be part of a community of like-minded peers. Good customer outcomes lead to enthusiasm. Be honest about how much value is delivered and know who is most passionate about it already. No reward is big enough to encourage truthful advocacy when value isn’t there.
  • Focus on the customer’s success and finding great stories at all stages of the buyer’s journey and customer lifecycle. Successful advocacy programs aren’t self-centered about what they ask of customers. They look for customers who are confident about the success of a new investment or those who have been successful with a past investment, and ask them to talk about how they delivered that success. Asking customers for their stories of personal and business success is not the same as asking about how great you are and how much you helped them. In some ways, it’s not about your company at all. This is not an easy shift for some companies to make, because they worry that a customer-focused story will not showcase enough of what they did. On the contrary, these stories are easier for customers to share (and get approved) and much more powerful to readers. Great advocacy teams know it’s always best to make the customer or the partner the hero of the story.
  • Track results in a clear and credible way. Activity will never be a substitute for impact. Advocacy teams must define the link between their work and business outcomes connected to revenue. This doesn’t mean artificially inflating the value of a tactic or asset by claiming revenue credit. It means being able to track what was done, how and when advocacy assets were used, and where the activity fits in the buyer’s journey – and linking this information to wins. Great teams also know how to communicate consistently and appropriately, paying attention to how internal leaders evaluate impact. Highlight innovations and position advocacy as a strategic resource to achieve growth goals.
  • Scale with the help of technology. Great advocacy teams don’t chase references at the last minute. They focus on being a valuable, consultative resource for sales, partners and the rest of marketing. While advocacy teams are often under-resourced for the value they deliver, even a small team can accomplish a lot with the right technology ecosystem. Successful advocacy teams put technology to work to make it easier for sales and marketing peers to self-serve routine requests. They make assets accessible within the salesforce automation (SFA) system that sales uses every day and highlight advocacy offerings in the context of sales stages and deal types to improve utilization and impact. Great teams rely on high-quality customer data. They use internal collaboration tools to gather input and questions, share best practices, communicate updates and make requests. They also use the SFA system and marketing automation to track the presence of advocacy efforts in opportunities to demonstrate its value and link to wins.

These “secrets” are all about choosing the right actions and never losing focus on the value of customer relationships. That’s within every team’s capability, but advantage comes to the ones who really make it happen. What will you do?