This post was originally published on July 13, 2018, and was updated on March 3, 2021.
Need more business? Customer advocates are your key to more leads — and as a result, more revenue. Why? People are more likely to purchase a service or product based on a recommendation than ads they see or research they have to do themselves. In fact:
- Ninety-two percent of people trust recommendations from friends and family over any other type of advertising
- Positive reviews and user-generated content highly impact purchasing decisions as customers want to know real people are using the products and services they are considering
- “Word of mouth brings in 5 times more sales than paid media”
- Seventy-six percent of millennials and baby boomers surveyed are more likely to trust content shared by “normal” people than by brands.
Referral marketing, advocacy marketing … whatever name you give it, turning your happy customers into ambassadors for your brand can have a big impact on both your reputation and your bottom line.
In the wake of the global pandemic, word of mouth marketing via customer advocates is more important than ever. When budgets get tighter, and more people are online reading reviews to learn about the companies they are considering being patrons of, the businesses that have the most people shouting your brilliance from their digital rooftops will be the most likely to survive and thrive.
Especially now, customers have their ear to the ground and are listening and watching to see what companies are doing – how they are treating their employees and users, if they are keeping safety top of mind, and even their political stance. It’s critical that you have brand ambassadors on your side, telling others why purchasing from your business is a good choice.
Loyal customers vs. customer advocates
What’s the difference between loyalty and advocacy anyway? A loyal customer will keep coming back. They will renew contracts and buy things you’re selling regularly. When you launch new courses, books, or other products – they’re the first in line. A customer advocate, though, is more than just loyal — they are your biggest cheerleaders.
Customer advocates are the ones singing your praises, referring people to your business and bringing them into your doors. Through word-of-mouth, social media, review sites and more, customer advocates share how passionate they are about your company, your products or services, and everything you do.
Customer advocates do the heavy lifting
Consider the last time you made a purchase. You likely asked people for their referrals, and made your buying decision based on those recommendations.
Perhaps MVE Media stated it best:
“With referrals, you basically have someone vouching for you. Therefore, it is easier, because potential clients have a living proof that your services worked and they were good enough to be recommended by the referral.”
In fact, MVE Media found that you have a 95-percent higher chance of converting that lead into a customer as well, because the referral did the hard sell and pitch on your behalf.
How to acquire customer advocates
Now that you know you need customer advocates, what’s the process of transforming a happy customer into your biggest fan, someone who’s willing to promote your business to others? This down-and-dirty checklist might help:
Ask for referrals.
Offer an incentive.
Stay in touch.
Nurture the relationship.
Turn new customers into new customer advocates.
Could it really be that simple? Yes! Now let’s look at each step in this checklist a little closer, to help you get all the fangirls and fanboys spreading the news of your business!
1. Ask for referrals
You’ve wowed the customer and perhaps achieved repeat business. Now it’s time to ask for referrals. But, don’t just ask. Make it stupid simple for your satisfied customers to share your business information.
For example, you could send an email they can forward to their database. Or you could share an image on social media and tag them with the ask in the caption or comments. The easier you make sharing your business with the world, the more likely people will be to actually do that for you.
Still, asking is not going to be enough for most people to promote your business. Which brings us to step two.
2. Offer an incentive
The incentive is what gets the most loyal of customers jazzed up enough to shout your awesomeness from the rooftops! You might be wondering, though, what kind of an incentive will yield the best results? I’m so glad you asked. Here are the three best incentives:
Coupons or discount codes for your products or services
Everyone likes a good deal. And, if you give them a code or coupon that they can share with their friends, all the better. It will make your advocates feel good to spread the wealth for things they are already a fan of.
A great example of this is Weight Watchers referral plan. If a user invites a friend and that friend purchases a Weight Watchers membership through the referral link, then the user gets a free month while their friend enjoys up to 50% off their membership purchase price.
Anytime a business can offer this type of an incentive, it’s a win-win for not just the two parties that are purchasing, but also for the business. They acquired a new customer, and cemented a relationship with someone who is already a fan!
Swag and invites to exclusive events
Some people like to be the VIPs who get things others don’t have access to. That exclusivity factor is enticing. You could even call your customer advocates your street team, or your wolf pack, and make a spectacle of it.
Think Gaga’s Monsters. Meghan Trainor’s Megatronz. Chris Pine’s Pine Nuts. Having a name attached to it just adds to that “I’m part of a club, and you’re not” factor. We all want to be a part of something.
Let’s say you own a company that sells dog treats called Bob’s Barkery. Your street team could be called Bob’s Barkers, and you could host exclusive events like yappy hours (socially distanced of course!) where your customers can bring their dogs for treats, and their owners get treated to beer and wine. Everyone leaves with a custom shirt (including the pups) for additional promotions.
Then, to take it to the next level: Offer an extra incentive that if they take pictures in this shirt and share on social media, they get entered to win a gift card for more treats for their dogs.
Without having to spend too much money you are that much closer to more shares and hype for your business.
Cold hard cash
Who doesn’t love THAT as an incentive? You could offer your customer advocates cash in exchange for leads that convert. Something as simple as $50 cash for every five paying customers could mean bigger profits for you.
3. Stay in touch
The more you can keep in touch with your loyal customers, the more likely they are to transition into an advocate. A few ways to do this include:
- Automatic emails that you schedule to send out on their birthdays and customer anniversaries. On the one-year anniversary of their first purchase you could send a note that says, “Happy anniversary,” along with a coupon to buy again. The month or day of their birthday send a nice note with a freebie to get them back in the doors.
- Send text messages, emails and even snail mail of news and upcoming events
- Give them a phone call — no one really does that anymore, with the exception of that company who’s trying to reach everyone about their expired vehicle warranty, so perhaps it could help you stand out.
- Mail them a surprise care package. For cost purposes, obviously, you’ll want to save this for your customers who are frequenting your business the most, but you get the idea.
Don’t forget to include your social media handles and relevant hashtags with your surprise care package in case they decide to do an unboxing video! According to Looka, “unboxing videos have recently increased in popularity during the COVID-19 crisis that prevented many consumers from shopping in-stores.”
These unboxing videos also circle back to the exclusivity factor. FOMO (Fear of missing out) is real. And, when people see an unboxing of something that isn’t necessarily available to the public, they are that much more intrigued as to how they can get in on it. Clubhouse invite anyone? Oh wait! I don’t have an iPhone – moving on!
4. Nurture the relationship
Keep nurturing that relationship even as new leads come in. The fastest way to lose a customer advocate? Stop showing them you care. Here’s the thing — people want to feel like they matter. When it seems like you genuinely have an interest in them, they are more likely to preach the gospel of your stellar customer service.
The kicker is you can’t just squeeze some leads out of them and then drop them like a bad habit.
You have to keep the love going. Don’t neglect them once you start getting more business. A long-term customer advocate is the goal here so that you can keep building on top of all the free promo.
If they haven’t reached out in a while, or haven’t made a purchase, reach out to them. Don’t pitch them, just check in. Let them know how grateful you are that they are a part of your business’s community.
5. Turn new customers into new customer advocates
Once you start converting those leads from your current customer advocates into customers, you can start the process of transitioning them into advocates as well.
Building relationships and making offers. Converting those offers to sales. Wowing them with the sale, and making them so happy they can’t wait to spread the news of your business. And ‘round and ‘round we go.
With a little luck, and a lot of relationship building and nurturing, your business will have several customer advocates bringing you heaps of leads in no time. Who knows? You might get so busy you have to expand your business. Talk about a great problem to have!
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