Turn Your Customers Into Your Best Salespeople

Happy customers are your brand’s best salespeople. Today’s social media platforms make it easier than ever for brand advocates to share their enthusiasm with hundreds (if not thousands) of colleagues and other prospects in their online networks. The power given to consumers is real. It’s created a sort of forced collaboration between marketers and their customers — with industry bloggers, analysts and journalists chiming in too. Empower customers and your marketplace and you win. Try to control it and you may incite a mutiny.

Happy customers are your brand’s best salespeople. Today’s social media platforms make it easier than ever for brand advocates to share their enthusiasm with hundreds (if not thousands) of colleagues and other prospects in their online networks. The power given to consumers is real. It’s created a sort of forced collaboration between marketers and their customers — with industry bloggers, analysts and journalists chiming in too. Empower customers and your marketplace and you win. Try to control it and you may incite a mutiny.

Enabling satisfied customers to spread the word takes a combination of the right messaging and some careful listening to ensure you don’t lose out on valuable opportunities for positive online word-of-mouth. Empower your brand advocates by devoting attention to these four specific areas:

1. A great customer experience. Certain customers will go out of their way to praise a high-quality product, helpful customer service or even a compelling interaction with a brand. (This holds true whether they’re B-to-C or B-to-B customers.) Naturally, the first step is to offer a great product or service. Then start paying attention to who’s talking about your brand, what they’re saying and where they’re saying it. Social media listening tools will help you locate enthusiastic customers online. Make them prime targets for engagement.

Don’t wait for the active few, go after the silent majority, too. The primary reason most customers don’t share good news about brands they do business with is because they’re never asked. After every appropriate interaction — and without being creepy or becoming a nag — invite your customers to participate in product reviews, experience surveys, customer forums or just plain telephone calls as part of “executive outreach sessions.” Use the channel that the customer used, whether it’s SMS, social, email or retail.

2. Loyalty. Customers willing to share their positive experiences with your brand are well worth your time and resources. Once you’ve found these happy customers, invest in them to create a loyal following. You can’t underestimate the power of simply thanking customers for their business.

In addition, keep your database up to date and integrated with your segmentation and campaign management tools. Update customer profiles to include recognition of brand advocacy and nurture loyalty with special acknowledgments, promotions and discounts. It’s critical to keep these interactions relevant, personalized and well-timed. In other words, don’t spam. Just because you can email a brand advocate on her birthday, before holidays and whenever her favorite item is on sale doesn’t mean your messages will be welcome.

Track response rates over time so you can optimize message frequency and timing. While many of your loyal customers will be happy to receive lots of notices from you, never assume their interest. One of our retail clients recently found that a whopping 10 percent of their most loyal customers had marked their email messages as spam in the past year. When the retailer reached out to these customers via other channels to find out why, it learned that the email messages were too frequent and not specific to the interests of those customers. Don’t risk upsetting or annoying your customers to the point of complaints. Listen to the response data you have and back off when necessary.

3. A platform to promote. Help your brand advocates find their voice by giving them ample opportunity to share their feelings online. They’re multichannel, so think across channels too. Engage them via email, your website, Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn. Make sure they feel welcome to talk about their positive customer experiences online.

Is your company blog comment friendly? Do you provide a timely response to mentions of your brand on Twitter? Are you using clickstream and email data to inform your personas and segmentation? Does your website provide easy access to contact information for customer service and social media accounts? Present a seamless approach across all platforms — both traditional and digital — so that your messaging is consistent and credible.

4. Pull your head out of the sand. There are dozens of examples every month of brands that tried to ignore negative social commentary or got “shamed” for suppressing negative comments on Facebook. Nestle, for example, battled with Greenpeace supporters who voiced their concerns over the company’s use of palm oil. Rather than listening and engaging with concerned consumers, Nestle created a wealth of bad PR for itself by deleting posts and snapping back at fans. Similarly, Pfizer agitated consumers by deleting Facebook posts that suggested one of its viral video campaigns may be sexist.

If you’re going to listen and respond to social data, you must accept and engage with consumers who don’t agree with your positions or didn’t have a good brand experience. Like all battles of public opinion, the trick is to empower your advocates to respond to your detractors while providing a fact-based, reasonable platform for thoughtful discussion.

Brand advocates have always played the role of valuable, cost-effective salespeople. Now their voices can be amplified even more via social media networks. With a little encouragement and support, today’s brand advocates can become a powerful sales force. Put marketing automation and integration tools to work and you’ll be able to find your satisfied customers, engage with them and delight them even more with offers and promotions that resonate and cultivate deeper brand loyalty.