Customer advocacy: what’s stopping you?

In my first article on customer advocacy I outlined what I hope was a strong case for talking about your successes through the clients’ voice. In this second piece, I want to explore what’s preventing more firms from doing so. Some of the common reasons I’ve encountered are:

1. The firm has a long-standing (and unchallenged) policy not to talk about clients
2. Clients would never agree to it, for various reasons
3. There is no resource to chase relationship ‘owners’
4. Marketing people are not trusted to talk directly to clients
5. It’s too risky. The outcome cannot be controlled. Clients might be misquoted or say something detrimental

Taking the first two in turn, changing the firm’s policy might be a tall order but when was the last time anyone asked if this approach was still relevant for the hyper-networked, information-rich 21st century? There will always be circumstances were your firm (or more likely your client) doesn’t want the whole world to know of your commercial relationships and what you do for them. But such a rigid policy locks out many other valuable opportunities where this doesn’t apply. You’ll automatically miss the opportunity of identifying those success stories that can go ‘on the record’. And these can be deployed to give potential new clients a very good reason to hire you.

The other common excuse offered is that ‘the client is far too busy’ and/or would be irritated by such a request. This may indeed apply in some cases. All too often, though, it’s a blocking tactic used to deny client access by someone who wants everyone else kept away from ‘their’ client. It’s understandable but unhelpful to you as a marketing professional.

Reason number three is really little more than an excuse, and a poor one at that. There can be few marketing activities more important to the firm than finding clients willing to advocate on its behalf. So what’s really needed is a reallocation of resources. Put your most capable person on the case – delegate it downwards at your peril! And if you truly have no-one internally who can take on the task, outsource it with the same care and attention to a trusted, experienced third party.

The fourth and fifth reasons are understandable and often stem from a combination of inexperience and the absence of a formalised process. The very fact that you cannot fully control the outcome is why client-told stories are so powerful. What you can do, however, is minimise the possibility of a negative outcome. One way to reign in your control freak colleagues, and get them to see and accept this, is to prepare a formal process. This should include how you identify and approach clients, plus how any subsequent outputs are managed (the media interview or the case study article, for example). Ultimately, if a client says something negative, it’s not as dire as you’d think and will be in the context of many other positive things, plus you’ll have worked out the best response to minimise the fallout in advance. That’s one key reason for having the right endorsement management process. That process is the theme of the third piece in this series, coming soon.

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