Become a Business Evangelist
This story appears in the September 2006 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »
Company evangelism is reaching new heights as more entrepreneurs place staff members in this important role--or take it on themselves. Individuals in the new role of "company evangelist" are reinventing what was once thought of as PR, with the principal goal of building a community of customers who are passionate about the company's products and services.
Passion is contagious and, when channeled properly, leads to increased sales. Here are three tips to help you spread the good word through organizational evangelism.
1. Get customers fired up. Being an effective company evangelist requires taking your individual passion a step further and creating a message or cause that stimulates others to join your company's movement. Events, for example, are great ways to spread your message--whether from the podium or in less formal ways.
Brothers Alan, 55, and Hanz Scholz, 45, are co-founders of Green Gear Cycling, best known by its product name Bike Friday. The brothers and everyone in their small Eugene, Oregon, business, which custom-crafts folding travel bicycles, are evangelical about worldwide travel and adventure and have built a following that includes Bike Friday Clubs. When a Bike Friday leader wants to organize a ride, Lynette Chiang, the company's customer evangelist, e-mails all the riders in a 60-mile radius to notify them of the event. The company sells Bike Friday T-shirts to participants--regardless of what type of bike they own. This spreads the word and the Bike Friday movement even wider.
2. Listen to your community. Your customers constitute a unique community with a powerful voice. If you're providing a great product or service, you can bet they're talking or writing about their experiences. Have you provided a friendly home for your community by inviting ideas, comments and participation? Bike Friday's website is as much about its community as its products. The main page poses the question, "What do you do on a Friday?" and is the jumping-off point for countless stories and photographs submitted by customers using their travel bikes.
Create a community space on your website that allows customers to interact and share feedback. In addition, consider setting up a customer advisory board or special users group. Your best customers will be glad you asked for their input. You can gather information through online surveys and share special invitations and advance notices of upcoming products and services with them through e-mail. Be prepared to accept input--good and bad--gratefully. A Bike Friday customer who shares a complaint with the company's ownership is likely to receive a gift certificate and special thanks for the insight.
3. Create more evangelists. Once converted, customers become powerful evangelists. Give them the tools to send leads your way, and they'll happily do so. Because Bike Friday owners are often stopped and asked about their distinctive bikes, the company supplies them with pre-printed referral cards. They simply fill in the contact information for the prospective owners they meet and mail the referral cards back to Bike Friday, where the leads are diligently pursued. A sale earns the zealous rider who sent the referral either a $50 check or a $75 credit toward bike parts or another bike.
Everyone in your company has the power to spread the good word about your business. The key is to have them all focus on a unified, motivational message. Create a one-paragraph, 30-seconds-or-less positioning statement built around your core passion or cause, and share it with all employees. Be sure they understand your company's mission and why it matters to customers. And whether they're at the mall or the gym, when someone asks them what they do, each of them can become company evangelists by spreading the right message.