Behind-the-Scenes of a Best-In-Class Customer Advocacy Program
How Exceptional Program Alignment Creates Amazing Success at Apttus
Exceptional customer advocacy alignment is one that creates the virtuous cycle which moves the buyers from consumers of the customer voice, to providers of the customer voice once on board as a customer.
At Apttus, the category-defining and leading Quote-to-Cash (QTC) software provider, the ability to create this circle begins with an overall corporate Customer First initiative. The Customer Advocacy team at Apttus takes this mantra to heart in everything they do. Customer Advocacy is highly valued at the company. Every new hire training includes a presentation from the Customer Advocacy team in which they are able to emphasize that Apttus Customer Success is the responsibility of every employee. Every customer engagement Apttus employees have impacts the story that Apttus advocates will share. As such, every employee takes pride in the fact that the company has so many great customer logos on the website, publicly sharing their customers’ use case stories. The Customer First mentality promotes the notion that it isn’t just a testament to the Customer Advocacy Team’s work, it’s a demonstration of all Apttus employees’ hard work throughout the customer lifecycle. It is this mindset in which the Apttus Customer Advocacy team launched their formal Reference Program, and in which they continue to operate day-to-day.
Buyers Align With the Customer’s Voice Before the Sales Cycle
Buyers first come in contact with Apttus customer advocates through the press materials, on the website, in speaking sessions at events, online reviews, videos and case studies. Management of their key customers to provide a public endorsement of the company is vital. When the Apttus Customer Advocacy team recruits new advocates into the program, they make note of not only the customer’s use case, but also the level of comfort that the individual spokesperson has. Each advocate is different and may want to take advantage of different avenues that the program has available, not everybody cares to be a public speaker after all.
Curation of a Third Party Voices program isn’t a new idea, but the Apttus approach stands above the rest. “We consider our customer’s voice as one of many which are talking about us from a third party perspective,” says Maria Pergolino, SVP of Marketing at Apttus. “As such, we don’t just promote what our customers are saying about Apttus in the sales cycle via case studies and online reviews, but we also promote what the press is saying and what the analysts are saying through our website and in our Marketing content.” The press and analyst voice is an extension of the voice of their customers as both speak directly with customers and are influenced by these conversations. “Each of these voices, speaking loudly and in unison, effectively amplify each other and help drive public interest in Apttus,” Adds Pergolino.
A crucial and strategic brand awareness event for the entire Apttus Marketing team is the Quote-to-Cash event of the year, Accelerate. “Our Accelerate event brings together over 3,000 customers, prospects and industry influencers. Well over half of our sessions include customer speakers and the voice of our customers is activated throughout the event and in a big way,” continues Pergolino. Most recently, over 15 customers participated in a series of co-branded posters with fun tag lines showcased at Accelerate.
Customer Advocacy and Direct Impact on Deals
The Apttus Customer Advocacy team has proven their advocacy efforts directly impact business success. Every new deal at Apttus is impacted by the Advocacy program at some point of the sales cycle, with a majority being directly impacted by customer references. The Advocacy team has been able to showcase this via key technology integrations. “We’ve integrated a key field on the CRM opportunity records with RO Innovation’s platform to track whether an opportunity has a reference request fulfilled or a case study shared,” says Pergolino. The Customer Advocacy team then reports and feeds that data, along with multiple other critical data points related to the various stages in the sales cycle, to the Sales and Sales Operations leadership to improve pipeline accuracy. “For example, the data shows that a prospect isn’t likely to sign a deal in the near term unless they have a reference request fulfilled,” continues Pergolino. This data point, along with others make up what they call the Apttus Gold Standard for sales cycle management, allowing the Apttus sales teams to be highly accurate in their pipeline projections. “The Advocacy Team includes many business impact reports on Advocacy Dashboard which has been made available to the entire Apttus organization,” says Pergolino. Some of the business impact metrics showcased on their reports include:
- % of won deals which requested references
- % of deals set to close that have not requested references yet
- Customer demographic data (by industry, product, location, etc.) including yes/no designation on referenceability
- Average number of microsites sent
Every company has a need for public customer use cases and often leverages these in the sales cycle. At Apttus, the Customer Advocacy Team packages public customer use cases in the form of a Customer Success Kit, which includes both a high-level video and a more detailed written case study. Each of these pieces is effective because they each serve their own purposes and can be used in different stages of the sales cycle. In addition, a customer story isn’t considered a complete kit at Apttus unless the story also has a measurable success metric, some sort of attributable success that the advocate identifies with, gains direct value from and is willing to share with the world. That’s really where the rubber meets the road and it’s these public metrics that the sales team finds the most value sharing with prospective customers.
Turning Buyers into Advocates, Community and Recruitment
Core to any advocacy program is the recruitment of new advocates. At Apttus, this is achieved by creating alignment with the Customer Success team, who surfaces detailed customer success stories. In conjunction, Apttus’s vibrant online community and in-person user group meetings create advocacy events amongst their customers and help develop new core advocates.
Apttus has an integrated workflow process between the RO Innovation platform and the CRM software, wherein the Customer Success team as well as anyone in customer-facing role can initiate the nomination process from the CRM account records. This tees up key information about the advocate and their use case for the Advocacy Team. Similar to how the Customer Advocacy team trains new hires on how to request a reference, they also train their new employees on what characteristics make for an effective customer advocate. The CSM has the strongest relationship with the customer and this helps make introductions to the Reference Program smoother, the Customer Advocacy team then meets with each new advocate and connects with them on a personal and professional level. This gives the whole process a high touch and personal feel, which is important to begin a mutual relationship of trust and responsiveness for both parties. It’s a pivotal moment. The customer, who has up to this point consumed the Apttus customer voice in its various forms during their buying cycle, is now joining the Apttus advocate community and adding their own voice to the conversation.
Apttus’s strategic efforts to ensure customer advocates impact every stage of the buyer’s cycle, and are aligned with tactical execution and technology in every department is what makes their program best-in-class and truly positions them for success both now and for years to come.
Apttus is the winner of the 2017 RO Sherpa Awards for Exceptional Customer Advocacy Alignment and Best-in-Class Customer Advocacy Program. The Exceptional Customer Advocacy Alignment award recognizes a progressive B2B organization that is proving the value and impact of using customer advocacy end-to-end in the customer lifecycle to create brand authenticity, customer loyalty and new business through the help of content, referrals and social validation. Apttus is also the winner of the “best of’ Sherpa Award of 2017, which recognizes the best overall customer advocacy program strategy, tactics and results as determined by the customer advocacy and engagement experts at SiriusDecisions, the leading global business-to-business research and advisory firm. On behalf of the RO Innovation team, congratulations Apttus on these outstanding achievements!