We’ve seen a lot of advocates get promotions because they’ve been involved in case studies or they’ve done speaking opportunities.
Our job in the customer advocacy field is helping build their confidence so they feel they can be successful in sharing their story.
That’s an exciting component of it: helping them feel brave about their journey. Helping them transform their organization was critical to their success.
Alrighty folks, I’m Sam Shepler, and this is another episode of the State of Customer Storytelling podcast, brought to you by Testimonial Hero. This is the podcast that is all about helping you, as a B2B marketing leader, get the download on current practices and tactics related to all things customer storytelling, customer advocacy, and customer marketing.
Our guest today is Jeff Gabel, Customer Advocacy Lead at ServiceNow.
Jeff, it’s fantastic to have you here today. Welcome to the show.
Sam, I appreciate you having me. I’m excited to dig into it.
We were talking about it in the pre-show just now, and one of the things that came up is how human stories, customer stories, are more important than ever. Tell me a little more about that. Why are customer stories more important than ever?
Sam, I think that’s the theme. We’re getting back to human. We’re telling really amazing stories, and we’re putting our customers at center stage.
We want to focus on what drives people, what drives purpose, and how we make our customer’s journey a lot easier. We’re really getting at the heart of our customer stories, and really making it about them, and putting them first.
We’re putting them on center stage, and we’re championing our customers, our main stakeholders, those who are doing amazing work and driving digital transformation across their business.
So we’re really excited to tell these customer journeys that are all about people, and what’s feeling behind them.
We’re doing a lot of great campaigns that are focused on the people who are brave enough to take on digital transformation. People who are excited to drive change within their own organization, and we’re putting them first.
It’s an exciting time to be in customer advocacy. It’s very much about the human story, their journey, their success, their challenges, just a very human concept to talk about everything, to be really transparent about.
We also live in a very different world from two years ago. With COVID, it’s gotten a bit more skeptical one could say, and we want to drive those human connections, whether those are reference calls where we’re putting two together customers together to talk about their journey, or whether it’s a case study or a video that drives the real human impact of how the organization has benefited from the platform.
It’s exciting, and we’re driving a lot of these human stories right now.
I love that you brought up, you know, showing how brave people are, you know, to kinda, you know, spotlighting the customer. Tell me of more about that. Why is that session important? concept in your opinion to, you know, make the customer the hero of the story.
Well, I think what’s, what’s really interesting with an adequacy of what I’ve experienced is a lot of our champions and main stakeholders. Don’t always get the credit that they deserve. They’re in the background, they’re pulling the strings, they’re extended driving digital transformation, but it’s very much in the background and they don’t get the exposure that.
Th that they deserve. so you know, the reason why I love being in customer advocacy is, is it brings to light our customers and their success. they find that, you know, they’re doing business as usual, but these are really important, you know, changes that they’re making in their organization, to drive people and process.
What’s really exciting is bring their human stories to life, to have them get the recognition that they deserve. and also for the promotions that they also end up receiving as well. We’ve seen a lot of advocates across the years get promotions because they’ve been involved in case studies or they they’ve done speaking opportunities.
And a lot of. You know, our job in the customer advocacy field is helping build their confidence so that they feel That they can be successful in sharing their story. so, you know, I think, I think, that’s, an exciting component of it, of helping them feel brave. That their journey in helping to, transform their organization was critical for their success to survive. so it’s, it’s always fun working together with the customer and getting them to that aha moment where they’re like, wow, these are the KPIs that we’ve delivered. This is the ROI. That we put it back to the organization and you know, really I’ve been so busy that I haven’t really thought about it. I think that’s, that’s the most surprising part that most customers don’t even think about their own KPIs.
They’re so busy, they’re so heads down. and we’re helping to, to unlock that value, to help them really be confident in their own success. And that drives everything that drives success internally because when executive stakeholders see those case studies see those videos. J a step back and say, you know, wow, that, that that’s really amazing.
So it’s really a proud moment to be in customer advocacy and to help boost their confidence, boost their bravery, to, to share their, their journey.
And how do you build that trust with customers really quickly, maybe prior to, you know, the experience, right? Like it’s a you know, they, they may, they really have the sense of pride after, you know, maybe you’ve established the relationship and you’ve, you’ve held them up as a example of best practices and made them.
Awesome. And just like our rockstar in their, in their industry. What about, you know, before that, how do you build that initial trust to actually, you know, start those conversations and, and start those initiatives.
Yeah, it’s definitely a long journey from initial conversation to rockstar status. but you know, like I said, it goes back to being a human. How do you build really human relationships, really trusting relationships fast. and that stems back with, you know, working with, you know, the account teams. So you really know you have the best data going forward into some of those customer conversations, that you’re well-prepared and can.
Really help craft their journey and make sure it’s a great experience. well we liked to call it an absolute. Is creating a life Allah current opportunities, which means how do we deliver hospitality, Alec cart? And how do we let the customers feel like they’re in the driver’s seat of choosing their path forward with advocacy?
Are they comfortable speakers? Are they, you know, good at driving change in their organization? Are they storytellers? Whatever it means. I think that at first, that first initial conversation where you’re getting to know them is really about getting to know them and really what drives them. Are they interested in, you know, getting exposure and getting a promotion?
Are they interested in, you know, something else? Are they interested in. helping others, you know, support change. I think understanding their persona really quickly when you have this first initial conversations are critical because that will help drive further outcomes. But to get to that journey from that initial starting point, and really getting to know them and what drives them, we’ll help you craft the opportunities ahead and make sure that you can match them with the right opportunities because not everyone is geared for. Center stage or for speaking at the next no keynote event, you want them to feel comfortable. So you have to really develop that level of comfort with them. show that you’re a partner with them. That you’re their biggest advocate, as well, like to tell our customers, like I’m, I’m your champion, I’m your advocate.
I want to find the right opportunity for you based on your unique set of skills. so how can I help you? How can this be? About you. Cause this is not about me. This is not about, you know, organizations that we, that we support. we want this to make it about our customers and about our champions.
I love that you brought up, you know, understanding their persona because that is a nuance that, I personally, you know, don’t hear it as much. you know, it’s such a good point, right? It’s yeah. Letting them choose their path in that, some people will, gush and over a reference call and that fits, you know, what they would like to do, but they’re not going to ever do a speaking engagement in front of a thousand people.
Right. And so, so that is, I’d love to just kinda double and double click into that a bit more. I guess, how do you sort of frame, you know, even when you’re starting those conversations at service now, how do you sort of frame frame it, you know, going about setting up that, that initial meeting, you know, if that’s kind of how you do it, you
Know, to, to kinda, I guess, onboard them into your program and start to like, gather that info and understand their persona.
How do you guys, you know, really functionally go about that?
Yeah, I think it starts with having really good Intel and then building from there having the right stakeholders in the room. so whether it’s bringing in the account team, bringing, you know, a solution consultant to really help, you know, bolster the conversation and to really. You know, ping pong it at play.
How do we dig as much information as we can out of the customer? How do we identify that persona? How do we understand the KPIs really quickly? So we can dig into that. And I think what’s really critical as well. When you’re thinking about, you know, big organizations. And most likely when they’re public is figuring out what are their top line themes in the organization that they’re looking to put out into the marketplace.
So really doing your research with, with the account and understanding, you know, what’s the news, what’s the top line headers, how have they done historically? And what are the key, you know, missions for, for the CIO, for anyone, you know, in that organization? so if you can understand that and really do your research, you can figure out how those KPIs relate to, to top line growth and to, messages that they want to put out in the world.
So, if one of their core missions is to drive digital transformation or to create a really seamless experience for customers. How do you take some of those KPIs and translate that and make it so they are the most customer centric organization, or, you know, for example, with, with HR, if they’re creating really seamless experiences for their employees, Where they’re retaining people better when they’re creating a better workplace, a more inclusive workplace, whatever it may be.
How can you translate that message back to, you know, the, the, the platform? How can you make it? So, you know, X organization is the best workplace, and they’ve won countless awards. Because of their seamless digital experiences, you know, with, with their own, with their own employees that are seamless, that are frictionless.
So I think that’s, what’s really exciting is, you know, you do your research, you understand the persona and then you’re connecting all the dots. It’s kind of like, what’s that movie, minority report. It’s like minority report where you’re taking all of this data and you’re in, you’re putting it together into one kind of seamless package.
And you’re delivering that package back up, to the customer by taking what what’s really in it for them. And you know what you’re hoping to deliver.
I love that analogy. And I was going to say it was like an archeology thing, but like, yes, that’s, that’s, that’s, that’s a perfect analogy. Right? It’s like getting all this data, you got to figure it out. I want to, you know, get more of your insight on the breadth of, in the, or the menu of all of these different advocacy activities.
Because I think of. people, especially as they’re, you know, maybe at a smaller sized company, and they’re just getting started on this journey that they think, you know, advocacy consists solely of, you know, writing case studies, doing reference calls and doing video testimonials.
Right. And like, honestly, that’s a great start for, at a lot of stages for folks, but you, you all clearly have much more, a bigger menu Write of, of advocacy options. can you share, you know, more specifics on that? You know, you know, what is that, what is, what are all the ways that if I’m an advocate, if I want to, you know, if I’m willing to advocate for service now that that I can potentially participate.
Well, I think the interesting thing within advocacy is every organization that I’ve been in has been different approach with advocacy, meaning I’ve used different skillsets based on the organization to really drive the practice. So whether you’re building a reference program, whether you’re doing a more programmatic, you know, program that that’s gamified.
Or doing, you know, traditional case studies, reference calls, working with events, you know, to play speakers. They, they’re all different, they’re all different characteristics and they’re all different skillsets. so what I think is exciting is, you know, right now we have the full, you know, menu of opportunities and, and my job is, is very much focused around, you know, building relationships with people.
That’s the. Left side of the brain that, that I really enjoy. Well, it’s not just about, you know, pumping out the case study, but it’s about the relationships and the journey mapping, and making sure that this is the right opportunity to use for our internal stake holders for our external stakeholder.
And, you know, as we talked about putting together the pieces of that puzzle, so we have a full menu of opportunities from analyst relations, speaking opportunities, case studies, one-to-one reference calls. and when we onboard folks, it’s really about, you know, understanding where they might be the best fit for the organization.
And what’s best for. for them. So we really want to take the time to understand them and to find the right opportunities, whether that’s for, you know, thought leadership.
We do a lot of, you know, pieces there where we’re putting them at center stage with major publications. and a lot of folks get, get really excited about it especially, you know, CEOs and other, you know, core stakeholders where they want to build their own personal thought leadership. so I think it’s exciting. We have something for everyone. we put it out all Allah cart and we let them, you know, kind of sample, sample everything, but, you know, it, it, it’s exciting. And, we try to match make it as, as, as best as we can.
And I love that. And I know there’s, Liz in Dena, Liz Richardson and Dina Zeneca at captivate, I think have this saying that like advocacy is a practice, not, not just a platform. And I think it such a good point here. It’s like, it is really practice. And, it looks different at different companies and, but it’s all about finding the best.
Is, you know, in everyone’s, you know, unique situation and, and you’re right. It’s like, it’s it, it’s not, it’s never quite the same exact thing. so we, I know we talked a lot about the human side of. you know, of these stories holding up customers as champions, let’s kind of flip over to like the revenue side of the coin.
Right. you know, how do, how do you sort of balance, or how do you think about kind of balancing, these kind of sometimes competing, you know, maybe, you know, maybe sometimes competing priorities around, like, not the end of the day, you know, You know, all these activities, like, we want and need them to expedite the sales process.
Right. versus like, maybe, you know, and sometimes that can come under shorter-term pressure versus maybe the, you know, the human, you know, taking our time, you know, making our customers the hero.
How do you sort of think about that balance or is it just, does it just kind of work out naturally?
Yeah, I think that’s a challenge where you’re trying to use everything in your arsenal. So for, for example, with sales and references, I’m using a mix of, you know, case studies and group reference calls and one-to-one, and I think all are, you know, becoming equally important in terms of the mix of the funnel to make sure you can expedite sales cycles, that you can build confidence. and and that You can drive change. You’re really working with those sales teams to make sure that. it’s what’s best for the customer. It’s, what’s best for the prospects. and that you’re balancing it all, all accordingly. on the marketing side of house, when you’re doing big, you know, campaigns, whether they’re their brand campaigns, and you know, they want to do a video or they want to do, some something else.
I think it’s just, just a balance of, of working with the customer, working with internal stakeholders to make sure that it’s the right fit. but I think always having the best intentions for, for your customers and helping them feel comfortable, feel confident, that it’s right for the it’s right for the brand as well.
So really making sure that, you know, going into. That this is something that’s going to be, you know, a benefit, a net positive, for your customer to engage. And you never want them to feel uncomfortable. you always want to protect their best interests, you know? Nora advocacy team are our protectors.
We are guardians of the galaxy where we have a lot of the insights and the knowledge on customers on product, on usage. And it’s such an interesting mix that we have visibility into. That, we want to make sure that we’re using the right resources at the right time. and even with references, you know, sometimes sales might get really hung up on a certain customer, but it might not be the right customer.
It might not be the right customer, you know, to speak with. Or it might not be the right timing for them if they, if they didn’t want on one last week. we always want to make sure that we protect our customers, that we can serve our stakeholders, whether that’s sales or marketing or product or any part of the organization.
And you know, we, we do what’s, what’s what’s right for, for the company overall.
What about, measurement on the sales side? How do you, how do you guys think about that and how do you go about sort of, you know, to the extent that you do? because honestly, like, some people would say like, not everything needs to be measured, you know, what, it’s, you know, common sense and in a lot of cases, but what is your kind of, you know, philosophy or, and, or how do you use.
All actually kind of measure, you know, the ROI on, you know, reference activity, functionally, to the extent that you guys do that.
Yeah. So we’re looking at a few things, you know, obviously, you know, top line looking at net new ACV and what we can influence, and, and how appropriately, you know, what, what are the actual wind rates and those that that do get get references. you know, I think speed is a tricky component because, you know, speed of how quickly you can deliver a reference is, is a bit subjective.
And we also want to try to help support deals. Sometimes earlier, rather than later, rather than a sales person saying, you know, I need a reference tomorrow and putting, you know, customer in a, in a, in a tricky situation, we try to make sure that we’re somewhere in the mid to later stage cycle, that we can have the appropriate time that we have the appropriate Intel to make sure that we can place references accordingly without putting a strain on our program and without putting strain on a customer and.
You know, the prospect also feeling comfortable as well. so really looking at net new ACV, looking at how healthy our pool is of, of advocates, what is our mix of, you know, resources, whether that’s, you know, case studies within, an appropriate division, reference calls, speaking sessions, things that we can use as, as a mix to really serve up to our prospects and help.
Along the journey, because you also want to make sure that at the point that they’re having the one-on-one reference call, that they’re asking the right questions to really working closely with the sales teams, that the prospect understands you know, the right questions to ask them the reference call that they’re not going in totally blind.
So your references don’t have to do the full, heavy lift of selling. They’re there to solidify confidence to share their journey, share their success challenges. But, you know, not having to put them into position where they’re selling as a solution consultant or anything else, because that just puts a lot of strain on them and that’s how you burn out, you know, programs really quickly. and then, you know, making sure afterwards that, You know, these are good conversations doing. You know, with, the account teams afterward doing surveys with, you know, our advocates who are having, these calls, you know, what are their NPS, how are they feeling? so I think there’s a lot of, you know, human, emotional elements that, that were, measuring, but also, you know, top line growth, sales, win rates, et cetera, to really balance it.
But I think, I think it’s a mix that you really have to be cognizant of.
That’s such a good point and, getting the vibe on the more qualitative things, as well as the kind of obvious, quantitative ones. I know you in particular, have a ton of experience in references. How have you seen, you know, references, maybe change. Over over the past couple years.
And where, if you kind of had to look into your crystal ball, you know, where do you see, references and reference management, going in the future.
Yeah, I think references reference management has had many stages, you know, it’s been around for a long time and there have been traditional programs that have been referenced managers where, you know, they’re, they’re, they’re churning out, you know, one to one engagements, but haven’t. fully gone in depth with, with the customer to build a really, really strong relationship.
So I think, you know, we’re in reference 2.0 3.0, whatever stage we may be in. but I think we’re building really strong relationships with our customers where they’re they’re partners with us. They’re not sales partners, but they’re partners that represent the brand that represents. you know, the exciting work that, that they are doing, and we’re reaching people who are really excited to, to network.
I think people crave connection in this, in this digital age, in this post COVID I don’t wanna say post, but in this, you know, COVID age. where we can connect people from, from around the world to have really amazing conversations. and then somebody’s gonna always tell our references and our advocates is, you know, there’s always something to be learned from prospects.
So, you know, when you’re setting the stage with, with advocates and you’re doing discovery with, with the prospect of. what questions are top of mind, who are the audience it’s, how can you always translate that into value for customers? So they never feel like it’s a one-off thing where they’re just, you know, doing you a favor or they’re, you know, operating. a pseudo salesperson. we’re always framing it as this is a great connection for you. And here’s why, and as much as the prospect has questions for you, you can ask questions to them and hear about how another, you know, top line enterprise organization is doing things that their organization.
And how can you help eliminate hurdles, that are in front of them that maybe you’ve stumbled upon? so people, I think generally like to pay it forward, that’s the kind of community that we’re building with with, with our advocates. They like to connect, they like to ask questions. They like to help people.
And I think that’s the, that’s the exciting part. And we’re really invested in their. And our advocates success as well because they play such a key role in, in our success that we want to do everything that we can for them and make it a really seamless experience for them, where if they’re spending their time, they know why. and they’re, they’re excited to produce.
I really want to underscore that, you know, that two way exchange of value, because even for reference calls, right. Because. you know, a lot of times in advocacy, we talk about always, yeah. Make it a two-way exchange of value, but, there’s obvious ways to do that for other things in the menu of advocacy, but reference calls sometimes kind of just get forgotten.
Right. So that’s such a great point. Like there is value, you know, in a reference call there, like, as you said, there’s the, there’s the networking there’s. ability to just, you know, ask questions of the person. are there any other areas of like reference calls that you’ve seen people kind of get value from participating in.
Yeah. I think people like doing, you know, group reference calls, which are just, you know, more reference calls at scale. people like bringing in other people from their team to really, you know, showcase leadership. A lot of the times they’re connecting with each other on LinkedIn afterwards, and they’re off on their journey and their, you know, stay in touch to figure out how things go.
Pro boost implementation. They are working with the same partners there. hopefully they’re, fast friends, you know, I don’t, I don’t know. but I think it’s, it’s exciting when people create that, that aha moment when they’re reciting back their own journey. And they’re saying, you know, wow, like I can’t believe I’ve, I’ve accomplished all of this. And the prospect is saying, wow, I can’t believe. You know, they’ve had tremendous success and, and they’re having that journey ahead. So, you know, when a customer and prospect can come together and they’re, they’re inspiring each other and, and, showing that, you know, it’s possible, we did face some challenges.
There are some, you know, headway wins that’s to be expected. but here’s some, some, some tips to overcome it. I think that that’s, that’s really exciting. and for the future, You know, building our base, our community of champions, to, to grow and have exposure with, with our organization, to feel super connected, to best represent our brand, our values as things move, to kind of have the insider track of what’s happening within our, within our own organization.
So they feel super connected, is, is critical because these stakeholders that we deal with. Their career is, is, is very tied with, you know, our own successes as well. so they, they want to be a part of that. They want to grow, and they want to feel, that importance as, as well. so if we can make them all stars, if we can make them feel they have the, the inside.
If we can create strategic connections for them, then I think, I think where we’re, we’re doing it right. And, you know, I’m looking forward to growing that pool even bigger. And then hopefully that person that took that reference will one day, you know, become the champion and pay it forward, you know, to, to the next person.
But anytime anyone, you know, shares, their journey, their story, their success, we want to make sure that we’re. also reusing and recycling, you know, everything possible so we can make the most out of there, you know, we’re reminding for gold and we wanna make sure that that we’re using that cold and not tossing it out with the river.
Oh, that’s awesome. And, Jeff, any other, you know, things that I didn’t ask you that, you know, you’d think would be powerful to share, for, you know, someone, you know, maybe just getting started or, earlier on in their, customer marketing and advocacy journey.
You know, I think the big advice is focused around the change management. You know, what walls can you break down? You know, from the customer advocacy side, we’re so cross-functional with so many teams, but I think when you work with sales teams, how can you really focus and double down on that So you’re you know, breaking bad habits from salespeople who are utilizing their own people over and over week after week.
Without you you know, utilizing a centralized system, like, you know, what our team offers with, with references, how can you really. You know, understand sales, their process, their journey, and, and make sure that that you’re a part of it that you’re a part of the team that you’re a strategic consultant.
A lot of the time, what we’re building now is our own brand with references, meaning, you know, we’re fast, we’re reliable where dependable. and, and knowledgeable that we can provide you the best tools, resources, you know, to deliver it, to help expedite sales cycles, to help, build strong confidence, you know, in, in, in deals. so no matter what stakeholder you, you deal with when you’re an FC, whether that’s marketing, whether that sales or. how can you really double down and understand their process every day? you know, what drives them, and how it can be a strategic partner to them? I think, I think that’s, that’s the best thing that you can do, and that will help everything, everything flow a lot easier.
Jeff, where people get in touch with you to connect? What’s the best way for someone to reach out and connect with you?
Yeah, you can find me on LinkedIn, Jeff Gabel. I’ll be happy to connect and talk more about advocacy, and hear about your journey.
Jeff, it’s been a pleasure having you on the program today. Thanks again for hopping on the show.
Absolutely. Thank you. I appreciate it.
Alrighty folks, that was another fantastic episode of the State of Customer Storytelling with Jeff Gabel, Customer Advocacy Lead at ServiceNow.
A couple of really important highlights that I want to underline from the episode. The focus on human stories. How they really are more important than ever in the macro environment that we’re in.
Also, understanding your different personas in your advocacy program, and realizing and letting customers choose their path. Letting customers find out what drives them and understanding that, and giving them that flexibility. That was a huge insight for me.
Also, reference calls: how can you make it a two-way exchange of value, and realizing that you absolutely can? Making that happen, and not just writing it off. Realizing there’s a lot of ways that if you get creative you can make your reference call a true two-way exchange of value.
Lots of good stuff about measurement, net new ACV, and measuring how deals are affected by reference calls.
Finally, being cross-functional. Working with sales or, working with marketing and understanding their process, understanding their journey. Building your own brand and your own customer advocacy brand internally.
I really enjoyed that episode.
If you have any guests who you’d like to have on the show, just shoot me an email. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org
Until next time, we’ll see you in the next episode.