Connecting customer advocates to drive product strategy and customer success

yammer-customer-love
Yammer Customers – From the Yammer Customer Love board on Pinterest

I’ve written a lot about ways to scale success efforts but the best is always face to face. Events like customer meetups are a perfect way to bring customers together. I’m running these in EMEA for the company I work for currently. The context is enterprise technology. This is what I’ve learned so far and I’ll update this post as I go along.

The ideal conversation at a customer meetup would be to discuss shared successes. We all know those are hardly going to be the only outcomes. Discussing failures and how to overcome challenges are also good topics.

Meetups in the context of customer success should not only be about technology. They can also be a means to building relationships with your strategic customers. They should build your customer advocacy base too. It is a rich means to nurturing customer advocates and a customer community.

Aspects outside technology can also be topics for exploration. How something like organisational culture impacts on technology adoption. How a well designed approach can aid your technology adoption efforts.

Yet you should also use customer meetups for your product team to meet customers. The purpose here would be to share insights about whats coming in the product roadmap. Customers also have the chance to provide nuanced feedback on what they want and need.

You should avoid the feature / function trap of enterprise technology adoption. Make it about the strategic use of technology. Bring product teams closer to customer needs and pain points. You could cover use cases which are the currency of success. A meetup is the perfect environment in which to discover and share successful use cases.

Above all, meetups should be learning environments. Settings where people can come together to share expertise and learning. They should also encourage new and different thinking. At best they bring people, tools and techniques together. They drive openness and foster creativity to help solve problems.

The ideal customer attendee is the advocate. They have an interest and passion for your product and the industry in which operates. They have deep knowledge and the willingness to share it. If they don’t have these attributes, the customer meetup is the forum to nurture them in.

From the vendor side (customer meetups are most often run by the vendor) there are ideal attendees too. Those passionate about making customers succesful are obvious choices. So bring the customer success team into the meetup. Product teams are the other obvious choice. Product managers and even hard core software engineers should attend.

If you can have senior executives attend, that is ideal too. It shows how serious you are about customers and the meetup format.

Don’t get sidetracked or become unfocused. The meetup is always about the customer and their needs. Its never about your cool product or your clever founders or your awesome people. They will shine through anyway if you make the customer shine first.

What to avoid

There is sometimes debate about inviting prospects. Some would treat the customer meetup like a demand generation event. To make it more impactful. They would have marketing more involved to drive attendance. Sales people involved to have customers convince prospects to buy. Don’t let them do it.

Strategic prospects that are well advanced in opportunity stage could attend. Screen them first. Make sure they have the right intent. Are they genuine in their passion and intent to learn or do they want to verify a decision. If the latter, there are better ways of doing that. Like a reference call.

Sales focused events are different. Attendees of these events know hard selling is a primary motive. You can market the crap out of those you attend or sponsor :)

Who owns and leads customer meetups also comes up. Customer success teams should in my view, not marketing. They are close to the customer and know their environment. The meetup can also be a forum to forge closer ties as well as drive further customer success work.

Which does not mean there is no place for marketing. They can help promote as well as scale efforts.

But if customers think the meetup is a vehicle for marketing or sales, you lose their trust. The potential to build a community of customer advocates is no longer there.

The ultimate goal of a series of customer meetups is to build a community of advocates. If that drives loyalty in your company and product as it should, that is a beautiful thing.

ideal meetup venue.png
The Ideal Meetup Venue

Guidelines for a successful meetup

  1. Location. Make the location as accesible to the majority of your customers as possible. This means transport links as well as general accesibility. If it means taking your event to the customers location, do it, e.g. a roadshow.
  2. Venue. This is the more important factor and you should not underestimate it. A well lit, expansive yet informal and cozy environment is ideal. You want to inspire creativity and encourage openness. It would be better if the location was away from your regular work space unless you have an amazing space. Doing it away from a regular work space helps take your mind away from business as usual. These days in any major city, there are a plethora of options. And services like Breather can help.
  3. Numbers. If possible keep it down to a manageable number. This depends a little on the size of the venue (don’t cramp people). But it’s more about interactions. Too many people and conversations will not be cohesive in the managed part of your agenda. Fifteen is ideal, twenty is manageable.
  4. Time and frequency. Time of day is the first consideration. The options are early morning or evening. Morning is likely to eat into work time whereas the latter into personal time. Each has merits and challenges. You can experiment between meetups. I tend to choose mornings from 08.30 – 10.30. Two hours is a good duration and does not take too much work time out of the day. Quarterly is a good frequency.
  5. Cost. This should not cost the earth. If you are fortunate to have a large budget you can go wild but it is not needed. Location hire and refreshments will be the main costs. I have catered for the finest coffees and a mix of pastries and healthy alternatives before. This included a personal barista with her own coffee machine – the real deal. We chose to emphasise coffee (tea was a side option) because of its history in London. Workshop Coffee was the supplier. Venue (see pic for example), breakfast, coffees and teas all came in at £700.
  6. List. You need to manage a list and track attendance over time. There are so many tool alternatives I’m not even going to go into them. Most important is that it is shareable so you can get others involved to see who is attending or has in the past. This will aid further promotion. It’s also useful if the main organiser leaves or cannot manage a certain event.
  7. Promotion and communication. You shouldn’t go overboard. If you have a history of meetups to draw from so much the better. You can explain previous events and successes. When starting out make clear the purpose of the meetup and set the tone. Consider your ideal audience and craft your message with them in mind. They can be executives, technical or business users. You could get fancy with a email marketing tool but it’s not necessary. Key is to be brief and impactful so you get a response.
    I would start 2 months ahead of the event and target 3 follow-up mails after the initial mail. Follow-ups can provide more info and remind potential attendees to sign up. You can also encourage sharing with colleagues. Use of social media depends on how broad and public you want to make the event. I favour a managed attendance approach in private (not public and free for all). Social can, if you have the permission, be a good way of sharing activities on the day. That way you promote your brand and further attendance down the line.
  8. Managing signups. I currently use Splash. It’s a landing page tool and then some. The obvious alternatives are Meetup and Eventbrite and there are many others too. Key is to have a branded and customisable means to attract and manage RSVP’s.
  9. Agenda and facilitation. The agenda should be as light as possible and not be too overbearing. Start with time and space for attendees to connect and converse. They would do this while filling up with refreshments and food. I’d give this at least half an hour and it provides time for late arrivals. You could then have a brief intro for ten minutes covering the agenda. The core part of the meetup could impose a structure beforehand. Or attendees could determine the agenda on the day, like an unconference. Make it an interesting mix.
    Remember the customer is the hero and his or her information needs are paramount. I find customers speaking is both demanded and more effective. If you mix that part with internal speakers, emphasise customer speakers. Give them more time. Have more than one speak. You could cover this in an hour and have three speakers talk for five minutes each. You could then open the floor to Q&A for ten minutes. Extra time is buffer. Company representatives can then have time to talk.
    Cover subjects the customers should know about or have an interest in. End with a close recapping the sessions main outcomes or topics concluded on. You can also try and get input for the next event. You can have a combination of MC or facilitator/s. The former should not dominate and manage intro’s, time and the agenda. The MC could also play role of facilitator or if you have break out sessions you may need a few. Facilitators are only needed if you want to drive clear outcomes. I would be judicious in my use of this approach for customer meetups. These are more relevant for workshops.
  10. Speakers. This depends on your approach and does not need to happen at every event. Speakers could be a mix of internal or customer speakers as mentioned. The thing about speaking though is that you make it conversational. Try and avoid imposing the use of slides if you can. They can play a role and are necessary if you needs to demo products or examples. It is far better for speakers to engage in two way dialogue.
  11. Follow-up. One email to thank attendees will generally do. I add a survey to my mail. This is useful to get feedback from the event to determine its success. You can also get input for your next event and as a way to identify topics to cover. Attendees can also suggest areas for improvement. If you do carry out a survey you could follow-up one more time with the results of the survey. Make clear what actions you will take as a result.
  12. Connection between events. This is not for everyone. What I am referring to is a community or collaboration tool. Attendees can connect and carry on discussions between meetups. You can also discuss and agree topics before an event. This will need effort on your part – community management effort. You also need to think about the tool. It could be a public tool like LinkedIn, Facebook or G+ (which you can make private). Or it can be part of your online success portal which is what I recommend. Use this to enhance conversations and solidify your community.

I’ll keep updating this post with my learning. If I find good articles covering the same topic I’ll also add them. If you have any input please add a comment. I’ll add the best stuff to the post.

#customer-success

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