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Microsoft's Secrets for Creating Customer Evangelists

In an age when potential buyers regularly research reviews and testimonials of products and services as part of the purchasing process, customer evangelists have become an essential part of partners' sales and marketing efforts.

To build the kind of loyalty that motivates customers to spend time on reference calls, case study interviews and event appearances, Microsoft takes a continuous approach to nurturing those relationships. Without making a big investment, partners can build their own league of customer evangelists, willing to devote time to sharing their story with prospects.

"When you are trying to make your number every quarter, you need customers to help you send home the message," says Kimberly Gordon, director of Microsoft's U.S. customer reference and advocate program. "I used to sell and understand the importance of the reference call."

To be able to support those reference calls on their own, partners need to develop long-term, two-way relationships. In a project-driven industry, many partners built their businesses on short-term customer engagement: Make the sale, implement the project and move on to the next one. Nurturing customers may not be part of their company DNA.

"Forging those long-term relationships with customers is really just about letting them know that you care," Gordon said. "It starts with things like quickly getting them through any deployment issues and always calling them back within 24 hours. Nurturing begins with the very first project and never stops."

One of the best things about nurturing clients is that is doesn't require deep pockets. Gordon says that many of the Microsoft strategies to reward customer advocates cost nothing but time -- for example, connecting the customer to specialized resources when they need help on a project, providing a quote for the customer's press release, or featuring the customer story in a national publication.

One of the most popular "thank you's" sponsored by Gordon's team has been an executive breakfast held every year at Microsoft's now-discontinued Convergence conference. The breakfast gave customers who had served as references an opportunity to interact directly with Microsoft executives, industry analysts and peers. "Our goal was to simply to show the customers how much we appreciate their time without asking for anything," said Gordon.

Without a big investment, partners can implement a similar customer advocacy reward program. Actively and continuously showing appreciation for customers smooths the way when you need a favor. A few ideas to get you going include:

  • Tweet or blog about customer achievements.
  • Ask customers to speak at your next event, providing them with exposure to a local audience.
  • Sponsor a quarterly networking event or executive briefing for clients at a craft brewery.
  • Make proactive calls to check in on customers.       

A programmatic effort to consistently engage with your customers will pay off in additional business, as well as provide a steady source of references.   

"At the end of the day, you don't want to ignore existing customers. Don't just go back when it's time to renew a contract or get idle people off the bench," said Gordon. "Make customers feel valued with the small things that you do over time. Provide that value add and take your relationship one step further."

How do you build long-term customer relationships? Add a comment below or send me an e-mail and let's share the knowledge.

Posted by Barb Levisay on May 05, 2016 at 9:56 AM