How we built a community of customer advocates – Interview with Joan Babinski of Brainshark

Today’s interview is with Joan Babinski, founder and vice president of marketing at Brainshark, which helps thousands of companies around the world improve productivity with cloud-based business presentation solutions for sales, marketing and training. Joan joins me today to talk about Brainshark and how they built a community of customer advocates that helped them grow their business.

Background: Brainshark has more than 400 champions in its customer champion programme and, since starting it in 2012, has more than quadrupled the number of companies willing to serve as references and more than doubled Twitter activity around the brand. Brainshark also won a Forrester Groundswell Award for it’s programme, which has resulted in amplification of its content, acceleration of the sales cycle and deeper levels of engagement with customers (for example, more customers are enthusiastic about joining beta programs, etc.).

This interview follows on from my recent interview: Great service, great coffee and great people creates loyalty – Interview with Nick Barlow of Small Batch Coffee – and is number one-hundred and eight in the series of interviews with authors and business leaders that are doing great things, helping businesses innovate, become more social and deliver better service.

Highlights of my interview with Joan:

  • Created the Brainshark Customer Champion programme to leverage the good feeling that they had amongst their existing customer base.
  • Focused on creating more of a reciprocal relationship between them and their customers.
  • They identified their champions as people that had made a financial or professional ‘investment’ in the use of Brainshark’s products.
  • Other ways to identify those champions could be people that are following you on social channels, contributing to user communities, sharing some of your content or maybe they could be some of your most active product users, your most engaged set of customers when it comes to attendance at events like webinars, someone who has just received great service or someone who has provided great feedback on a customer survey.
  • Finally, they also have a programme where they ask their employees (sales, customer experience and helpdesk) to recommend customers for their champion programme.
  • Rewarding people for their participation has been key and rewards aren’t necessarily monetary rewards.
  • Rewards can vary from accumulation of reward points that can be redeemed against gift vouchers or they could benefit with free training for their company, free tickets to a local industry event (where Brainshark can give their champions first refusal on tickets they have access to) or attendance on a quarterly call with Brainshark’s President.
  • They also utilise gamification and badges to reward and acknowledge a champion’s participation.
  • The rewards that work best depend on the reasons behind why people want to be a champion in the first place.
  • Match the rewards to the profile of the champion.
  • Sometimes people need encouragement to speak up about good things that are worth talking about. Maybe that’s because they don’t realise how powerful their advocacy can be.
  • Sometimes you just need a bit of a ‘carrot’ to develop a new habit of sharing.
  • Your customers are not always thinking about you and you are not always at the front of their minds.
  • Inviting a customer to be part of a ‘champion’ programme contains a large amount of social recognition.
  • Joan’s top tips for getting started on creating your own champion programme are:
  • One, figure out where your advocates/champions are and what are they doing;
  • Two, segment your advocates and potential champions and understand what would be valuable to them; and
  • Three, set up a system of rewards that is aligned with the profiles and preferences of your potential champions.
  • Brainshark found that their customer champion programme became more successful when they launched an employee champion programme and integrated the two.

About Joan (taken from her Brainshark bio)

Joan Babinski Joan Babinski, founder and vice president of marketing, is responsible for leading the company’s marketing communications and demand generation activities. Also, as a founder, Joan was instrumental in the launch of the company, the development of the Brainshark brand, and the company’s growth to its leading position as a provider of on-demand video presentation solutions. Joan is responsible for generating demand in Brainshark’s key markets through awareness and lead programs and in delivering customer-focused initiatives.

Previously, Joan was assistant vice president in commercial lending at USTrust, where she developed new business and managed key customer relationships, working with companies in technology, insurance, and service sectors.

Prior to USTrust, Joan worked with early-stage companies to employ web technologies and develop integrated web and offline marketing strategies. Joan earned an MBA with a concentration in marketing from Babson College, and a BBA from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

You can out more about Brainshark at their website and say Hi to them on Twitter @brainshark.

17 comments On How we built a community of customer advocates – Interview with Joan Babinski of Brainshark

  • Adrian,

    I’d be very interested to understand how the employee champions and customer champions worked together.

    That sounds like a novel idea.


    • James,
      Yes, a novel approach and I’ve invited Joan to respond to your question and provide a little more detail.


    • Great question James, there are 3 ways we have found the employee and customer programs work well together:
      1) Ongoing Recruitment – Customer facing employees are in a great position to know who would make a great champion – so we have a simple check box in our CRM system that they can check off which alerts us to invite the customer into the program. The employee gets champion points for nominating them, and this helps us continuously identify good candidates to invite.

      2) Cross-incentives for Engagement – For example, we love it when our customer champions provide a testimonial, and we pose a “challenge” within the program to do that. But they are more likely to do it if their account manager asks them if they would provide one and talks with them about what the process would involve. So we provide an incentive for our employees to ask their customers and gain the customer’s agreement to take the next step.

      3) Multiplying the reach of our content and news – when we post new thought leadership content to our social channels or an article comes out that we are featured in, we can multiply our social reach in a short amount of time by asking all of our champion audiences to share it: Customers, Employees, and Partners alike. A greater % of employees and partners will participate than customers, and that is expected. Sharing valuable content not only is good for the company they work for but also helps them personally in their jobs – particularly in Sales. If they are sharing great content and insights it makes them look good personally and reinforces their professional brand, draws interest, and its easy to do.

      There may be many other ways to make these programs work well together that we haven’t even thought of yet. I would love to hear other ideas that readers may have.


      • I really like this feedback on customer/employee combination. Joan, did you implement the employee program across your entire company or just limit it to customer facing employees? If across the entire company, do you find that non-customer facing employees have enough to do to stay engaged or does their enthusiasm and participation wane?

        • The employee program was rolled out to all employees, yet we do find many of the most active are customer facing; as they have the greatest professional incentive to be active on social channels. So it does ebb & flow, and we are paying more attention to adding new & different incentives that spark activity.

      • I’m curious, did you have one person on your team manage this program to bring it to it’s level of success or was it a multi collaboration? Thank you for sharing your story.

        • While previously we had split the management of the employee & customer programs between 2 people; today we have one person on the Customer Marketing team managing both and find this works even better. That individual coordinates closely with our Social Media specialist; and during peak activity they may need help on the fulfillment of rewards. And of course we discuss the strategy, results and direction of the program at regular intervals. Given that the programs complement each other and require daily nurturing, we find that centralizing this with one individual who owns it all and can run with it helps us optimize engagement.

      • Joan very well laid out no wonder your program had such success. I look forward to see how it continues to grow!

  • Pingback: Using customer reviews to drive service improvement, WoM and growth | Adrian Swinscoe ()

  • Great post and spot on about building community and advocacy!

  • Kimberly Griffith

    I like the idea of targeting your rewards to profiles of your advocates. I’m sure that helps to enure high rates of rewards redemption. I’m curious to know what types of rewards you offer!

  • Great article, Joan, I agree completely with many of the points you made in this article. Making any advocacy program a two-way street is definitely key — of course we want to get something out of it as a company. But the program won’t last if the advocates don’t see value – either in the relationships they build with the company or with other advocates. I also agree with the comment about encouragement — advocates can be timid to jump in, but give them a nudge and many will jump at the chance. And when they see the impact they are having, it energizes them even more to advocate on your behalf. Finally, we also have an integrated customer/employee (and partner) advocacy hub using Influitive — this is really the best way to do this because you can have your employees grow your advocacy community and you can also leverage them to support the advocates as necessary.

  • Great post!

  • Great advice in this interview. I think the point about the reciprocal relationship with customers is especially key. Thanks for sharing!

  • I agree with the points you made about different rewards for different advocates. I have found that myself. I enjoyed reading about your customer and employee interaction.

  • I think mobile technology is such a productive way to reach people, especially for people that are always on the go.

  • Great job laying out the fundamentals of a solid customer advocacy program.

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