Ok…so for those of you that already know me and know that for the last 7 years at SAP I was known as a product evangelist, this is not going to be a post justifying my existence…what I do want to do though is explain how important this role can be in any organisation, not just tech based companies.
But more importantly, my experience has shown that the bigger the company the more important it is to have one or more high profile folks out there in the market spreading the word about a product or service.
And not just for the purpose of generating leads and deals which many folks seem to think is the be all and end all of this kind of activity.
My experience has proven that it is really about 3 key points and they are:
1. Providing a human face for an organisation – Mitt Romney famously cried out for sympathy or at least understanding for large companies during a speech at the Iowa State Fair by saying “corporations are people too!” but I think at the end of the day, the fact is that people do business with people and if you can’t readily identify a person in an organisation to whom you can relate or go to for assistance (or at least know that, worst case, they exist) then the truism of faceless corporations will still hold sway. Now you can always write to the CEO of the company (if you can get to them), but most people know that that is a brinksmanship approach and sometimes ends up working against you, particularly if you have an issue with the company, its products or services….so the rank and file evangelist can provide that point of contact then you have a great way to mitigate potential problems for a customer before they spiral out of control and this is all about point 2 which is
2. Providing a target for customers to reach a company when all else fails – I have personally received 100’s of tweets, emails and Facebook posts requesting help and the amazing thing is that for most folks (in at least 95% of all cases anyway) people only reached out when they didn’t know who else to go to , had tried all the published avenues for assistance and hadn’t gotten the results they needed and I was able to help those folks reach the right people to solve their problems….even customers who were struggling to reach the right sales contact because they were trying to buy our product and prospective partners who were finding the existing “fill out a form and hope for the best” partner recruitment process wasn’t generating a result. For those of you who might read this and say that this will cause a bypassing of the “right channels” I can tell you that in those cases I was contacted because the right channels weren’t working and the alternative was for the customer/partner/prospective partner to give up.
So….I know what side the argument I would be erring on…
3. Building “real” relationships with partners, prospective customers and existing customers – companies that have built evangelist roles and programs will no doubt agree with me on this, that even though they are hard to quantify in hard dollar terms, these programs and people provide an opportunity to build great relationships that are mutually beneficial to both the company and the person on the other side of the relationship that deliver a dividend in lots of ways…programs such as the SAP mentor initiative at SAP that I had the fortune to be a part of are a great example of how a company can really build on this concept and build a group of evangelists both inside and outside the corporate firewall who are not afraid to deliver both “the bouquets and the brickbats” when required to the company but add immense value in terms of enhancing the companies work around particular areas.
So if you are thinking about it, I would say to you that encouraging evangelists both in your organisation and externally is a worthwhile activity and one that you wont regret….those evangelists will bring you a closer level of engagement with your ecosystem….what you then do with that value is up to you.