Marketers have plenty of data. Say, you run a marketing department with a growing number of point solutions that automate outreach, streamline processes and capture information. Each solution generates its own volumes of data via dashboards and reporting tools. You might even say you’re drowning in data.

Business-to-consumer (B2C) brands invest heavily in influencer campaigns because they know that consumers consider friendly recommendations the most credible form of advertising. But what about business-to-business (B2B) companies? Until recently, people who were seeking a B2B product collected sales brochures or reached out to vendors for information. Those days are gone.

Today, sales cycles are longer and B2B customers research products online, talk to peers, and read online reviews when considering products—and they often take these steps long before they talk to a sales rep. Almost 95 percent of customers read online reviews, peer recommendations, and original research, and reviews are considered the most influential content that goes into making a buying decision.

That’s why it’s so important to deputize your customers to serve as brand ambassadors. When customers are satisfied and successful, they’ll share positive impressions with their peers, translating into incredibly valuable word-of-mouth advertising for your company. Here are four ways you can create an environment to make that happen, regardless of the type of product or service you sell:

1. Create a customer success culture. To turn customers into brand ambassadors, you’ll need to demonstrate your unwavering commitment to their success. That means centering your company culture on customer success and making it your company’s No. 1 goal. Convey that value to employees at every opportunity, referring frequently to customer success in company meetings to emphasize its importance.

It’s also crucial to make sure employees understand the difference between customer success and customer support and to ensure they focus on proactively helping customers reach their goals instead of just reacting to product or service issues or looking for upsell opportunities. Underscore the importance of customer retention through value delivery as an employee success metric.

2. Focus on communication. Communicating with customers early and often is critical to customer success and creating brand ambassadors. It’s a good idea for the customer success team to contact new customers within 24 hours of reaching an agreement so that you can fully understand the customer’s goals and agree on a plan to meet them.

Touch base with customers regularly. Frequent communication is essential not only to ensure that you understand customer goals, but also so you’ll know when objectives evolve and when to adjust as needed. It’s also a great way to get an early heads-up on any problems the customer is experiencing so you can fix them. Set expectations for communication with customers and then exceed them.

3. Align the customer success and sales teams. When feasible, it’s a great idea to involve the customer success team in a transaction before closing the sale. With the two teams working together, customers get the message that your company focuses on their success, and the customer success team gets a chance to get to know the client prior to implementation, plus the opportunity to establish rapport before any support requests come in.

Early involvement by customer success gives the internal team time to reach a consensus on customer expectations and discuss the level of support they’ll need during implementation and beyond. If the sales-to-customer success handoff is handled well, the experience for the customer will be seamless, and that’s how it should be.

4. Own your mistakes. Every company makes mistakes, and inevitably, your team will too. When that happens, don’t get defensive with the customer or try to deflect blame. Own up to the error, apologize, and focus all your attention and energy on making things right. Studies show that customer satisfaction and advocacy (i.e., brand ambassadorship) can actually increase after issues arise if the mistake is handled appropriately.

If you’re communicating with customers frequently, you’ll likely have an opportunity to address a problem before it becomes public. But even if you’re alerted to an issue by a negative review, you can still turn things around. Customers typically perceive a mix of positive and negative reviews as an indicator of authenticity, and 89 percent read business responses to negative customer reviews.

If you were visiting a new city and making plans for dinner, you’d probably find a friend’s rave review of a fabulous meal they enjoyed at a local restaurant more compelling than an ad for a restaurant you saw on the airport shuttle bus. The same principle applies when evaluating business products and services; nothing is more credible than a real-life testimonial from someone you trust.

That’s why it’s so important to cultivate customers to serve as ambassadors for your brand. Centering your culture on their success, communicating frequently, working with colleagues internally to achieve a seamless customer experience, and addressing mistakes quickly and honestly are the keys to building great relationships with customers. By following these four steps, you can create a fanbase for your company that will provide the type of advertising money can’t buy.

Bonnie Crater is the CEO of Full Circle InsightsPrior to joining the company, Crater held vice president and senior vice president roles at Genesys, Netscape, Network Computer Inc., Salesforce.com, Stratify, Realization, and VoiceObjects (now Voxeo). A 10-year veteran of Oracle and its various subsidiaries, Bonnie was vice president, Compaq Products Division, and vice president, Workgroup Products Division. In 2013, Bonnie was named one of the “100 Most Influential Women” by the Silicon Valley Business Journal, and in 2015 the Sales Lead Management Association named her one of the “20 Women to Watch.” In 2016 Diversity Journal honored her as one of the “Women Worth Watching.” Bonnie holds a B.A. in biology from Princeton University.

Originally posted on DestinationCRM.

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