A significant body of research now shows that providing a great customer experience is the main reason why customers advocate a brand. Delivering remarkable value and customer service creates advocacy. But this is a generalization. If we look more closely at why different types of customer are driven to advocate the technology products they use, there are different motivations that emerge. In this article, we’re going to look at the nuances of one particular group of technology buyers – the “innovators”.
Innovators are the fast movers. The people who are quick to see the value in a new technology. They are people of vision. They think about the future and they have their fingers on the pulse of new trends and new technologies. They know that there’s always a risk associated with the new, but they also know that cutting-edge strategies, methods and technologies can give them a business edge – if they’re fast and seize the advantage. They want to be the first to adopt new technologies, to gain that edge before the early adopters, early majority and late majority turn today’s cutting edge tech into tomorrow’s commodity.
When innovators spot a new technology category, one that can help them achieve their business objectives, they embrace it. They educate themselves on emerging best practices, they take a close look at the market in its infancy, they develop their own vision. They see the potential returns – even if there isn’t a quantifiable, watertight business case (because there are few established success metrics and few case studies on the cutting edge).
When they buy a new type of technology, innovators know that there are risks and uncertainties. They’ll probably need to experiment with the technology quite a lot to make it work for them. And they’ll have to do it largely on their own (as bleeding edge vendors often have little in the way of proven methods and supporting partners).
The many uncertainties usually dissuade the more risk-averse mainstream market buyers. For them, there are too many questions standing in the way. Does it actually work? Can we speak to a reference customer that matches our business profile? Will the vendor still be around in a year, or two years, or five years? Without a vendor backing the product, they’ll be left without updates and support. If it’s a cloud technology product, the technology itself may cease to exist overnight, leaving a gaping hole in their operations. In the absence of a strong vision, and no history of successfully gaining dividends by riding the innovation wave, mainstream market buyers resort to their default “wait and see” position.
When innovators embrace a new technology, it’s often gut instinct that tells them that the benefits outweigh the risks…but they do want to negate the risks wherever possible. After all, no business can afford to hurl itself down a dead end too often. Naturally, Innovators want the vendor to stick around while they squeeze out value, so they advocate the vendor’s products to their peers (who tend to be other innovators). They know that for a technology vendor, more customers means more stability. More stability means a longer product life. And a longer product life means reduced risk for them. By making recommendations to their peers, they themselves drive sales and help keep the lights on at the vendor. Their recommendations are powerful indeed. Geoffrey Moore calls the phenomenon of customers creating more customers “enlistment” and it is an exceptionally powerful growth driver.
So although the general theme is that the route to brand advocacy is a solid, valuable customer experience, growing B2B tech companies need to understand that their early customer base has a vested interest in advocating their product to reduce the risk to themselves (as well as the kudos they gain for themselves as an industry trailblazer).
It is precisely this sort of reciprocal relationship that marketeers should be looking for when planning an advocate marketing program – and having a deep understanding of customers is fundamental – wherever your technology product currently sits on the innovation adoption lifecycle. It is only when marketers truly understand the psychographics of their customers that they can devise effective advocate marketing tactics that engage with targeted precision. Shotgun tactics (frequently driven by demanding sales managers, a desperate need to “win the popularity contest”, or to extend social reach) only really serve to maim your customer base in exchange for rapidly diminishing engagement levels.