Capturing the Voice of the Customer at Events

Our team recently spent a week in Washington D.C. to support all the advocacy activities for one of our clients at their annual industry conference. The event is highly attended by our client’s most enthusiastic supporters, so our team is onsite every year to capture customers’ excitement and passion through interviews and video testimonials and leverage the occasion as an opportunity to recognize the involvement of current advocates and recruit new members to the advocacy program.

In the months leading up to the conference, our advocacy team is always diligently at work identifying customer advocates attending the event and working with account owners to determine the best customer stories to feature in case studies and videos. By the time the conference begins, our materials creation team has a full schedule of customer interviews to conduct.


Our film crew is expert at transforming all types of spaces into professional pop-up film studios. After years of working together to create reference material in the customer voice, the team has skillfully mastered the craft of making the proverbial “hot seat” as comfortable as can be for interviewees. They excel at helping customers thrive in front of the camera and are pros at conducting open-ended interviews that lead to passionate discussions about customers’ experience and success with our client’s solutions.

The conference brings together customers from around the globe, making the event an efficient and cost-effective opportunity to capture testimonials and promote the advocacy program. Every day of the conference, our team films several customer interviews, each of which serves as the source material for a case study and a video. Our conversations with customers also can be leveraged to craft thought-leadership blogs and to gather background information for award nominations and other engagements through the advocacy program.

Are you bringing all your biggest supporters together for a conference, user group or other customer-centric event? Let us know if your organization is interested in capturing customer testimonials during the event or in consultations on how best to leverage the engagement to promote your advocacy program!

An Expert Guide for Building a Customer Advocacy Program from Scratch


Before You Leap! What You Need to Know Before Starting a Customer Reference Program”, a recent webinar by Point of Reference, provides a detailed overview of important decisions to consider and details to strategize for when preparing to build an advocacy program from scratch. In the webinar, David Sroka, Co-Founder of Point of Reference, consults two highly experienced advocacy professionals—Alyse Chiariello and Lisa Nakano—on the best practices they’ve learned and leveraged throughout their impressive careers in customer advocacy.

Alyse Chiariello, Senior Director of Customer Marketing at NICE inContact, has more than 15 years of experience in marketing. She has built two reference programs from the ground up and currently manages NICE inContact’s 300-advocate reference program and its staff. Lisa Nakano, Service Director of Customer Engagement Strategies at SiriusDecisions, is a 20-year tech industry veteran well-versed in the customer experience discipline. In her current role researching and advising on customer engagement strategies, she has a broad perspective on trends and developments in the customer advocacy field.

Throughout the webinar, Alyse and Lisa discuss everything from how to position a program to secure executive support and organization-wide program adoption, to best practices for creating a balanced advocacy program team and building a base of customer advocates. By drawing from her research, Lisa helps illuminate what separates high-performing organizations from others while Alyse shares several actionable tips and tactics derived from her breadth and depth of expertise in the discipline.

David skillfully facilitates the discussion, leveraging his wealth of experience in every facet of customer advocacy to elicit the most salient advice from Lisa and Alyse. In just 45 minutes, countless invaluable insights are shared, like Lisa’s overview of how to use the SiriusDecisions Metrics Spectrum to identify and report on the impact and maturity of a program and Alyse’s lessons learned from launching realistic technology strategies, building credibility with stakeholders, and navigating responsibilities as a program leader.

Learn all the tips and tricks directly from the source:

What was the most useful best practice you gained from the webinar?

Building Effective and Lasting Relationships with Customers from the Start - Thoughts from Referential's Regina Dawkins


One of the most critical and important business relationships an advocacy professional will have is with a marquee customer. Embarking on a new advocacy partnership is very exciting; goals are established and plans are set in place to support them.

There are a large number of activities required to build and manage an effective co-marketing plan. Consequently, it is no wonder that the need to begin building strong and effective relationships directly with customer contacts can get overlooked and delayed because so much attention is given to planning.

Instead, from the first day, be mindful and take time to start building a connection with each contact across technical, mid-management, marcom and C-suite levels. This effort will yield mutually beneficial, rewarding relationships for years to come, and help agreement for the details of a co-marketing plan be reached faster.

Here are some best practices that have been learned over years of working in advocacy:

  • Build rapport by making a connection and relate on a human and professional level. Get a sense of the customer contact’s personality, likes, dislikes and interests

  • Try to always exude an optimistic disposition/demeanor by:

    • Having a positive, upbeat and can-do attitude in day to day interactions

    • Being genuine and showing enthusiasm

    • Conveying cheerfulness in written word and in tone

  • Be trustworthy:

    • Be open and honest

    • Be on time to meetings and come prepared to provide updates and pertinent discussion topics

    • Be an engaged and an active listener

    • Take notes and capture action items in all meetings

    • Follow through on action items

  • Be proactive and try to anticipate the contacts' needs

  • Treat communication as an imperative and be timely, efficient and thorough

  • Be a collaborator and contributor; some of the best work can be accomplished by having a team mentality

  • Be consultative; share knowledge and expertise to help problem solve, which will build confidence and trust with a customer

  • Highlight accomplishments that are tied to goals when appropriate

  • Understand what the customer contacts’ value and go above and beyond to deliver in a way that aligns

Dedicating time and effort to build effective relationships directly with customer contacts from the first day of a partnership creates a foundation of trust and collaboration that enables lasting, long-term success. What are your best practices for building strong connections with customers from the start?

The Dos and Don'ts of B2B Influencer Marketing

Much of the marketing industry is confidently familiar with, if not incredibly well-versed in, influencer marketing. The home-grown celebrity touting praise for trending products is present in the social feeds of countless, and their reach and power to persuade has gone unnoticed by few.

Beyond increasing brand authenticity and building trust with consumers, influencers offer a solution to some of the most notable digital marketing challenges and opportunities today. With tweaks and adjustments to social media algorithms, brands are experiencing a noticeable dip in their organic reach across popular platforms such as Facebook and Instagram. The rising cost of digital advertising and increasing use of ad blockers also have added barriers to the communication flow between brands and their buyers. Influencers create a new path to communicate and connect with consumers despite these digital advertising challenges.

Though many have come to understand influencers through the lens of B2C marketing, in his CMO's Guide to B2B Influencer Marketing, Lee Odden suggests that the B2B marketplace has an opportunity to improve upon the strategy of engaging influencers and to reap the same benefits of their consumer-facing counterparts.

In the Guide, Odden highlights challenges B2C influencer marketing is confronting as pitfalls for B2B marketing professionals to avoid. He urges B2B marketers to stay mindful of cultivating a culture of opportunistic influencers. In the B2C space, concerns surrounding influencer legitimacy and the authenticity of their networks has diminished the perceived value of insights shared by genuine influencers.

To support a better culture in B2B influencer marketing, Odden advises against treating your influencers as a mere advertising distribution channel or approaching your relationships with influencers as transactional engagements. Influencer marketing should be a collaborative endeavor, with companies investing time and energy into helping influencers pursue their personal goals, just as influencers are helping companies achieve theirs.

Clarifying key differences between B2C and B2B influencer marketing, Odden explains that longer sales journeys, larger purchase decisions and decision-making committees that consist of more than one person change the way B2B marketers should collaboratively create content with their influencers. He emphasizes the subject matter expertise of B2B influencers as a key skill set to leverage in influencer marketing. Understanding this unique value B2B influencers bring to the table should also inform how B2B marketers strategize returning value to their influencers. An ideal way to structure relationships between B2B influencers and the brands they support is to position B2B influencer marketing as an opportunity to raise awareness among a brand's and a B2B influencer's mutual audience.

As Odden said in his Guide, “Pay an influencer and they’ll be your friend for the day. Help someone become more influential and they’ll be an advocate and friend for life.” B2B influencer marketing abounds with opportunity if you know the mistakes to avoid and best practices to abide by. Lee Odden's CMO's Guide to B2B Influencer Marketing is a great place to start learning.

What Exactly is Advocate Marketing? - Thoughts from Referential's Ryan Quackenbush


Dudley Field Malone, someone you don’t need to know anything about, once said that one good analogy is worth three hours of discussion; I think many of us probably had a professor or two in school that could have benefited from this approach.

Along the line of analogies, if you’re like me, you’re always looking for a brief, simple way to explain otherwise complicated topics. I struggled with this in my past, working for highly complicated cloud-native software organizations, when my Grandmother would ask me what my companies did. “We work in computers, Gram,” I’d say.

The conversations would inevitably turn to a topic she was more interested about anyway: me, her loving grandson. She’d ask me something like “what exactly do you do?” My response, of course, is that I worked in advocate and customer-centric marketing. It’s at this point that I’m sure you’re picturing my loving grandmother’s eyes glazing over with confusion. You wouldn’t be wrong. If you tell someone you work in marketing, they generally understand what you do. But if you add the modifier “customer advocacy” to the term, suddenly, it’s like you’re speaking in Greek.

“What exactly is advocate marketing, Ryan?” She’d ask me.

Truth be told, it’s pretty simple.

“Think about it this, way, Gram,” I’d say. “I’ll give you a few different scenarios. Let’s say there’s a brand-new restaurant that opened up across town. You’re reading the Sunday paper, and in the middle of an article you’re reading is an ad that says ‘New Restaurant- best steaks!’ You kind of register that, you might check it out sometime.”

She nods, and I move on.

“Ok, second scenario - you’re watching the hockey game tonight,” (true fact: my gram loves watching hockey, but doesn’t care about teams), “and during a commercial break, an ad comes on for this new restaurant. They take you inside, show you food being put on tables, maybe the owner says ‘Come on down’ or something to that effect, and it’s over, and you sit through a few more minutes of ads before the game comes back on.”

Once again, she nods, patiently waiting for me to get to the point.

“Last scenario - Aunt Phil calls you, or I do, or your old co-worker Gene. Or maybe someone next to you in line sees the paper you’re reading, recognizes the steakhouse in the ad and says to you ‘Oh, I’ve been there - I really enjoyed the food they provide!’ I ask you this - which of those three scenarios is going to make you that much more interested in going to the new steakhouse?”

My grandmother responds that obviously the third, as familiarity with the product and personal experience is much more valuable than simply reading or seeing an ad.

“That, gram, is pretty much what I do!”

Advocacy is about building relationships, establishing trust, and enabling your existing customer base to get out and market – or advocate – for you, on your behalf. Most times, it’s a bit more strategic than a stranger looking over your shoulder in a checkout line.

At Referential Inc., we take our collective experience as a team to build our clients fully fledged reference and advocacy programs from the ground up. My restaurant analogy doesn’t take into account overseeing program goals, providing detailed reports and metrics or implementing launch plans, but at Referential Inc., expertise in these and other core aspects of advocacy program management drive our approach and service delivery.

At the end of my analogy, my grandmother responded by stating that it “sounds like what you do is very important to the company.”

An effective advocacy program truly is.

A Better Way to Ask for References

Strategic customer advocacy professionals approach customer advocacy as an opportunity to build relationships with customers, not simply ask for favors – an invaluable framework for asking for references shared in this SiriusDecisions blog.

The blog’s author, Amy Bills, teaches us that beforeapproaching customers for a reference, advocacy practitioners should take apause to consider the personal and professional motivations of customer advocates.The blog shares a great example of how leveraging customers’ motivations inrequests for references can morph a company-focused ask into a customer-focusedask that inspires action from advocates and nurtures more intimaterelationships with customers.

In the article, Bills also reminds us of the importance of ensuring program participation is simple for advocates. She shares how keeping in mind customer motivations and using them to structure acts of advocacy so that a customer can engage in those actions they are most interested in (and avoid laborious tasks like PowerPoint production) can improve customer interactions with your advocacy program.

Visit the blog for several other readily actionable tips for personalizing and enhancing your asks for references, and if you decide to put any into action, we’d love to hear about what you learn in the process!

Congratulations to Influitive – Named Leading Advocacy Software!

Congratulations to our partner Influitive! Yesterday Influitive announced that they were named to the leader quadrant in the G2 Crowd survey on brand advocacy software. G2Crowd is a leading business software review platform and rates products based on data sourced from product reviews shared by users and data aggregated from online sources and social networks. Over 150 customer reviews of seven different technology vendors determined the rankings. Influitive ranked highest in both customer satisfaction and market presence.  Of the Influitive reviews, 98% of customers rated Influitive with four or five stars on a five-star scale and 99% said they believe Influitive is headed in the right direction.  

You can see details at the G2 Crowd site, here.   Access the free online report (a $599 value) by G2 Crowd here.  Congratulations Influitive!  

Dramatic - and Fast - Increase in Customer Engagement

We recently worked with a client to launch an Influitive AdvocateHub as a new front-end to their existing advocacy program. The decision to do this was made swiftly with the requirement that it went live 3 business days ahead of their inaugural user conference. Being able to unveil a hub at a major customer event is the perfect opportunity to accelerate engagement and build excitement for an advocacy program, however in this case it gave us only 14 business days to design, configure and populate it with activities/challenges! We are not ones to be overcome by what seemed impossible odds. What most hubs take 6 to 8 weeks to deploy, we accomplished in 2.5!

For those of you not familiar, an Influitive AdvocateHub enables the construction of a wider advocate community by inviting customers, partners, prospects and employees into it to complete "challenges" that span fun activities, educational opportunities and taking action such as making referrals, taking reference calls, writing product reviews and more. As advocates complete challenges, they earn points, badges and progress through levels that can be used for a variety of perks and privileges.

For our client, the hub out-stripped all expectations and success metrics that were defined in the planning stage: Nearly 60% of all attendees at the event joined and immediately started engaging in challenges. It exceeded the initial expectations for the number of participants 8 fold! Hub members completed over 1000 challenges in less than a week; nearly half became new social media followers of our client, and tweeting and forwarding of blog posts reached the highest levels our client had seen. Participants gave glowing reviews and volunteered for a variety of advocacy activities from case studies to presenting in webinars and at future events.

Customer References or Advocates? Making the Transition

Customer references vs. advocates. Quite a topic of conversation. There are all sorts of articles about the differences between advocates and references. Simplistically customer reference programs have been a critical part of the sales process. Customers are recruited, requests are fulfilled, and sales increase. Usually ­­­customer reference activities are reactive. References are asked to participate in activities such as a call with a prospect or speaking at an event. Advocates, on the other hand, are proactive in their promotion (and defense) of your brand. An advocate will proactively engage in a community or at an event, amplify your message in social media, or help with new product input. And they will also take that important call with a prospect!

Here is an interesting article on how BMC made the transition from relying on references to a strong advocacy program. A valuable read.