July 27, 2021

    How Can I Improve Customer Advocacy?

    Customer advocacy

    What does advocacy look like for your customer success program?

    • A customer writing glowing reviews about your software on G2?
    • Someone recommending your company to peers?
    • A YouTube influencer posting amazing videos?

    No matter how your CS team defines advocacy, we can agree that advocacy A) is the final stage of the customer journey and B) offers exponential benefits. 

    So, how can a CSM turn happy customers into these loyal advocates? It likely starts with data.

    Your advocacy strategy

    One of the biggest challenges for SaaS companies is increasing customer retention and the lifetime value of existing customers. Recurring revenue, after all, is the lifeblood of any subscription service. 

    One of the first steps toward this goal is understanding why you won and why you lost. Your NPS is a solid starting point.


    The primary metric in the advocacy stage will be your Net Promoter Score (NPS). This helps determine who your advocates are as well as who they could be, giving you insight into the right time to start a conversation about advocacy. Bain & Company has also found that NPS correlates closely with greater market share, better employee engagement and higher profitability — and those who score above competitors outgrow their peers by at least 2 times.

    Generally, an NPS rating is considered the “gold standard” as an advocacy metric. However, we recommend checking out our guide on the best practices for calculating and applying NPS

    Spoiler alert: There’s a lot more customer data out there that you’ll want to cover. 

    Your NPS rating is generated through a single-question survey and reported as a number ranging from -100 to +100 — unlike golf, you’re shooting for a higher score here. By asking whether your current customers would recommend your company, you can segment them into three groups: promoters, passives and detractors. 

    Although this will help you to identify your potential brand advocates (your promoters), an NPS rating misses some important details. While your score can help you know whether your customer advocacy program is working, it won’t be as useful when it comes to helping you determine where your team needs to tweak your existing processes to generate higher advocacy. 

    We’ve found that a rating of about 30 is the average for SaaS teams. But don’t panic just yet if you’re falling below that.

    Why onboarding is so important


    More than likely, your brand advocates experienced positive experiences on Day 1 during the onboarding process.  

    Yes, the advocacy stage is the final piece in the customer journey. But the seeds for success start way back.

    Your advocates are those who have achieved quick wins and long-term goals with your company. That’s why it makes sense that they would have found value in your product early on. 

    We could write a book on customer onboarding best practices. Come to think of it, we already did!

    Customer journey strategies early-on

    While onboarding should be an ongoing priority at your organization, there are three major contributors to creating the foundations for a solid customer experience early on:

    1. Focusing on the important things at first

    The truth is, your customer won’t care about every feature and function that comes with your software right off that bat. Instead, focus on highlighting the ones that will matter to them the most depending on the short-term goals your team uncovered during the discovery process.

    Plus, by keeping some of those features up your sleeve, you have the opportunity to re-introduce them when it comes time for renewal or expansion.


    Speaking of the discovery process, think back to what exactly your customer hopes to achieve by using your software. Whether it’s sharing a file for the first time or initiating outreach with a customer, the first time they log in, a user should feel like they’ve accomplished the first step toward their future goals.


    No one likes to repeat themselves. Before CS is ever introduced to the equation, sales should provide all of the information they have gathered about the customer, including their organization’s long-term strategy and relevant details about stakeholders and the primary point of contact. 

    Sean Ellis, CEO of GrowthHackers, a popular workflow management platform, offers two case studies on the impact onboarding has on advocacy and word-of-mouth (WOM) marketing:



    This SaaS company provides secure remote work solutions and found customers were complaining of a low return on investment and ineffective onboarding processes. This feedback was presented to the C-suite by the CS team alongside qualitative data on time to first value and product usage.

    The result?

    After investing “undivided” organizational attention on onboarding, the company began to see increased expansion, a higher ROI for customers and 80% of new users being generated by WOM.


    When it was first founded in 2010, this popular cloud storage solution set out to be more than just a file-hosting service. The founders of Dropbox wanted to completely eliminate external growth dependencies, setting out to generate as many new users as possible via a peer-to-peer referral program.

    They succeeded by implementing incentivized customer referrals while also creating an optimized onboarding program. By deploying user-friendly notifications and a guided tour of the platform, Dropbox users achieved an almost immediate time to first value as they were walked through the process of uploading their files.

    Health scores and advocacy

    OK, onboarding is important. But what does this mean for your advocacy strategy? 

    To grow your customer loyalty, you’ll need to focus on your users’ needs and drivers of customer satisfaction throughout the entire user lifecycle.

    Your customer advocacy team should look at every touchpoint, from that all-important first contact to after-sales support. Leveraging objective data like account health scores and measures of churn will help you to uncover what turns a satisfied user into a loyal customer advocate — as well as what may push a customer away. 

    By aligning your product and success strategy with the evolving needs of your users, your team will be able to boost advocacy, leading to long-term profitability and more sustainable growth. 

    Why your customer advocacy strategy matters

    You may be asking yourself, “Why do I need a customer advocacy strategy if I have a strong sales and marketing program?” 

    Here’s our response: Can you think of the last time you found a new product that you loved and just had to tell your friends about?

    What about the last time you had an amazing meal out? Did you leave a review on Yelp or Google? 

    Last question (we promise): When you order something from a website for the first time, is your first instinct to scroll down and read what other customers are saying?

    If you answered yes to any of the above, you’re far from alone. In the age of the internet, we’ve come to value reviews from our family, friends and anonymous online contributors equally. As Qualtrics explains, online reviews allow customers to tell their side of the buying story — all while providing social proof to other potential customers.

    When brand advocates actively share their thoughts about your product or service, your team is able to reap several major business benefits, including: 


    Even the most advanced marketing and sales teams will have to spend some amount of money or time to attract new customers. When a customer advocate freely shares their experiences with your brand on social media, it won’t cost your team anything at all.

    In fact, when the cost to acquire customers goes down, you’ve actively able to boost your customer lifetime value — a metric SaaS companies consider to be directly correlated with profitability. 


    According to Demand Gen Report’s 2018 B2B Buyers Survey, 65% of buyers rate B2B software and service reviews as “very important” when evaluating a set list of solution providers.

    In such a saturated market, business buyers can start to tune out traditional advertising and marketing techniques. Brand advocates give your company immediate credibility, helping you to cut through the noise as a trustworthy software partner.


    For better or worse, negative reviews can have just as much sway on a prospect’s final decision. ReviewTracker, a customer feedback software company, has found that 94% of consumers say an online review has convinced them to avoid a business.

    When advocacy becomes your priority, you’ll naturally begin to improve gaps in the customer experience, decreasing your likelihood of receiving poor reviews.

    The bottom line is that over time, advocacy pays for itself. Now that your team knows the importance of a strong customer advocacy campaign, let’s explore what a successful strategy can look like when it’s put to action.

    Meeting customer needs: How Cisco did it

    For even the most experienced success team, creating formalized and scalable advocacy programs can prove to be increasingly difficult as their user base grows. Cisco, an international leader in networking and telecommunications software and hardware, demonstrated exactly how SaaS teams can tap into the full power of even the largest customer base

    Initially, the team at Cisco was running into the same problem many CS teams are all too familiar with. Although they had a program of 100 customers sales and marketing could tap into for references, speaking opportunities and case studies, the pool was so small that customers often felt overused and under-appreciated.

    Their efforts to reap the benefits of strong customer advocacy was actively turning once loyal promoters into disengaged passives — and, at worst, active detractors.

    Additionally, 71% of Cisco employees didn’t know where to find or nominate a customer reference, and the existing list of advocates was out-of-date and out-of-touch. It was disorganized, creating a poor experience for advocates and employees alike.

    In an effort to combat this, the team at Cisco launched the Gateway, a formal advocate marketing program which aimed to create a more valuable experience for customers. Not only did the company refine their advocacy process internally, but Cisco actually gamified the advocacy program.

    Side note: Gamification is the process of applying traditional elements of a game such as points, rewards and competition to encourage engagement with a product or service. Think of the concept as part psychology, part technology, taking the phrase “work hard, play hard” literally. 

    Now, when advocates complete tasks, they receive points that can be redeemed for rewards like event tickets, gift cards or Cisco merchandise. Customers have three unique ways to participate in the Gateway program and compete with other users:

    1. Engage and learn through user groups, communities and customer advisory boards.
    2. Endorse Cisco through media interviews, reviews, analyst briefings, references, referrals and product surveys. 
    3. Earn personal and professional recognition by being featured in Cisco content and earning VIP rewards.

    Advocates can also choose any combination of these activities that appeal to them most, creating both a personalized and formalized process.

    Jeremy Bevan, Vice President of Global Segment and Industries Marketing at Cisco, explained the wide-reaching impact the program has had on the company and its customers:

    “We’ve revolutionized the way we go to market with the Gateway. By mobilizing our customers as advocates, we’re now able to leverage the authentic voice of our customers, which is far more engaging and relevant to our prospects than our traditional marketing.”

    “We’re also evolving to produce customer-generated videos at scale, streamlining peer references and product reviews and bringing valuable customer insights back to our sales teams. This is true innovation and makes an outstanding contribution to our organization.”

    The Gateway initiative first launched in 2016. By 2019, Cisco generated 196,933 unique acts of advocacy for their brand as well as an ROI of $5.4 million. Now, the company is getting to know their users on an even more personal level, building a “tribe” of advocates who feel a strong sense of belonging to the Cisco community.

    Whether through a traditional Voice of Customer program or via a transformative gamification initiative, the lesson from Cisco is clear: When you give advocates a meaningful platform, they’re more than happy to use it.


    Finding your tribe of customer advocates may seem like a daunting task. But, when you know which data to look at, you’ll quickly see the trail of breadcrumbs leading you to your more loyal users. 

    At UserIQ, we help businesses collect and analyze valuable user feedback throughout every step in the customer relationship. 

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