Customer Success

The Tom Sawyer Method of Marketing with Brand Advocates by @NikkiElizDeMere


Image created by Yasmine Sedky (@yazsedky).

Mark Twain unwittingly penned one of the best sales scripts of all time in Tom Sawyer. Here’s the basic setup. Aunt Polly orders young Tom Sawyer to whitewash her fence, which he’d rather not do since all the other kids around the neighborhood are out playing. So he goes out with his can of whitewash and a brush, and makes whitewashing the fence look like so much fun, that soon, every kid in the neighborhood is begging him for a brush – even trading apples, a kite, and “a dead rat and a string to swing it with” for the privilege of doing his work for him (the things kids got up to before television!).

In short, Tom Sawyer made a real job into something so fun that people would do it for free.

Tom Sawyer’s School of Marketing

I like to think that this principle applies to marketing at its best – specifically, to Customer Success.

Customer Success is quickly growing from being a misunderstood customer service department into being a fully integrated philosophy of modern SaaS marketing. Why? Because it ties in so neatly to revenue growth and retention. Customer Success done well leads to reduced churn, expanded revenue streams, and – most importantly – the potential to create brand advocates.

Brand advocates are money-making, growth-generating machines. They’re the ones who:

  • Leave you good reviews and high ratings on public forums
  • Send you great testimonials!
  • Post comments on your social media
  • Follow your blog
  • Share your posts and offers
  • Engage with your brand on all platforms, as well as answering surveys
  • And – recommend you to all of their friends and associates

You couldn’t pay someone to do all of this, and it’s the most effective advertising you could possibly have. But the benefits of brand advocates don’t end with their marketing efforts.

Brand advocates also spend close to twice as much, or more, on products and services than average customers while acting as a virtual sales force, driving new sales with their activity.

Brand advocacy begins with effective Customer Success. Like Tom Sawyer, you have to create an environment in which helping you is so rewarding, customers want to essentially do your marketing for you – for free.

Now, you might think you can shortcut the process of creating brand advocates. Many companies try. Most have some success. But to really do it right, you can’t just:

  • Offer referral bonuses, like “If 3 of your Facebook friends make a purchase from your link, you get yours for free!”


  • Host a contest where entry requires social media sharing of your post, or product, or service.

You also need to provide:

  • Outstanding experiences.
  • Proactive service.
  • Usability
  • Empowerment
  • Appreciation

These are the ingredients to make a brand advocate, and while all are equally important, it’s the last two ingredients that are most often neglected.

Hootsuite and ReadyTalk do customer empowerment incredibly well.

Hootsuite has a system of Hootsuite Ambassadors, made up of community super users, who not only share Hootsuite’s content, but also publicly welcome new community members on Twitter, and regularly contribute to online discussions. By elevating their top users with special status, Hootsuite not only shows appreciation, but gives these highly valued individuals a platform on which to shine.

ReadyTalk, an online conference service, encouraged their brand advocates to answer 3 questions about webinar best practices, which they compiled into an eBook titled 6 Reasons Why Other Companies’ Webinars are Better Than Yours. This turned their most engaged customers into experts, and motivated them to share the eBook they helped create.

Social media, content creation, marketing and outreach is hard work, but if your customers are successful, it’s work they will happily take upon themselves. They might even offer you a “dead rat and a string to swing it with” for the privilege – or at least the modern-day equivalent.

Let’s Get SaaSsy – I’m offering a limited number of SaaS consulting engagements.

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