At the time of this presentation, Jon was the Head of Global Customer Advocacy at Sage. He is now the Senior Manager of Customer Advocacy at Scandit. You can catch up on our other presentations using our OnDemand service.

My name is Jon Ashley, and I am the Head of Global Customer Advocacy at the accountancy software firm Sage.  In this article, I want to share with you some insights into the world of customer advocacy. I’ll also be sharing my five top tips for scaling your advocacy program.

Wherever you are in your advocacy-led initiatives, I hope that in this article, there'll be something for everyone to take away.

We're going to cover three main topics:

Let’s dive in!

The shifting challenge that sales or marketing face

A woman looking thoughtful and the words "Empowered", "peer driven", "sceptical" and "cautious" pointed at her.

I'll be honest, it's tough out there. From a selling perspective, there’s been a real balance shift over the last ten years that’s really empowered the buyer to be able to make decisions without the need to consume traditional marketing content.

It's harder than ever to get a message into the hands of buyers. Buyers are more likely to listen to the opinions of colleagues, friends, and family. And they really treat anything that marketing says or does with a certain degree of skepticism- they’re more cautious than ever before, and for good reason.

Buyers ask harder questions of businesses because they want more from what they buy.

Today, businesses need to consider so much more than just the standard model of marketing. And there are many other factors that drive this buying decision:

  • Is your brand authentic in what it says?
  • Is the brand stable?
  • Do I see the value of what this brand offers?
  • What's your reputation?
  • How seriously do you take corporate social responsibility?
  • What's the policy for ethics, sustainability, and the environment?
  • Are you a trusted voice?

All of this adds up to one thing: do I trust this brand?

And that means the needs of the customer go far beyond simple product price place and promotion marketing activities. Now, trust must be earned, and it’s a major factor in the buying decision.

But you also have to ask yourself, what are the trustworthy sources? Is it the marketing message? Or is it the recommendation of your friend, colleague, or family member?

An advertisement of pills which says "you will never die, buy now and live forever- as used by Elvis Presley" with a question mark, and then a picture of two men at a pub, with the first man showing the second man something on his phone.

Trust needs to be earned

If you're in the market for a new mobile phone, you're more likely to ask a friend or colleague or a family member.

Because if they're using the phone, you're more likely to trust their opinion. You’re less likely to trust that of a salesperson inside a shop. Now, they’ll give you good advice… but you want to know you're making the right decision.

So, there's always this thought in the back of your mind that maybe the salesperson is trying to sell you something they want to sell you rather than what actually meets your needs.

Buying decisions are based on multiple factors

The issue of trust and self-empowerment gives sales and marketing people a real headache! If you think about it, to show that you're trusted means you need to have a completely customer-focused culture.

That starts within your business and it starts at all levels:

  • From research and development,
  • From customer support to customer success,
  • To human resources and public relations,
  • I’d even say the janitors should be involved!

But that really defines how your organization shapes itself, and how you’re perceived. Once you have that in place, it means you can really focus on walking the walk and talking the talk.

Having a customer-obsessed organization is a major factor in driving the real voice of the customer marketing content. And that often leads to a winning and rewarding customer advocacy program.

Online reviews

Did you know that 89% of potential buyers will seek out reviews to help them with their buying decision?

A man looking thoughful, with the stat 89% next to him.

Peer recommendations

92% of potential buyers trust peer recommendations. That accounts for 92% of that decision-making. So, that's friends, family, and even colleagues. And certainly don't underestimate the power and reach of the so-called influencer.

A woman looking thoughtful with the stat 92% next to her.

Case studies and testimonials

Now, 79% of potential buyers actively look for success stories, case studies, or even simple testimonials. These give them the reassurance that they're making an informed buying decision because someone else has already done it.

A man looking thoughtful with the stat 79% next to him

Customers not feeling valued

58% of customers say they leave a brand because they just don't feel valued anymore.

They're not being looked after.  That means that all of that hard work that's gone into acquiring that customer is lost because they just don't feel valued. There's no engagement with them. The truth is, businesses need advocates, and they need to take them seriously.

A man looking unhappy with the stat 58% next to him

Reference customers and advocates

You have a 60% better chance of winning business. When you insert a reference advocate or reference customer into the sales deal. Advocates of a brand stay longer, and they're worth 20 times the value of the original purchase over the lifetime of the relationship.

A woman looking confused with the stat 20x next to her

How many times have you heard businesses talking about lifetime customer value or customer retention, only to see plans and slides that just talk about new customer acquisition?

But which do you trust?

And of course, when it comes to trust, it's not just based on price, there are lots of other factors you need to take into account.

Different value proposition

An image of three pairs of trainers, the first is £100, and from Nike, and the comments say "Their prices can sometimes be a bit high, but I always want to shop for high quality shoes" and "by far the worst CX ive ever had, Nike your customer service team need some serious coaching." then a pair costing £13, and the comments say "I've tried the Lidl trainers, and a few other more expensive brands, but I've gone back to the Lidl ones!" and "It's LIDL!" WHy would you wear these? Serious these will make you look cheap and a fashion pariah", and then a pair of counterfeit shoes priced £2 and the comments say "Thats genius. It made me look twice! But I wouldn't buy them, not even at a £2 price tag." and "The copyright infringement is obvious and wearing these would be dubious at best".

So for example, we have three sets of sneakers, each with a different value proposition.

The value proposition with the first set on the left is that it's Nike, the middle pair that comes from a well-known low-cost supermarket chain. The ones on the right-hand side are just knock-offs. They're not really based on anything they'd be made cheap, and they're trying to use someone else's brand.

But the thing is if you're a brand advocate for Nike, or you're a brand advocate for Lidl, or you just want something cheap, what people say about this will sway your decision.

  1. What about poor customer service?

Now Nike, for example, is not immune to poor customer service. But from an advocate's perspective, is that enough to stop them from buying a Nike sneaker? No, because advocates are much more willing to forgive the occasional slip-up. They're less focused on price, they're more focused on the brand.

2. Perfectly functional, but not a trusted brand

Now in the middle, we have a pair of Lidl sneakers.

Now, they're perfectly functional. They do the job. They're just… well….they're from Lidl. They're only cheap to buy in the store today, people will buy them, and then they resell them for huge amounts of money.

Now, I'm not saying for one moment that that's the right thing to do. You should be buying the brand based on:

  • Is it comfortable?
  • Is it something I want to wear out?
  • Would you actually wear these out at all?

3. The lowest end of the scale

Finally, we have the sneakers on the right-hand side. Of course, most people would not buy a knockoff sneaker, but you'd be surprised.

Now in all three of those examples, there's a degree of trust. In the far left-hand corner for Nike, it’s about trusting that their brand is a global brand that everyone recognizes. It has a degree of desire around it. On the far right-hand side, you're probably only ever going to buy that if it's a joke.

But there are certain things throughout this journey that determine which one you buy, and the reasons why you buy them.

You need advocates

Traditional buying journey

Now, if you look at the traditional buying journey, we all know this is all based on interests, awareness, and consideration. That sales cycle has been done to death a million times.

Marketers traditionally aren't focused on customers who have bought, they're more focused on the desire to find new customers. And that can sometimes be costly, it can be inefficient, The marketing stack always tends to focus more on customer acquisition than it does on anything else. That's fine.

This is where advocacy comes in. This is why we're seeing a shift, and a generation of new advocate marketers being born. Advocacy focuses on the needs of the customers we saw earlier.

But that is a journey in itself. And as a tip, your decision on where to include your advocates in your program really depends on where they are in their journey to advocacy. Now, you can use the NPS scale here to monitor where your advocates are.

You may even have a policy that says you'll bring advocates into your program at the enthusiast level, but most of us will bring them in at the advocate level. And the reason we do this is that they're more willing to get involved in things like references, referrals, reviews, and other acts of advocacy.

Every advocate will start as a user, and as long as they're kept happy, they will progress. They will become an enthusiast, they will become a loyalist, and they will become an advocate. But it's how you treat them through that journey that counts.

Now, most advocacy programs will engage at the advocate level. As we've said, you'll be able to judge this through sentiment and tools such as MPs, but the advocate stage is critical.

This is where your opportunity comes in to nurture that advocate to become even more loyal and to engage your advocates in other types of activities.

Traditionally, a small-scale advocacy program will focus on the basics, the references, the reviews, the referrals. But there are so many other things you could do which engage your advocates and an entirely new level.

How to scale your advocacy program

Depending on the scale of your program, your resources, and your strategic ambition, there are so many different acts of advocacy that you can use as a secret weapon. The voice of the advocate is one of the most powerful things you can capture.

But it goes so much further than traditional acts such as case studies and testimonials.

And you may be wondering how you can do all this. But it is possible. You can achieve glowing results by putting the customer at the heart and center of everything you do in advocacy.

A chart labelled "what are the acts of advocacy your customers can undertake?" and it says "Advisory board, analyst interaction, beta testing, best practices/tips, blogs, C Level 1-2-1, Case studies, consume content, content feedback, cross sell/up sell, education, event attendance, event speaking, giving back, feedback, forums, fun, join a program, nurture campaign, onboarding, photography, physical activities, podcasts, PR opportunity, product feedback, product updates, relationship building, recognition, references, referrals, research, reviews, share social media, surveys, testimonial quotes, training, videos, webinar attendance, webinar speaking and white papers."

Have you scaled your advocacy program?

So, can you scale the advocacy program that you have today? Or have you even started your advocacy journey? Even if you have an advocacy program today, it may be a simple program that could be more advanced.

But in either example, there are elements that you need to consider. If you want to grow your simple program or evolve to an advanced program, you'll need to have your business supporting you and understanding what you can achieve.

A simple advocacy program

This can be as simple as covering the fundamentals.

  • You could just be doing success stories.
  • You could just be doing blogs with customers.
  • You could just be asking them to provide you with testimonial quotes that you can use in marketing material.

But your interaction with these customers is probably on an ‘as and when' basis. You could have a very limited scale approach to how you reward and recognize and incentivize your customers. You may have some tools and reporting that might be limited. I've seen good advocacy programs that use Microsoft Excel.

They use traditional email resources that are unable to scale. And the reason they're unable to scale is that those types of tools need to be quite different when you start to bring in more advocates.

Advanced advocacy program

An advanced advocacy program gives you much more scope and more depth. It allows you to provide multiple acts of advocacy. You can get instant advocate reach, and you can get real-time responses and feedback.

And when you formalize this community, you're starting to bring in a pragmatic design or feel. My advice here is, if you are taking your program from a simple advocacy program, where you're doing the basics, consider a tool, it's much easier to scale.

Consider a specifically designed tool that's going to help. There's plenty out there. Okay. My favorite by far is based on the Influitive platform. However, it really depends on what you're trying to achieve.

But you can get sophisticated reporting that can track everything that your advocate is doing. That also includes social media. And the great thing about having an advanced program, particularly if you're using an online tool, is that it is infinitely scalable.

Questions to ask yourself

Now the other questions to ask yourself around this is, do you need a simple or an advanced advocacy program? Also, what outcomes are you trying to achieve? Have your stakeholders bought into the idea of advocacy? If they haven’t, then there's a real job to be done there to get them on board.

And this goes back to where we talk about customer obsession. If your business is not obsessed, or totally customer-focused, it's really hard to get stakeholder buy-in, if you want to take your advocacy program from basic to advanced.

How many customer advocates do you have?

  • How do you find them?
  • Do you have something like NPS in your organization?
  • Do you want advanced interactions with your advocates?
  • Are you aligned with your sales and marketing strategies?
  • Do sales and marketing see what you're trying to achieve?
  • Can they see the end game of your advocacy program?
  • Do you have an appropriate budget?

Five tips to consider

Define your outcomes

title that says "what do you want to achieve in your program?" and then a subheading which says "define, but importantly, balance your outcomes", then a heading which says "revenue" and underneath it a list that says "references, referrals, nurture, cross-sell, upsell". The next heading says external influence and the list underneath says reviews, social sharing, blogs, success stories, forums, webinars, events. And the final heading says "fun" and underneath it says "building relationships, special dates, taking a break, socialising, and education."

The definition of your program will focus on what you're delivering to the business.

What you don't want is your program being seen as a ‘nice to have.’ Your program should touch all areas of your business and have specific business benefits that appeal basically to everyone.


The simplest measure there is references, referrals, and nurture opportunities. But also don't forget to cross-sell and upsell. Advocates are much more willing to undertake activities that expose them to cross-sell and upsell opportunities.

More importantly, if you're ever talking to services support, they're much more willing to not argue over renewals, so bear that in mind.

External influence

You can start thinking about reviews and your external influences. Your advocate's voice is being used in the public domain.

This is where they're promoting you. This is the peer-to-peer approach.


And finally, don't forget about the fun elements. The fun doesn't have to be silly or whimsical. It can be fun in a creative way. Think about your learning. Think about how you socialize with your advocates.

Think about how you educate your advocates, by how you educate them in a fun way. Some of the most fun challenges that we have within the sage champions program get some of the biggest responses. You'd be amazed at how many people are really interested in just doing some fun activities.

Get buy-in

a question that asks "who are the stakeholders you need to onboard?" a heading that says "reinforce the program value benefits" and then five points which say "c-level, senior leaders: revenue generated and influenced", "Sales: new business referrals and improved reference process", "Marketing: campaigns, customer testimonials, surveys, reviews, social sharing", "customer success: renewals, cross sell, and upsell, product education." and finally, "Service and support: reduced tech calls, crowd sourced support."

You need to ensure you get buy-in at all levels. That also raises your profile, but also your colleagues can see the value of the contributions you're making. But importantly, don't give them just the fluffy stuff. Some of the fluffy stuff is important, but take them through what's really making a difference to them.

Senior leaders

They’re interested in revenue, what's been generated and what's being influenced, or what's even being protected.


They care about new business referrals and how you can get them involved in the reference process.


This is how advocates can get involved in campaigns, how they can help with content, and how they can help with providing testimonials or doing surveys or reviews.

Customer success

They will love you because you're making it easier for them when it comes to renewals!

You'll also get really good handles on how to position cross-sell and upsell opportunities, but also help them get the most from the product they bought.

Service and support

And finally, don't forget about service and support. You can reduce technical support calls, and you can start to crowdsource support to answer those technical queries.

Then you're reducing the kind of calls and the queries that go into your support desk.

Be flexible. Maintain flexibility.

A statement which says "Adapt your program to your advocates, constantly review, change, flex and adapt your program" and then five points which say "Flex all the time: be courageous and embrace experimentation", "evaluate engagement, if its not working, then change it!". "dont addume, be empathetic and humble, ask your advocates for feedback", "be inquisitive, what areas of your business could you integrate into, leading with your program?" and finally "be consistent, keep your advocates engaged or theyll lose interest".

Don't be afraid to constantly evaluate where you are with your program. It's fine if you want to change direction, especially if you're reflecting on changing advocate needs.

Keep asking your advocates questions, keep asking them about how they're enjoying the program. Ask them about what they're doing in the program. Also, try to include new advocates in your activities.

I've seen so many programs over my years working so hard to find, recruit and involve new advocates. But they inevitably lose them because there aren't enough activities in the program on a regular basis to keep them engaged. Be consistent.

Make it desirable

A question which says "is your program exclusive or desirable? Is it unique, exclusive, and not available anywhere else?" and five points which say "Make it stand out: whats different about your program?" "Exclusivity is key: why would I join if its not exclusive?" "adopt a VIP mentality- these are your best customers- make them know that!" "Go the extra EXTRA mile, advocates are VIPs give them VIP treatment and then surprise me! do something unexpected- surprise and delight".

This one is a bit controversial. But I am a believer that your advocacy program, or at least the advocacy program we run at Sage, should be exclusive and have an air of a club about it.

And sometimes this may give you the opportunity to engage those customers who are traditionally not seen as advocates by saying, “Would you like to join the club?” It’s a perfect opportunity for you to open dialogue, find out why they want to join, and engage them directly.

Don’t exclude people

Obviously, you don't want to exclude customers as such, but people's curiosity will get the better of them, then they want to know what your club's about. They want to know what your advocacy program is about.

They want to know why they're not involved. You'll be able to dialogue with them around this.

Give them the VIP treatment

They'll want to join, especially if they see your program visibly in action. Now, that's a great opportunity to introduce events into the equation

If an advocate sees some form of VIP treatment, or they're being given VIP treatment, other customers will want some of that. Keep that exclusivity. Keep that desirability. This is absolutely key.

We've been sending out boxes full of goodies to customers when we sign them up. It's not just a random bunch of stuff. It's actually been really carefully thought through. There are things within that box and the way they're presented that say quality. There’s something else that will make your program stand out, surprise and delight.


A heading which says include your advocates and your company, make sure your advocacy efforts are being heard and celebrated" and then five points which say "take action- youll get feedback good and bad. dont bury it- share it, learn from it!", "use your personality: through your communications add your personality to make it human", "earn your seat, don't expect a seat at the table, earn it by sharing successes" "shout about it, all the time, be proud. share your successes with your business- everyone!" and finally "tell your advocates, celebrate with them, they are your community!"

Include your advocates and your company

Communication here is twofold. This is what you communicate internally and what you communicate to your advocates. But be careful if you're using a third-party platform as we discussed around an advanced program.

You may have to make it clear that your advocate program doesn't have the same communication preference that your main business may have. Always think of that and make sure it's clear and that your advocates have an option, and make sure they know how to do it.

Find yourself a sponsor

Now, sometimes trying to get your voice heard in larger organizations is really difficult, especially when you're experiencing over communication throughout the business.

My advice here? Find yourself a senior lead sponsor, the face of your program. Even if it's your CEO, that will give you the standout element you're looking for. And remember to make everything you communicate internally in your business, positive, and celebratory! Tell your advocates about what other advocates are doing within your program.

Put your customers at the center of what you do

One of the biggest successes we've enjoyed within the Sage Champions Program is producing an internal video that actually puts our customers at the heart and center. We asked them to talk about what they love about being part of our program. It was amazing!

One of our advocates said the advocacy program has changed their entire perception about Sage, and we now feel part of the family. It works and there's nothing better than hearing your customers praise your program. If you have a discussion forum, use it to your advantage and use it to let advocates talk to each other.

Enjoy the interaction!

Finally, enjoy what you've built. Building advocacy is great fun if you love working with customers.

If you enjoy interacting with customers, you are in the right job. I absolutely love what I do. I love working with customers and I love working with teams because we're all focused on one thing and that is making sure the customer is treated like the VIP king or queen that they deserve to be.