How to Build a Customer Advocacy Program That Puts Your Clients First

Haig Kingston is the Head of Customer Success at OpenBlend and a member of Vitally's Success Network.


I’m noticing a dated approach to customer advocacy lingering at too many organizations today. But thankfully, there’s a way to fix it.

Here’s what I’m seeing: CS leaders, customer marketers, and advocacy program coordinators default to treating customer advocacy as a way to source case studies, website logos, industry-specific quotes, event speakers, and referrals — and that’s about the extent of it.

This approach, though probably better than nothing, is transactional at best and burdensome to customers at worst. Isn’t the point of someone being a customer advocate that they enjoy interactions with your brand so much that they can’t help but talk about what you’ve done for them?

If we haven’t met, my name is Haig Kingston, and I’ve been in the CS space for 11+ years. Today, I lead Customer Success at OpenBlend, and part of my job is championing our customer advocacy efforts. I’m convinced that customer advocacy programs need to go beyond the asking-for-a-quick-favor model and instead flip the script so customers advocate for your brand because of how helpful you’ve been to them in their careers.

Why Should You Keep Reading?

We all have champion users who work high-pressure jobs and report to executives. They're working to see a positive ROI and solid value attainment from your solution; they are not working to make you look good. They work hard using your product so they can earn a promotion for themselves, expand their business unit, or prove their team’s impact and get more headcount. 

Advocacy programs need to be about what’s in it for customers, not what’s in it for program or brand leaders. Here’s a quick framework for how I think about building a legitimately customer-obsessed advocacy program, along with a few pieces of advice to help you tailor your organization’s approach.

The Customer Advocacy Framework I Use at OpenBlend

Whether you’re building an advocacy program from scratch or modifying one you already have in place, start by thinking about what types of advocacy you and your team already do. 

Most companies, especially in the SaaS space, want:

  • Case studies or customer testimonials
  • A logo bar on their website
  • A system for net new business referral calls

List out everything you can think of. Then, sort these items into one of four quadrants: Exposure, Credibility, Targeted, and Control, withThe Customer Experience” at the center.

how to build a customer advocacy program

Make it your mission to give your customer advocates one (or more) of these four “perks” with every invitation you present and every ask you make. For example, let’s say my team and I are sourcing a case study at OpenBlend. A case study gives the customer advocate in question control of the narrative and a hyper-targeted way to talk about their own success, as long as we stay out of the way and let them talk about them. 

One recent case study we published celebrated how successfully an advocate and their team had been at retaining, motivating, and attracting employees as of late. It was so focused on that person and their company that they’ve literally used our case study as a recruiting tool for prospective candidates as a “look how great it is to work here — people who work here stay!” resource, and also as a data point for their investors.

The bottom line is this: Get comfortable with your advocacy motions not existing only so customers say nice things about you. Some of your customers are working with half a dozen vendors, and the last thing you want is to be a vendor that makes them think, “They’re always wanting me to do something for them.” It should be more like, “They’re always doing things for me, and it’s refreshing.” 

3 Quick Hits of Advice for Building a Program Like This

So much of building a better customer advocacy program is shifting your mindset from “Can we get our customers to talk about us more?” to “Can we talk more about our customers?” Here are three practical pieces of advice I recommend to make this mindset shift easier to scale. 

1. Automate what you can

You can scale certain invitations really easily, like a request to use a customer’s logo on your website. Perhaps after a customer hits a certain milestone in your product or right after they renew and have a Health Score above a certain threshold, a one-question survey is deployed that says something like, "Your use of [PRODUCT] is inspirational; thanks for being a customer. Would you like us to feature your logo on our website?" 

Really easy, right? And feels totally about them, too.

Related: 3 Customer Success Touchpoints You Should Be Automating

2. Respect their time by setting clear expectations upfront 

Do whatever you can to remove anything time-consuming about being an advocate. Most of your advocates won’t have time to give you hours upon hours of interviews, referral calls, legal approvals, or any other jumping-through-hoops activities. Handle as much as you can for them. 

For instance, if you’ve invited them to speak at a live event, and they share that they’re not keen on standing in front of people or that their industry is so regulated that they’ll need to run their whole talk by their senior manager first, you’re not giving them an opportunity; they’re doing you a favor because of how much time it’ll take.

To solve this, do as much of the heavy lifting as you can for them. Give them an outline to show their manager with key talking points. Ask if they’d rather do a panel so it’s more than just them up on the stage and a touch more casual. Be accommodating.

One last thing here: Communicate how much time they’ll spend on any advocacy action so they can decide for themselves if it makes sense for them. At OpenBlend, a case study takes a maximum of two hours of an advocate’s time between interviewing and revisions, and then we deliver a beautiful written and slide deck version of the study for their own use internally. If it's a quote and logo that’ll live on our website, we say that’s roughly a 10-minute commitment on their end. Clarity around the what, why, how long, and when is key. 

3. Measure your program’s success

We stay away from over-analyzing things with our program because it makes it too much about us. That’s why at OpenBlend we really only track a couple of KPIs that seem to keep us working toward what our advocates enjoy most. We have goals around:

  • The number of case studies we publish each year featuring customer wins
  • What percentage of our customer base are customer advocates

For that second KPI, we keep track of who writes reviews on G2 or Trustpilot, speaks at our events to grow their personal brand, or writes blogs that we publish to amplify their voice. Often these small initial touchpoints open up the opportunity for heavier-lift advocacy down the line.

One Last Thing: How Do Customer Communities Fit in With Advocacy?

I haven’t touched on advocacy’s cousin: customer community. Community is trendy right now and for a good reason. One of my initiatives at work in partnership with our Community and Events Manager is to create a customer community for our admin users. 

The feedback we’re hearing from customers is that they want to speak to other customers. It’s one thing for me and my team to tell them the best way to use our solution, but it’s a whole other thing when a new retail customer can hear from another retail customer about how they’ve done things and seen results. Customers crave these interactions. In my experience, if you give them an easy avenue for accessing each other, they will reach out for support and advice. 

The best, most authentic advocacy I’ve seen is when customers talk to customers organically. Build the right environment, and they’ll basically do your job for you.

Final Thoughts

Successful advocacy programs have two things in common: 

  1. Structure: Steal my framework or come up with one of your own, but ad-hoc advocacy isn’t sustainable.  
  2. Selflessness: Remind yourself, your team, your leaders, and even your customers that customer advocacy’s job is not to advocate for your brand or product, but to advocate for your customers and the amazing things they’re doing. It’s not a transactional favor-exchange program; it’s a partnership.

I’ll leave you with this: Put your customers at the center of every story you tell and every request you make, and then take a humble backseat. You only helped bring their win to life. This approach will make for the kind of customer advocacy program customers can’t wait to join.


We hope you enjoyed learning about Haig’s approach to building a customer advocacy program that breaks the mold. If you want to keep reading and learning, visit the Success Network, a community-focused content hub featuring tips and innovative strategies from top thought-leaders in CS.

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