The Symbiotic Relationship Between Customer Loyalty & Advocacy

How can you turn your loyal customers into advocates? Columnist Jim Williams discusses best practices for advocate marketing.

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In a SaaS business, customer loyalty is vital to your company’s success.

Many businesses won’t turn a profit in the first few months — or years — after acquiring a new customer. They count on convincing customers to stick around as a way to get in the black; so, it’s all hands on deck.

Everything, from the sales process to the product to the customer experience, impacts your customers’ value to your company over the long term.

So, how can marketers help keep their clients happy and increase customer lifetime value? According to Gartner, if you manage the customer experience well and meet or exceed expectations, you’ll increase customer satisfaction, loyalty and advocacy.

It’s no coincidence that the Gartner definition starts with satisfaction, moves on to loyalty, and ends with advocacy. Some refer to this spectrum as the post-purchase customer lifecycle. Whatever you want to call it, the fact is customer loyalty and advocacy are different, but connected.

Customer Loyalty

No businessperson in their right mind will deny the desire for customers who feel so strongly about their company and brand that they stick with it for the long haul.

Loyal customers renew their contracts and purchase additional products and services from your company. Even companies with lower-priced offerings can ring up impressive numbers when they up-sell or cross-sell a sizeable base of loyal customers.

Customer Advocacy

But there’s a type of customer even more desirable and profitable than a loyal customer: an advocate. These customers not only love your company, they are also willing to vocalize and share that passion with their peers. In other words, they’re advocating for your brand everywhere they go.

These peer recommendations are increasingly in demand: Demand Gen Report’s 2014 B2B Buyer Behavior Survey found that 36% of those surveyed rely more on peer recommendations than they did a year ago.

Advocates’ actions, including referrals, references, product reviews and social posts, can translate into huge second-order revenue as they move from company to company and share their positive experience with their network. If you want more detail about how this works, I highly recommend reading this SaaStr post by Jason Lemkin.

Loyalty Vs. Advocacy: Not Interchangeable But Intertwined

While customer loyalty and advocacy are two distinct concepts, they do have a symbiotic relationship at most companies. Providing an exceptional buying and customer experience can simultaneously build both loyalty and advocacy. Loyal customers can often be recruited to join a formal advocate marketing program. These programs nurture customers, encourage them to advocate for your company, and recognize them for everything they do to help.

It may seem obvious to do whatever you can to turn loyal customers into advocates. What might not be as obvious is that you can actually build more loyalty by creating more opportunities for advocacy. The best advocate marketing programs recognize advocates in meaningful ways that cement the relationship and love between the brand and its happiest customers.

Advocate Marketing Best Practices To Build Loyalty

So what lies at the heart of a successful advocate marketing program? It’s a give-first mentality, which may be a huge departure for many marketers. In other words, rather than focusing on how to get the most from customers, marketers need to focus on what they can give to advocates. A good place to start is to pinpoint what drives loyalty from your customers and replicate that to grow your base of customer advocates.

Next, brands must focus on creating a two-way street of open communication with their advocates. For example, listening to customer feedback and implementing their suggestions, or giving them ways to be involved in your company’s decisions, will make them feel like a partial owner of your product.

Once you manage to find customers who are already advocating on your behalf, don’t expect them to do a ton of heavy lifting for your brand right off the bat. You should always engage customers with smaller asks before slowly building up to bigger requests, like referrals and references. Then, you need to recognize them quickly after they take action so it becomes a habit. Yes — advocacy can become addictive!

Advocates typically crave recognition from their peers, as well as opportunities to speak at events or be featured in case studies. Giving them access to your content, executive suite or early product releases will make them feel greater affinity toward your brand than a gift card ever could.

In return for fostering customer advocacy, marketers will see more referrals, references, online reviews, social media shares — and the associated revenues — flow their way. By understanding the subtle differences and symbiotic relationship between loyalty and advocacy, you’ll be well on your way to harnessing the power of customer advocacy to yield big results.

Contributing authors are invited to create content for MarTech and are chosen for their expertise and contribution to the martech community. Our contributors work under the oversight of the editorial staff and contributions are checked for quality and relevance to our readers. The opinions they express are their own.

About the author

Jim Williams
Jim Williams is the VP of Marketing at Influitive, the advocate marketing experts. He is a veteran marketer for early and growth stage tech companies and loves bringing transformative concepts to market. Before joining the Influitive team he held marketing leadership roles at Eloqua, Unveil Solutions, Lernout & Hauspie, and several PR agencies.

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