The initial challenge of any business is to generate awareness with their target audience and ensure that your brand is correctly associated with solving the pain-points that it is engineered to address. In other words, unless your market knows who you are and what you do there is no chance of them seeking your help at the points in time where their pain has become so acute that they are prepared to invest time and money in seeking a cure.
In addition to knowing who you are and what you do, the next key milestone is to establish trust. Consumers are, quite justifiably, cynical about marketing claims and cautious about investing time, money or building any reliance upon a product or service that they haven't satisfied themselves as being ethical and trustworthy. Of course, the strongest trust builder is recommendation from a trusted source – ideally a trusted individual.
It is only after awareness, need and a minimal level of trust have been established that any two way communication should be established. This can be online or in person, the key element being that the prospect consciously contributes and ( ideally) initiates or permits two way dialogue. The primary outcome of this conversation should be to further re-enforce trust ! The secondary purpose is to confirm that your solution addresses their need and they have acknowledged an intent to satisfy that need.
From the second interaction onwards, we move from the classic domain of marketing into a traditional sales process. This should, ideally be conducted in person ( including F2F/Phone/email etc) with the desired outcome being a transaction resulting in the prospect becoming a paying customer.
The ideal outcome of any marketing activity, particularly for SaaS businesses, is to “go viral”, in other words to get your customers to introduce their own network of contacts to your product with an implicit “ personal recommendation”.In order to achieve this it is important to understand that at the point of selling something you are only half way through the overall process !
Having a new customer is wonderful, turning them into an advocate is all about ensuring that they have the best possible experience of using your product, so the responsibility hands back to marketing and introduces the technical services team.
It is important to welcome your new customer with user guides, ideally in both document and video formats and provide voice support during the initial set up stages. In a PAYG business, it is very easy to lose a customer at the first hurdle. First impressions will either confirm the trust they have granted you throughout the sales process, or destroy it. Helping a customer navigate the set up and initial user experience is the single most important activity that established loyalty.
When fully on board, regular communication shouldn't cease. Tips and tricks emails need to be scheduled. User communities need to be fostered. A friendly and accessible help desk must be provided. It is important that your customers are getting the most out of your technology, one step at a time. Building respect for both the product and the people they interact with from your company will have a more significant impact on your future success than almost any other factor.
With a happy, loyal user base you finally have the foundation for viral growth. Note, viral growth is not necessarily exponential growth, it is merely getting your customers to find you new customers. It is about reducing the cost and increasing the speed of stages 1-3 of the viral cycle.
Moving from Loyalty to Advocacy is not necessarily an automatic result of a happy customer. The process needs to be made as easy as possible and your loyal base needs to be encouraged and incentivised to take that step on your behalf. However much they love you and your fantastic product, they are unlikely to pro actively recommend you to others if it requires any significant effort, ideally no more than a single click.
The mechanism of advocacy needs to be built into your product and there needs to be some reason to act, some benefit or reward that recompenses them for both the effort and the value of their hard won reputation within their personal network.