The Hero Behind the Scenes in your Company (and it’s not who you think).
Who is your company’s hero? Is it your fearless, swashbuckler of a CEO? Your tireless developer with a sleeping bag under their desk? A salesperson with a preternatural ability to close?
When I joined Mashery (www.mashery.com) in 2009 we were a scrappy company with less than 30 customers. We spent a lot of time explaining what APIs were and why we believed there was benefit to using them to “expose” your business. Our customers took gigantic risks. Could a small company could deliver critical infrastructure in a secure way? Would making it easier for third parties to access some of their most valuable assets pay off? The industry was new and examples of winning API driven business strategies were still few. But bold people proceeded with courage and great things happened.
Our customers were our heroes, and the smart people I worked with recognized this heroism for what it was. Appreciation for the heroics of our customers and end users became part of our company culture and began to drive every aspect of what we did. As a salesperson I was enveloped by the credibility of these heroes, who became far better and more believable storytellers than I could ever be. I was surrounded by team members who embraced this fact and I learned to embrace it too. We channeled the phenomena into a host of advocate marketing activities, two of which I’ll briefly describe.
Our Developer Program
Delyn Simons (https://www.linkedin.com/in/delynsimons) tirelessly worked to enable developers of every stripe. She served the legions of curious and creative people who developed great tools and experiences using access granted by our customers. She highlighted the heroics of any and every developer who believed in and practiced API centric development. Developers who never spent a dime with Mashery were given resources to excel because we believed that what they were doing was important. This program included annual highlights like Circus Mashimus at SXSW. Delyn and team created a festival atmosphere where we promoted high achievers who had built transformational businesses with APIs. She made sure that their presence at the event was valuable to them by working with each of them to design goals for the event that could be met and measured. Goals like employee recruitment, product or business promotion, partner connections or just plain buzz. Often times those goals had little or nothing to do with Mashery but they always delivered value back to the hero.
Our Industry Conference
Our Business of APIs conference hosted customers and non-customers alike who were doing great things with APIs. We never demonstrated Mashery’s product at these events. It wasn’t about us. We gave the podium to people who were excited about their plans and accomplishments and we let them tell their stories. Whether it was a product lead from twitter talking about how APIs contributed to their product strategy or friend’s from Twilio talking about the critical role that APIs and developers played in the growth of their platform and business, guests got to hear from real doers.
Was this all entirely selfless? Certainly not. We were smart marketers who recognized that there was benefit to the business in collecting advocates and influencers who would shout out loud that using APIs to grow your business was smart and that it worked. We weren’t entirely original either. I’d like to think that we executed really well but we didn’t invent industry conferences and we didn’t invent advocacy. We did recognize the importance of what our advocates and influencers were doing and we made them part of our mission. We were grateful to work with fantastic people and we never forgot who was really fueling our growth and we absolutely never forgot that they took risks to do it.
The Customer as Hero and Advocate
Your real heroes are your customers. They are the bravest of risk takers. What bolsters the faith they need to do it? How do they arrive at the firmly held belief that good things will happen when they engage with you? That faith might spring from your terrific salesmanship, but most likely it is supported by the experience of other customers. It is their peers who have won with your product or service who give the most compelling testimony; a virtuous cycle in which customers become advocates and encourage new customers. The more successful they are, the more likely they are to advocate.
So recognize your heroes by making their success your most important mission. And get to know them because chances are they are some of the best people you’ll ever meet. At Mashery, we did this work “by hand”. If you’re thinking about how to formally organize these strategies today, then you are in luck. There are tools now that weren’t widely available just a few years ago and which will help you to operationalize this ethos at scale. There are platforms like Gainsight (www.gainsight.com) which provides a dashboard to your customer’s success. A tool like Influitive (www.influitive.com) can help you to formalize and scale mutually beneficial interactions with your advocates. Traackr (www.traackr.com) will give you the tools to build and manage relationships with the people who influence your customers, and RO Innovation (www.roinnovation.com) can help you deploy customer driven collateral at just the right time in a prospect’s buying journey.
There’s never been a better time to take scalable, measurable action to create and partner with the real heroes behind your company’s success. If you don’t think you’re ready to deploy one of these tools, you should at least learn what they do. Do your best to put those practices in place manually and when that breaks, you’ll know that you’re ready to check in with one of their successful customers to learn how they use the tools to win.