Six years ago, BMC had an effective customer reference program. But Kim Ellis, Director, Customer Connect at BMC, knew that wasn’t enough. Communication was inconsistent – contacting references as needed wasn’t fostering real collaboration. And: customer expectations are changing; one-sided relationships are a turn off.
Today it’s a different story. Ellis’ four-person team manages a community of 2,500 customer advocates. Those advocates provide big value to the brand, but that benefit is now a byproduct of a dynamic community, managed with Influitive’s advocate marketing software.
Customer expectations have changed – brands must keep up
I spoke with Ellis to find out how they made this transition, and to learn more about its impact. Since Ellis has been in customer-oriented IT roles for twenty-five years, I wanted her take on how customer expectations have changed. Ellis:
As an industry, we used to say, “Customer input is so important,” but we didn’t follow through. Now we’re actually doing what we used to talk about. It’s progressing fast – the technologies that help us do it are becoming mainstream now. And if you don’t do it, you’re not going to make it.
Which raises my next question: even if you’re aware of these changes, how do you deliver on them?
For Ellis, that means tracing back her current role as director of Customer Connect, BMC’s customer advocacy program. Six years ago, the reference program was her focus. The program was valuable to BMC’s sales team, but Ellis knew it was no longer enough:
It was very much one-sided; we were asking our customers to do things for us all the time. Over the last few years, it became apparent we needed to transform to more of a partner relationship with our customers. That’s true advocacy, where they’re volunteering to do these things versus being asked. We’ve moved beyond a reference angle into something that’s a lot bigger than that.
BMC’s focus is providing IT management tools to support digital change. If their customers don’t believe BMC is a true partner in change, they won’t stick around. Ellis uses Customer Connect as a way to build new customer relationships but also make a difference for existing customers. So what do customers get out of being a part of an advocate community? Ellis:
One of the biggest things to them personally is networking with other customers. They don’t want to feel alone. They want to feel like they have people on their side, and they’re not the only one doing this. They also want to feel that they’re heard from their partner, which is BMC in this case. That’s critical. The third piece is they want to increase their own social status, or their status within their organization, and they’re able to do that with these types of programs.
If customer advocacy works, where do you begin?
But how do you get started? Ellis points back to three years ago, when she first met the Influitive team. For her, it was “love at first demo.” But not so fast – she still had to sell Influitive inside her organization:
I saw Influitive for the first time at a conference and I came back in love with Influitive. Our company is very large, so you can’t just bring something in. You have to look at other things, so we did look at a bunch of different solutions. Ultimately it came down to Influitive because for me, it was something I could manage because it’s my tool, and I don’t have to involve a whole infrastructure of IT people to get it working. It was very flexible for my business.
The user experience was a huge factor in Ellis’ product evaluation:
It was just simple. It was easy to understand. It seemed familiar to me, even though I had never used it before. I thought, “If it feels familiar to me, it’s going to feel familiar to my customers.” Of course, as I dove into it, there was a lot more technology behind it, but that was the first thing. It looked like a lot of fun. It looked like I wasn’t going to feel like I was working.
Ellis made the case Influitive could expand and revitalize the reference program:
At first, we were trying to deal with things like customer burnout. You’re using the same reference customers that you know about all the time, because you don’t have time to find new ones. I knew we had to increase our reach, as well as increase the touch to the customers that we already are talking to. That how I thought a solution like Influitive could help us.
Assessing customer advocacy results – a year and a half after go-live
A year and a half ago, BMC went live on Influitive. That means the Influitive AdvocateHub is now a key part of Ellis’ Customer Connect program. I asked Ellis for some results. Here’s one:
This happens all the time: my CMO will call me up and say, “Kim, I need to test the messaging on whatever solution we’re about to work on.” Within a day, I can get him feedback from customers.
Ellis has used this instant market intelligence to win over executives across the business:
I found out what was really important to my CMO or my executives, and then I would ask the advocates the questions they were trying to answer. Before they even asked me, I would feed them answers. I’d say, “Hey, I just polled my customers and this is what they found.” Then I’d hear back: “Oh, wow, that’s pretty cool.“
Ellis also utilized their internal collaboration tool, Chatter, to share customer feedback with the salespeople responsible for those accounts: “It got to a point where everyone realized what a positive thing it was, that we just had to have more of it.”
Some case studies I’ve done are low on quantifiable results, but Ellis has plenty:
Traffic to our product sites has gone up eighty percent, and our average review rate is thirty-three percent higher when you do it from an advocate member in the hub from when you do it outside of the hub. That’s huge right there, because that’s obviously a big focus from any of the product vice-presidents. That’s what they want to hear.
Being able to scale this program up to 2,500 advocates has been critical:
Just to give you an idea of scale, my team impacts, on a yearly basis, around a hundred million dollars worth of revenue for our company through the work we do with our advocates. We would not be able to do this kind of scale if we didn’t have a tool to do it.
Ellis also used the advocate hub to lower licensing costs with Microsoft. By getting info from her customers on Microsoft product usage via the hub, Ellis worked with BMC’s IT team to qualify for a higher level of sponsorship – and reduced Microsoft licensing.
But what do customers get out of it?
I wondered if Ellis asked her own customers for feedback on Influitive before choosing it. Ellis:
We did a test with our customers. Before, we were using Linkedin as a very rudimentary way to try to expand our reach, and it just didn’t work. We asked those customers who participated in that – which was about a hundred customers – what would you think about this type of thing, and they said: “Yes, now.”
One issue bugged me. I can see the benefits for BMC, but what are customers getting out of it? Ellis:
Our advocates feel that they are part of our company, so if they do things that make us look good, they look good. They don’t look at it as doing us a favor – it’s doing themselves and their career a favor now.
That’s a huge shift in thinking. I personally thought when we started this, it was going to be all about what rewards they were going to get, what swag or whatever, and it’s not about that.
Ellis also provided me with several quotes from BMC AdvocateHub customers that underscore their sense of inclusion, and the benefits they perceive. She adds:
Customers tell us, “This is the one place I can go at BMC and I get information on everything that I would possibly want to know, whether there’s upcoming events or whether customers are having questions about something.”
Customers are even using the hub from home:
At the other side of the go-live, they were like, “It’s not scary. It’s kind of fun. I’m having fun while I’m doing it.” They would do it on their weekends or at night at home, because they actually enjoyed it. They didn’t have to remember twelve different locations to find things.
The wrap – for now
So where do we go from here? Ellis is pushing ahead: she’ll be opening up the AdvocateHub to BMC employees this year. And: she’s been promoted internally. It’s a long way from the early days:
When we first started, the business used to ask us, “Why do we need an advocacy program?” The executives would say, “I don’t understand what the purpose of it is.” Now, whenever people talk about communities or advocacy programs, they say, “OK, Advocate program is off the table. We have to have it. It’s a requirement.”
Image credit: Business conceptual keywords © Sergey Nivens – Fotolia.com
Disclosure: diginomica has no financial ties to Influitive. I was approached by their PR for this story and found the topic interesting.