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The Power of Customer Advocates, and How to Support Them

B2B buying now requires a group decision from colleagues with widely different jobs and sometimes competing goals; the best way to influence this process is to find an advocate in the buying group itself

For B2B marketers, the best kind of customers are advocates. These people are firm believers that a particular product or service that a company sells will be just the thing to make their working life easier and make or save money for their company.

The problem is that they need to convince a whole host of colleagues – some of whom they rarely speak to and may even share conflicting goals with (a product manager and a risk manager, for example) – before a purchase order can be signed. And these B2B buying groups are growing; they are now an average of 6.8 people, up from 5.4 in 2015, according to CEB data.

Advocates Need More Support

The best advocates connect disparate colleagues together and help forge a consensus for buying a product in this group-led approach business buying environment, but many companies’ advocate marketing programs are struggling to produce a meaningful number of lead conversions. This is mainly because most advocates don’t have the support they need from suppliers to get the right messages across to their colleagues.

Four-fifths of customers designated as advocates say they want suppliers to provide guidance on what to do and say to get everyone in agreement about a purchase, according to CEB data. This is not surprising, considering that advocates face several barriers in gathering support in the buying group – such as limited experience with purchasing the product or service on offer, limited understanding of colleagues’ needs (the concerns an HR business partner might have about the purchase, say), and limited persuasion skills. And as B2B buying groups grow, it will only become harder for advocates to build support for a supplier or particular product.

Build a Toolkit

To help customer advocates vouch for their company, B2B marketing teams tend to develop “enablement toolkits,” which are a collection of content and other resources to help advocates forge consensus among the group that will make the purchasing decision.

While the type of content to include in an advocate enablement toolkit will vary depending on the decision-making dynamics in a supplier’s customer buying groups, leading teams tend to consistently do three things with theirs.

  1. Highlight the shared interests of those in the buying group: Advocates often fail to get their colleagues to agree because they struggle to find a common ground in others purchase needs and goals.

    Skillsoft outlines shared purchase interests with their customer advocates that then help them to influence the way the buying group builds consensus and so increases the likelihood of purchase.

  2. Provide communication tips to build the business case: Advocates may sometimes struggle to build a solid business case for purchase, owing to their limited persuasion skills. Marketo, for example, provides objection handling tips to their advocates, to help them defend their offering against alternative solutions being proposed in the buying group.

    Some suppliers even go to the extent of providing a customizable business case template that customers can download, edit, and present in their own companies.

  3. Outline the purchasing process: For some high-impact products or solutions, the purchasing process is often so complex that it becomes overwhelming for customers, and prevents deals from moving forward.

    To reduce cases of stalled deals, WebMD crafted a portfolio of prescriptive content, for example, a step-by-step guide on executing purchases and selecting the right vendor. This helped WebMD’s advocates to speak intelligently about the purchase process and have an influence on it.


More On…

  • The Challenger Sale

    Learn more about how B2B buying and selling is changing, and how CEB's "Challenger" work can help.

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