The Magic Ingredient for Creating Advocates

There’s a magic ingredient for creating advocates. But how do you get this magic ingredient?

Every technology vendor appreciates the importance of reference accounts. It’s tough to sell without them. People want to know other companies use the technology they’re considering.

But technology companies want more. They want advocates. So, how do they get advocates? Let’s first consider the difference between a reference account and an advocate?

The Difference between a Reference Account and an Advocate

Reference accounts tend to be passive. When they’re asked by the vendor, they’ll take a call or even a visit from a prospect. They’ll say positive things about the vendor and the vendor’s product. The buyer knows the reference call is somewhat artificial. They know the vendor has asked the reference account to say positive things. Notwithstanding, the buyers believe most of what the reference account says. That helps the buyer feel more confident. And that will help the vendor make one sale.

But advocates behave differently. Unasked, they tell other people how great the vendor and the vendor’s products are. They proactively spread good news about the vendor. And that has two effects. First, advocates tell lots more potential buyers. Reference accounts tell one potential buyer each time they’re asked. Advocates tell anyone who’ll listen. They spread the good news much further.

Credibility marks the second difference between a reference account and an advocate. Buyers know reference calls are a little artificial. So, they discount some of what the reference account says. If the reference account gives the vendor say 8/10, the potential buyer may come away with a feeling of 6/10. But an unsolicited endorsement from an advocate isn’t discounted. If the advocate gives the vendor 9/10, the potential buyer keeps the vendor at 9/10. An advocate’s opinion creates a much more positive feeling for a potential buyer.

It’s not surprising technology vendors want advocates.

The Magic Ingredient

Advocates behave in a proactive fashion to spread good news about the vendor. Why do they do that? The answer lies in how they feel. Reference accounts feel positive about the vendor. Advocates feel much more positive. Some might love the vendor. And that’s what drives them to behave proactively. It’s driven by emotion. The stronger the emotion, the more they’ll act as an advocate.

The magic ingredient in creating advocates is a strong emotional connection. But, how do you create that strong emotion?

It’s Not the Product

Technology users don’t love the product. The product doesn’t create strong emotion. The product provides a means to an end. The end is the business outcome the customer needs to achieve.

Do ERP customers love ERP software? Never! In fact, many hate the software. But when the customer’s business runs smoothly and effectively, they love that outcome. And ERP software helped achieve that outcome.

Similarly, do marketing automation customers love their marketing automation tools? Again, no. But when they the value of their pipeline takes a big jump, they love that outcome. And the marketing automation tools helped achieve that outcome.

So, the customer feels positive emotions when they achieve the outcome they needed. Customers don’t love the product, they love the outcome.

They love the outcome as it creates a positive effect for them. The outcome will help them get a bonus or a promotion or internal recognition. And that’s what they love.

The Link to the Vendor

Customers love the outcome, not the product. But the vendor has helped the customer achieve the outcome. So, the customer associates some of their positive emotion with the vendor. The vendor gets a share of that positive emotion.

The stronger the emotion linked to the vendor, the more likely the customer will act as an advocate.

Success Outcomes

A success outcome is an ongoing business result that customer executives regard as success. And that drives emotion. Let’s break that definition down. First, it’s an ongoing business result, not a one-off. For an ERP vendor, there can’t be a jump in effectiveness followed by a slump. For a marketing automation vendor, there can’t be an increase in pipeline which isn’t sustained. The business results must be ongoing.

Second, the customer’s executives must understand the outcome and consider it significant. They’re the ones who approve purchases from the vendor. The outcome the vendor enables must make sense to these customer executives.

Third, the outcome must be something the customer regards as success. Getting the product working isn’t success. Using all the subscriptions isn’t success. Using advanced features isn’t success. Success is the achievement of the ongoing business outcome.

Creating Advocates

The best thing a technology vendor can do to create advocates is to ensure customers achieve a success outcome. If the customer achieves the success outcome, then positive emotion will flow to the vendor.

And it’s that positive emotion that creates advocates.

Next Steps

The first thing a vendor can do is define the success outcome they serve. If they have more than one line of business, they’ll have more than one success outcome. The success outcome is like a combination of mission statement and tagline. In 10 syllables or less, the vendor captures the heart of what they do for their customers.

Having decided on a success outcome, the vendor’s then focus all customer-facing departments on enabling that success outcome. But, that doesn’t involve a big bang approach. It should be an evolution. Run a couple of marketing campaigns using the success outcome as the core message. Try using the ability to enable a success outcome to differentiate in some sales deals. Try running a few services projects with business outcome objectives linked to the success outcome.

Then work out a plan to increase the focus on success outcomes over time.

And while doing this, track the increase in the number of advocates.

This article is based on the book; The Outcome Generation: How a New Generation of Technology Vendors Thrives through True Customer Success


Paul Henderson is an author, speaker and consultant on outcome-based customer success for technology vendors. His last role was leading the Asia Pacific region of an enterprise software company. He saw the potential that could come from delivering real and measurable business success for customers. So, he initiated a customer success program based on customer outcomes. He and his colleagues developed, modified and proved the model over more than five years. He thespent one a half years researching and writing, culminating in the release of The Outcome Generation.

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