Lock 8 on the C & O Canal

Preaching Your Company’s Gospel

The other day, I re-discovered this great post by Theo Priestley of Forbes explaining why “Every Tech Company Needs a Chief Evangelist.” Re-reading this after a few years brought up positive thoughts about this role and fond memories of having encouraged a particular team member to consider becoming a technology evangelist back in the day.

Some backstory: at the time, the person in question was in the wrong role — one that was important to the company, but which did not play to her strengths. At the same time, our early-stage company and product category needed a strong spokesperson — someone who not only believed in our company’s mission and solution, but who could expertly recruit others to share in our enthusiasm. We were fortunate that this hiding-in-plain-sight “evangelist” had been with the company from its earliest days, and had all along been winning followers to our cause — far in advance of officially assuming the title “evangelist.” What follows is a compilation of questions and observations about that experience and more generally about the evangelist role in SaaS businesses.

So…what exactly is a technology evangelist?

Truly effective evangelists play a special role in the growth of SaaS companies. Whether or not they bear that specific title, you probably have encountered these people along the way. You know these folks when you meet them by the excitement they feel to tell you about what their company brings to the world. As they speak, you find yourself getting swept up in their enthusiasm. They are completely genuine in their belief that the work of their companies will change the world. They can articulate clearly and authentically how the world will be different once their companies have reached critical mass in the marketplace. They are intimately familiar with the technology behind your company’s products, but where they truly get their energy is in discussing the problems those products solve for people. This, more so than any technical knowledge, is what speaks universally and authentically to executives, IT professionals, finance and operations folks, and many others.

Who makes a good technology evangelist?

It doesn’t matter what your company does, the role of technology evangelist requires a unique blend of talents and traits. Once identified, these traits should absolutely be cultivated. What evangelists bring:

  • Dauntless passion for the mission of your company
  • Genuine enthusiasm for the products your company is bringing to market
  • Clear-eyed vision for how the world will be a better place when those products are used
  • Skill and charisma in delivering the message, such that those who hear / read the message are galvanized to take action — by becoming customers, employees, investors, or fans…AND evangelists are equally adept at communicating back to the company the often sobering realities and needs from those same external stakeholders

What does a tech evangelist actually do (and why would we need one)?

The specific role of the evangelist can vary, depending on your business and the markets / customers you serve. In my experience, the very best evangelists are often extroverts and road warriors. These folks derive energy and joy from giving presentations at industry conferences and providing direct support to customers, as well presenting dozens of webinars each year (full disclosure, this is NOT at all my own personal super-power, and it would consume a massive amount of my mental energy if I was solely responsible for this). Your evangelist might be a producer of other content — from customer-facing training and support materials, or wrap-around content relevant to your industry, to conducting related research to share with your market.

How can we best support / unleash our technology evangelist(s)?

What is important organizationally is to support the evangelist in her / his zeal for spreading your company’s message, without introducing too many constraints. This can admittedly be hard to rationalize in resource-constrained environments, but the outcomes often more than justify this investment. The role of the evangelist is to galvanize — which can absolutely have a profound and positive net impact across the business — measured in bookings, qualified leads, organic web traffic, brand strength and resilience, quashing the competition, attracting and retaining top talent, and more. Your evangelist might be asked to carry a sales quota, or have targets for establishing key partnerships. Or your evangelist might be measured on digital demand-generation metrics — on how much organic traffic to your website is produced from the evangelist’s written / audio / video content. But, be careful — trying to saddle these people with too narrow of a goal-set can stifle their creativity and sub-optimize their efforts.

As Theo Priestly pointed out in his Forbes post, “Evangelism creates a human connection with buyers and consumers to technology way beyond typical content marketing means because there’s a face and a name relaying the story, expressing the opinion, and ultimately influencing a decision.”

So where do you find a technology evangelist?

Chances are, you may have a burgeoning technology evangelist already in your midst. Many employees of early stage companies have innate enthusiasm for your mission. If cultivated, this energy could become fully realized evangelism. You want to find someone who can be utterly convincing without it ever seeming like a “sales pitch.” You want the individual who can articulate the power of your technology, but in ways anyone could access and understand. You want the evangelist to be someone who has already “won over” a group of devoted followers — fellow staff members, customers, investors, media representatives, and others.

What one mistake should we avoid regarding technology evangelist(s)?

Be decisive, but don’t force it. Like so many things in the early-stage SaaS world, finding an evangelist seems to work best when it happens in an organic way, whereas trying to force it by quickly recruiting for the role can end badly. Often someone just kind of eases into these activities and ultimately into a more formalized role. This was the case with the outstanding technology evangelist described above, which was certainly fortuitous. Then again, when you have the right person, don’t be afraid to take the leap and make the commitment. These folks are never happier than when preaching your company’s gospel; and they can definitely accelerate your your efforts to make your mark on the world.