Evaluating a Customer Marketing & Advocacy Automation Platform: Lessons From a Seller
This article was written by @Mik – a member of the CLG Campus Crew
The year is coming to a close and in the midst of economic contraction, budgets have been reduced or cut altogether. Leaving a huge portion of customer marketing teams without a central tracking & automation platform to support their efforts outside of the traditional spreadsheets, existing CRM, etc.
You know what they say though; “there is always next year”. Heard that one way too much during my adolescent sports career… But it’s true. Customer marketing is still a quickly growing discipline bound to take monumental strides in 2023 and beyond due to its ability to amplify existing customer revenue & brand trust within the market.
If you feel 2023 is your year to finally tap into the power of a dedicated CM&A platform or you’re in the process of upgrading platforms, finding one better fit for your program needs, this article is for you.
*A caveat though*. These are tips, learnings, and lessons from a seller (myself), who isn’t a practitioner myself but I find myself more than qualified to speak on the topic due to the number of conversations I have with those in the market for a platform, current users or our platform, current users of other platforms, and those more than happy without any platform.
Let’s tackle this in the forms of background information, tips, and thoughtful questions to think through:
#1: Program to Platform
As our friends over at Captivate Collective say: “Customer Marketing is not a platform, it’s a practice“.
One of the biggest ways I see practitioners fail with CM&A platforms is by jumping into it thinking technology magically turns their efforts into gold. Several wise men & women of the practice have repeatedly told me: “Strategy first, automation to maximize internal resource and scale efforts, back to strategy, and repeat“.
Pretty self-explanatory, tech won’t fix your immediate needs, but it can play a massive role in helping and then taking your efforts to the next level. That additional value you drive will mean more ways to add value to the business you serve and the customers you service which will make the merry round go round n’ round.
This section applies heavily to the Small-Medium Business or brand-new programs.
Some big areas to focus on:
- Data cleanup & consolidation for anything relating to advocacy
- Audience research & customer interviews to understand where they are
- What do they care about, and what motivates them to take action alongside your brand
- What do your departmental stakeholders care about (i.e. Sales, CS, HR, etc.)
- What matters most to leadership and how can customer marketing support that
…Where’s your program today?
#2: Dimensionality & Flexibility
One of my favorite customer marketers in the space put it very eloquently in a customer-to-customer call:
“Some tools in the market today can be very one dimensional, while others have the ability to support a variety of different objectives like automating references, touching all advocates at scale globally at scale, and giving them a place to interact with each other and the brand digitally in their own preferred way.”
Always ask yourself when exploring tech, how much you want it to support today and how much will it be able to support in 6, 12, or 24 months when your program continuously morphs and evolves.
Types of subprograms to have tech support:
- Reference program automation through CRM
- Content sourcing activation (i.e. case studies, quotes, video testimonials, etc.)
- Community amplification
- Customer lifecycle engagement (i.e. adoption, retention, expansion)
- Executive Programs & CABs
Customer Experience enabled by technology: Will you have any sort of automated customer experience to allow your customers to engage with and opt into different activities? Perhaps a single destination they log into? Or better yet, let’s meet them where they are and give them different ways to engage.
When you give your customers the ability to engage and ‘opt-in’ to advocacy activities where it’s most convenient for them, I consider it buying insurance for your efforts to avoid any advocacy leak from happening.
Less ‘advocacy leak’ = more acts of known & unknown advocacy from your happy customers.
Always consider how your program will be empowered or limited by dimensionality & flexibility. I know talking to salespeople like myself is one of your favorite things to do, but all jokes aside, evaluating and successfully purchasing software is hard, so let’s focus on what will help you the most today and in years to come so you don’t have to come back to the evaluation table annually.
#3: Resources, Process & Time to Value
With technology, you’ll need to consider 4 types of resources:
a) platform administrators, b) cross-functional stakeholders and users that will support the use and enable others to interact productively with the platform (i.e. sales & customer success users in your CRM), c) technical resources, d) and the lesser thought of legal, security, and procurement teams, especially for new buyers.
The first type of resource seems to be clear to everyone but the following three are sometimes overlooked and just as important to unlocking value quickly. Let’s review examples for each resource type to help these resonate:
Platform Admins: Every platform (and the complexity of how it’s used) requires a certain commitment of resources. Ask yourself the question of what resources you have available, how much of these resources you’re willing to apply to your platform of choice, and how much value per unit of dedicated resource you feel you can get. Think through that implementation phase and ongoing maintenance because, in many instances, it can add up.
Cross-Functional Stakeholders & Users: Customer marketing rolls out an incredible new system to help them organize existing references within Salesforce, making it extremely easy for the team to request them when needed, fulfill those requests, and even apply automation to find more, high-quality references without needing to constantly rely on efforts from Sales & CS. The problem is there is no one in a position to enable the business teams, clearly explain the value of leveraging the system, and what they (and the business at large) truly gain from participating. This could be the best tech in the market, but the system failed due to a lack of cross-functional alignment & stakeholder buy-in. If you’re going to shift systems, fair, but think through fixing this first and ensure someone is championing it.
Technical Resources: The contract is signed, and a shiny new CM&A system is on the way. In the process, we will need IT to set up a few basic integrations and email senders and will need Sales Operations to be involved in integrating the system into the CRM instance. The problem is that IT/Sales Ops wasn’t involved early and can’t dedicate full attention to supporting the project before other priorities are in their queue, which has now pushed back implementation/go-live an additional few months. Later on, they realize updates need to be made several times a year on the Salesforce side, and they don’t have the bandwidth to do such things. The platform struggles to get stood up and is continuously maintained on the technical end of things.
Legal, Security, Procurement: If you’re on a timeline to get a platform in place; involve your legal, security, and procurement teams early and often. One of the biggest challenges my junior buyers face is a desire to have a platform implemented by X date, taking too long to understand and involve the right internal teams who ensure legal compliance, acceptable security measures, and final contract structure & pricing. From experience, I can confidently say the process typically takes longer than you think and priorities can change internally.
The optimal platform = more output per resource applied
#4: Internal Preference & Ease of Use
Software is as only good as those that use it. So ask yourself, is this interface and experience one that will allow you and other users to tap into its power?
I hear all the time: “people don’t use it because it’s complicated to use, the interface isn’t updated, etc.“. So consider the ease of use and UI/UX as another major recipe contributing to the success of your future platform.
Feature-rich, yet, intuitive and easy to use. Consider the feature/functionality vs. UI preference parody. Which will your team buy into more, and why?
Remember each platform has its own environment: web app, CRM native, partial CRM + web app, etc. Before assuming work should be done somewhere, involve those who will be involved to let you know ahead of time that they’d like flexibility instead of being stuck in one place.
Final Words: hopefully the above points should help provide some guidance to your thinking around supporting your program with technology. Customer Marketing is such a unique discipline and I can confidently say that no program is the same across more than 100 unique programs I’ve learned about over the course of 2022. Everyone has different needs and subsequently different platforms best fit for today, but market sentiment about future platforms is quickly trending to hit the following areas:
- Meet customers where they are: Omni-channel customer touchpoints across the entire lifecycle
- Accessibility: Tightly integrated with your CRM and other systems for seamless usage for the business teams
- Flexibility: Flexible UI/UX to enable all preferences of internal users
- Dimensionality: Supporting as many customer marketing programs as possible in 1 place
I take pride in being a very consultative, relationship-forward seller and strive to always educate, and deliver as many learned insights from the market, with a no to low-pressure format during my call. If anyone reading this article is open to testing out this bold statement, don’t be shy to reach out and spark a conversation! I don’t bite.